NEW ORLEANS — It’s an hour before the Baltimore Ravens’ portion of Super Bowl Media Day.
And already a dozen cameramen plus other assorted reporters and photographers have encamped in front of the podium where Ray Lewis will spend 60 minutes facing questions from the sublime to the ridiculous.
By the time Lewis and his teammates come to the floor of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the throng at Lewis’ station has swollen to at least 200, all intent with getting their questions in.
Old-timers can’t remember a bigger gathering for one player.
Every Media Day has its top attraction, and this year, it’s Lewis, who has announced his 17-year career as one of the top linebackers in NFL history, one spent entirely with the Ravens, is ending after Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVII against the San Francisco 49ers.
The Lewis’ retirement countdown has been mostly a lovefest.
That’s quite a contrast to media day at Super Bowl XXXV in 2001, when the Ravens were meeting the New York Giants and Lewis had only few months earlier had pled guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice for his role in a double stabbing after a Super Bowl party the previous year in Atlanta.
Lewis went on to be the MVP of the Ravens’ Super Bowl victory and since has rebuilt his image both as a player and representative of the game.
Still, media day is always a time when somebody’s there to make a point. And so anything is possible.
Here comes the first question:
“Ray, how much have you enjoyed your experience of working with EA Sports on Madden?”
Welcome to Media Day.
- Rewind a few hours back. Getting into the Superdome is a bigger challenge than getting close to Ray Lewis.
The last Super Bowl in New Orleans was the first after 9/11 and the first designated National Special Security Event, meaning extra precautions are taken because the game is considered a potential terrorist target.
That precaution extends to media day.
Each entering media member is first patted down, with anything being brought into the building being searched, and then goes through a TSA-style metal detector.
As far as it is known, no sportswriter has been caught trying to blow up a stadium. But it’s just part of the price we pay.
Thanks, bin-Laden. Glad we got ya.
- If there’s one thing media members need, it’s directions. Along with the helpful volunteers to steer you along, there are plenty of signs, including one that says, MEDIA RESTROOMS. Wonder if there’s a security guard inside to chase out anyone without the proper credentials?
- Last year in Indianapolis, the NFL began admitting fans — for a $25 fee naturally — to attend media day. For that, you get to watch from the stands interviews being conducted on the field, although you do get an FM radio receiver so you can hear what’s being said at the podiums, and there’s a video feed Superdome screen.
For Dennis Schneider of New Orleans and friends Paul Peterson, John Leonard and Scott Leonard, that was ample reason to play hooky from work and to arrive early enough to grab front-row seats all decked out in Drew Brees replica jerseys.
“This may be a one-in-a-lifetime shot,” Schneider said. “And we wanted to represent the Saints.”
- Media Day used to be known for its weird characters and attention-hungry D-list celebrities who someone managed to get themselves credentials.
But the ever-image-conscious NFL apparently is scrutinizing things more closely because there are few costumed inquisitors around, and Kathy Griffin is nowhere to be seen.
The exception is a Pick Boy, representing Nickelodeon Nick Tunes and sporting green tights and a mask that makes him look like a poor man’s Robin.
Pick Boy said his super power is the ability to pick things.
“I am in midseason form right now,” he said. “It’s actually scary how good I am.”
Then who’s going to win Sunday?
“If I told you, know it would spoil the afternoon for you.”
- There are some media celebrity sightings. Hey, there’s Chris Berman! It’s John Clayton!
Stuart Scott is also on hand, despite the fact that he recently revealed he is undergoing chemotherapy for an undisclosed form of cancer for the third time.
“Everyone has been wonderful,” said Scott, who continues to anchor SportsCenter. “We are a very caring society.”
Scott may be one of the few people out there who continues to wear a Livestrong bracelet.
“I support the foundation, and I support what Lance (Armstrong) has done for the foundation,” he said.
“I don’t care about winning bike races.
“Lance made mistakes and he disappointed a lot of people. But I’m a cancer survivor and I know what he’s done for me and a lot of other people.”
- Sure enough, there’s a serious question for Lewis, but it’s not about the events in Atlanta.
Instead, Sports Illustrated is reporting that Lewis has requested deer-antler velvet extract, which contains a substance on the NFL’s banned list from a supplier of the otherwise legal product to aid in his recovery form a torn triceps earlier this season.
“Two years ago, it was the same report,” Lewis said. “I wouldn’t give that report of him (the supplier) any of my press.
“He’s not worthy of that. Next question.”
ESPN later reported that Lewis has not tested positive.
- Each team has 13 players plus the head coach seated in separate podiums because of the extra attention they’re expected to draw.
One who could have used it was 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, who lost his starting job when he suffered a concussion and was replaced by Colin Kaepernick.
Smith, who is expected to ask for his release after the game, played the good soldier Tuesday, as he has with Kaepernick, patiently answering nonstop questions while standing on the Superdome floor.
“It’s not something I’m dwelling on,” Smith said. “Coaches make decisions all the time.
“I’ve got a new role, and it’s tough to take at times for sure. But we’ve got a great team and this is something special.”
- Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones didn’t get a podium either.
And the native New Orleanian who didn’t play football at Abramson is a Pro Bowl punt returner.
“That’s fine,” Jones said. “I like to walk around and mingle a little bit. It’s fun to be under the radar.”
- Back to Ray Lewis.
It’s 30 minutes into his session, and the crowd hasn’t thinned out.
And the variety of questions haven’t diminished, either, including one if he had even been “Catfished” into a fictional relationship liked Notre Dame linebacker Manti T’eo.
“I may have been once or twice,” Lewis said. “I have to go back and think about it.
“I thought it was hilarious at the time. But if I were in Manti’s position, I’m sure I wouldn’t.”
- The session is finally winding down, but Lewis doesn’t look like he’s particularly anxious for it to end.
He continues to field any and all questions, even though some have to have been asked multiple times, both today and since he announced his retirement going into the playoffs.
“This day has had a totally different feel from the first one,” he said. “That day, I came in not knowing what to expect.
“This time I did. It’s been everything I hoped it would be.”
- The interviews are over and the only activity remaining is the team photo.
But Schneider and his friends are still in their seats.
So was it worth it?
“No doubt. The only thing that would have made it better if the Saints had been here.”