The nice thing about getting somewhere ridiculously early is that you’re there. The less-nice thing is that you’re there with, oh, about five hours to burn. So: Heard any good jokes lately?
It’s 1:24 p.m. EST. I’m in my seat at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the famously fickle roof is – pause for effect – closed. That doesn’t mean it won’t open before the long day is done. (You’ll recall Arthur Blank saying he’d love “to show off the hardware,” and by that Mr. Home Depot didn’t mean ceiling fans.) But it’s closed now.
I took MARTA. This takes a bit of doing, given that I live in a non-MARTA county, but I pulled into the H.E. Holmes lot at 12:33 p.m. – or I tried. The front lot was, according to the sign displayed across the entrance, full. There is, I’m happy to say, a back lot. That once, mercy of mercies, had around 30 spaces unfilled. I mention this as a semi-public service: If you’re planning on taking MARTA from H.E. Holmes and haven’t left yet, you might want to use Uber/Lyft to get there. (Call me Clark Howard.)
Remember the bridge over Northside Drive that wasn’t supposed to be open? It’s open, but only for those with media credentials. One of the volunteers pointed me to the bridge, which led to me to ask: “Is that the one that’s closed?” He laughed and said, “I’m pretty sure it’s not.”
By 1:02, I was in the press box, happy as a clam. (Question while we have time on our hands: Are clams really happy?) Now I’m in Row 1, Seat 65, which means I have a great view of the back right pylon in the end zone marked “Rams.” Yeah, I know. We journalists get in free. But here I’ll share something I’ve told a lot of folks without actually writing it: The way I trace my 41 years of working for a daily newspaper – almost 35 of them here – is by how much further I am from the field and how much longer I have to walk from my parking space.
As for my parking space at this Super Bowl: I didn’t have one. (Ergo, MARTA.) Given that Northside Drive is blocked for the occasion, the places we media types usually park were rendered null and void. Usually the out-of-town media is made to ride shuttle buses and the locals get a precious few parking permits. So far as I know, we at the ol’ AJC got none. I’m not sure anybody did.
Here’s how esteemed colleagues Chris Vivlamore, Tim Tucker and Steve Hummer made their trek: They met at our office, which sits cheek-by-jowl with Perimeter Mall. They took one car – I’m not sure whose – and found a place to park (for $20!) near the Marriott Marquis, which is one of the media hotels. Tim and Steve boarded one of the buses. Chris walked from there to the Georgia World Congress Center, from where he’ll be monitoring events. Among the four of us, we availed ourselves of trains, automobiles, buses and old-school hoofing.
This is not me whining. (OK, maybe a little. Journalists lead the world in whining.) It is, however, my attempt to illustrate something approaching an actual fact: The Super Bowl is by far – BY FAR, I say – the most difficult big event to cover. The College Football Playoff championship game was staged here 13 months ago, and that definitely qualifies as a major. But there were parking passes (I had one), and there weren’t the street blockages and the miles of fences that the NFL apparently requires to run its signature event. When the NFL takes over a town, it takes over a town.
Some of that, duh, is due to security. As someone who covered his first Super Bowl in 1984, I can attest that everything Super-related changed the day the world changed – Sept. 11, 2001. This massive game is a worldwide symbol, like or not, of the U.S. of A. (I’m about to do a radio hit with an Australian breakfast show, FYI.) Heck, even before Thomas Harris got around to Clarice Starling and Hannibal the Cannibal, he was known for writing “Black Sunday,” the 1975 book that involved a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl, the weapon of choice being the Goodyear Blimp.
The aforementioned A.M. Blank asked me Wednesday how I thought Atlanta was doing, but I’m not really a judge of that. I do media events and stay away from the other stuff. I read Saturday night that both the NFL Experience, held at the GWCC, and Centennial Park had closed their doors because they’d reached capacity. I’m sure the NFL and A.M. Blank will see that as a great achievement. As someone rather above the target age for such frolic, I was glad I was sitting home. But that’s just me, and enough – far too much, really – about me.
Let’s talk Super Bowl, meaning the game itself. I’m picking New England. (Shocker.) I can’t imagine it will be a blowout either way, seeing as how the Patriots of Belichick/Brady have played eight Super Bowls and the widest margin was eight points. That was last year’s loss to the Eagles. The six-point victory over the Falcons in 2017 marked these Pats’ widest winning margin, and that came in a game they trailed 28-3 and didn’t lead until James White scored in overtime.
Super Bowls are no different from all other NFL games: They hinge on the quarterbacks. If the Rams knock Brady down a lot, they’ll win. (Although Grady Jarrett sacked him three times and his team lost. We ask again: How’d that happen?) The reason Brady is Brady and the Pats are the Pats is that he doesn’t get knocked down a lot. He has thrown 90 passes this postseason. He has not been sacked. Maybe Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh will change that, though I’d be surprised.
The Rams had the better regular season, but this is the Super Bowl. This is new for almost all of them. That doesn’t mean they can’t win. It was new for nearly all the Falcons, and they built a 25-point lead. It was new for the Eagles, and they won with their backup quarterback. But I’m thinking the Patriots will be able to run the ball – Sony Michel has had a big postseason – and if a team with Brady as its quarterback can run the ball, that’s all she wrote. (The Pats ran it very little against the Falcons. Still won.)
And that’s my version of a pregame show. I know I got a bit windy, but I didn’t go on for seven hours. I’m done now, and I’m worried I haven’t left enough time to affix my game face. It’s already 2:21! Time, she is flying!
My Super Bowl week, such as it was: