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What It’s Like To Have A Press Pass For The Super Bowl


What do comedians Louie Anderson and Gary “Baba Booey” Dell’Abate, chefs Guy Fieri and Cat Cora, former Playmate Jenny McCarthy, physician Dr. Oz, baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, and NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon have in common? Not much, other than 1) some degree of celebrity and 2) a desire to leverage that celebrity by appearing at Super Bowl LII.

So I learned while serving as an officially credentialed media correspondent for Sunday’s super sporting spectacle. I quite literally stumbled into this role while roaming the Mall of America—media headquarters for Super Bowl festivities—yesterday. When passing the credentialing booth, I asked how to obtain press passes. I dutifully e-mailed my name, rank, and serial number to the NFL press office, and—voila!—within an hour was confirmed for day passes for Friday and Saturday.

Unfortunately, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles did not hold press conferences on Friday, so I didn’t have a chance to get any players’ thoughts on the game or, for that matter, what they thought about the Devin Nunes memo released Friday. But what Friday lacked in sporting news it made up for in an ongoing cavalcade of celebrity happenings and barely organized chaos.

Press activity focuses on two locations—one open to the public, one not. The media workroom, in the Mall of America’s second floor, contains rows and rows of tables and workstations. Reporters have the usual access to WiFi, a middling spread of food, water, and snacks, interview rooms, and spaces for press conferences by league officials and others. (The Patriots held their media availability yesterday in a larger hall across from the media center.)

Luminaries (Mike Holmgren, Emmitt Smith) occasionally swing by between their appearances; upon seeing the rows and rows of tables arrayed before him, Louie Anderson exclaimed, “Pencils down—the test ends in five minutes!”

Upstairs, on the mall’s third floor, lies Radio Row, a crazy cross between speed dating and a museum exhibition. Radio Row includes myriad tables set up for sports talk stations, both television and radio, across the country, which descend upon the Super Bowl every year. Former and current players (excepting those on the Super Bowl teams), celebrities, and assorted guests make the rounds conducting interviews. In other cases, press representatives spend time trying to pitch others for interviews (the speed dating part).

Surrounding what one person described as this “Guest-a-palooza” are thousands of fans, all looking to get a selfie with their favorite players or just observe the madness. To give some sense of their enthusiasm: Patriot fans waited outside the team’s media appearance yesterday, in the hopes they could catch a glimpse of players walking behind a curtain from the press conference venue in the Mall back into their team hotel. One radio producer decided to give some love to fans, New England-style, by offering them some leftover Dunkin’ Donuts.

Over the week, the hordes at the Mall have grown substantially—crowds one or two deep on Tuesday swelled to five or more deep by today. The throngs of passersby clog the entrance to Moose Mountain Adventure Golf, which overlooks Radio Row. (I’m not making that detail up.) Navigating through the bodies becomes a feat in and of itself for any credentialed individual trying to enter Radio Row.

Somehow, the radio personalities manage to conduct interviews in the middle of the chaos. At any time, the fans surrounding Radio Row could let out a cheer for a celebrity sighting, or in a show of appreciation for the Patriots, Eagles, or Minnesota’s own team. (“Who thinks the Vikings should keep Case Keenum?” one host asked the crowd, prompting a round of approving shouts and yelps.) It all may look and sound organized when it goes out over the air, but up close and personal, the shows involve on-the-fly improvisation, juggling guests and segments.

The crowd reactions outside Radio Row serve as an interesting proxy of celebrity. McCarthy has drawn crowds whenever she roams about the Mall, taping segments for her radio show on Sirius. Football Hall of Famer (and Fox Sports analyst) Terry Bradshaw noted yesterday that he drew a nearly presidential-sized security entourage. But Green Bay Packer great Jerry Kramer—a Hall of Famer in his own right, and participant in the famous 1967 “Ice Bowl”—passed through the crowd unmolested, even while wearing his Super Bowl II championship ring.

The Super Bowl draws a fascinating line between plebians and “celebrity” patricians. Louie Anderson called Radio Row “a madhouse,” and it is. But if you look like you know what you’re doing, even if you have no clue, and ask questions politely (this is the home of “Minnesota Nice,” after all), you never know what you can stumble upon, or into.

In other words, fake it until you make it. It’s the prime lesson from my day as a Super Bowl correspondent.

Mr. Jacobs is founder and CEO of Juniper Research Group, a policy consulting firm. He is on Twitter: @chrisjacobsHC.