INDIANAPOLIS — How much would you pay to watch 5,000 or so shlubbish media types shout mostly inane questions at the players and coaches involved in Super Bowl XLVI?
That was the question NFL executives had to ask themselves in the past year, as they planned one of the more insane events in Super Bowl history. The league, for the first time ever, allowed fans to attend the annual Media Day circus, held Tuesday at Lucas Oil Field.
When I first learned that this was in the works some months ago, I originally dismissed the idea as silly. Who in his right mind would buy a ticket for this?
Apparently, lots of people. Whether they were of sound mind, that's another question. But by most accounts, the NFL hit a home run with this new fan-friendly event, and in the end, that's what matters.
Some 7,300 tickets were sold, at a price of $25 apiece — a sellout, according to league spokesman Brian McCarthy.
With the cost of attending the game out of reach for the vast majority of Indianapolis residents, this provided a new way for fans to get engaged in Super Bowl week. And many people were only too happy to participate.
"We're season-ticket holders for the Colts, so the opportunity came up a few months ago, so I just bought them right away," Indianapolis resident Nicole Biberstine told me as she and her husband, Mike, were buying hot dogs in the stadium concourse. (Yes, concession stands were doing a brisk business, from what I observed.) "It was $25 — well worth it."
When asked which media member she was most excited to observe in action, I was greeted with a somewhat puzzled look before she answered, "Eli Manning."
No, that's a player, I explained. She knew that, of course. She was there to see the players, obviously, although a Deion Sanders sighting did qualify as one of the highlights of her day.
"That was exciting," Biberstine said. "And then it's fun to see the Telemundo people, and the crazy, scantily clad women reporters. They're putting on more of a show than some of the players. I actually made a joke that we should all wear wedding dresses, and now I'm regretting not wearing them."
This Biberstine lady knows her Media Day history, as she was referencing an infamous incident from years ago when a "reporter" dressed in a wedding dress and proposed to Tom Brady during one of these circuses.
"I really think it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this, and since we're the first fans to be able to do it, we had to do it," Biberstine said. "I guess there were some scalpers ... and we could scalp and make $100, but we didn't want to do it."
Whoa. Wait just a gosh-darn second. Scalpers? Scalping tickets to Media Day? What kind of bizzaro Super Bowl week am I experiencing?
As crazy as it sounds, it's true. People purchased tickets on the secondary market to attend this gathering.
I encountered Fort Wayne residents Zack Wilson and Brian Miller shortly after they entered the stadium. They had just paid $50 each — $25 over the face value of the tickets — for the right to watch reporters at work.
What kind of expectations did they have as they moved into the seating area?
"I don't know that we have any," said Wilson. "We just thought we'd come and check it out."
"I wanted to see the facility," noted Miller. "I'd never been in here before, and I think it's going to be neat to see Eli Manning. We're just here to see what it's all about."
Ticketed fans entered the stadium and were presented with a souvenir bag that contained some goodies, including trading cards and a radio headset that allowed them to listen to the on-field question-and-answer sessions. As thousands of reporters paraded to and from booths containing players and coaches, fans in the seats could choose which one to listen to.
Frankly, it was somewhat bizarre, as the crowd occasionally would erupt in cheers, no doubt because they heard an answer over their radios that they approved of. When a Tom Brady or an Eli Manning would mention how great the fans in New England or New York are, they were met with approval from some of those in the crowd.
The presence of the fans was not lost on the stars of this new NFL-produced show.
"It is a new wrinkle, that's for sure," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, who endured Media Day prior to his team's upset win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. "We didn't see this before, and the fans are obviously extremely interested to be here today."
While most of the paying fans in attendance appeared to have a good time, one was leaving just a little disappointed. Eight-year-old Indianapolis resident Griffin Thomas was hoping to get a BenJarvus Green-Ellis autograph out of the deal. It didn't happen, as players were not put in a position to mingle with fans.
"He's (Green-Ellis) right down there," said Amy Thomas, Griffin's mother, pointing to a sectioned-off area of seats where players were sitting for interviews. "We tried to get down there to get an autograph, but we need a special pass. We're a little bummed, but that's OK."
She glanced down at the media credential dangling around my neck.
"But you have a special pass," perhaps angling for an opportunity to score the coveted autograph. I couldn't let that happen, of course. But it wasn't a total disappointment for the boy. He got out of school for the day and was soon heading to the NFL Experience, where he would likely be able to secure some signatures from NFL types not playing in this week's game.
Considering the success of the first Media Day with fans present, it would be a shock if it didn't become a regular part of the Super Bowl week calendar. McCarthy said that, like all things the league tries, the NFL will evaluate how things went before making any decisions about the future.
My money's on fans being invited to plunk down a few bucks to sit in the seats of the Superdome prior to Super Bowl XVLII next February, even if the concept still does strike me as a little crazy.