It is Super Bowl week and I’m not there. Thank goodness.
Don’t misunderstand, I’ll watch the game and I would watch it even if part of my job didn’t require me to talk about it and write about it.
But, as a reporter—and for two years as a radio talk show host—there was nothing I dreaded more than going to the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl week is nothing more than a convention of celebrities hawking products; publicity people hawking the celebrities to radio and TV people—mostly radio—and of radio producers and hosts scrambling to claim they got the ‘best,’ of the celebrities.
I hated it.
I still remember Monday morning three years ago at the New York Super Bowl. I had been able to book Phil Emery, the Chicago Bears general manager on my own because Phil was an old friend from his days as the strength coach at Navy. I was pleased to get Phil, not only because he was an NFL general manager, but because he wasn’t selling anything.
A good start.
When I arrived on ‘radio row,’ that morning—which was in an upstairs ballroom at one of the two dingy midtown Sheratons, my producer, Max Herman, told me that he had booked Bill Romanowski. Apparently Romanowski, who was doing—and I guess still does—radio and TV in the Bay Area—was selling some kind of self-help product he was involved with.
It was Monday and, as Max explained, there weren’t that many onsite options. I would have been happy to talk to Emery and then spend the rest of the show talking to my partner, Andrew Bogusch and callers—we always had smart callers and none of them were pitching product. Max gave me a, ‘come on John, you know you gotta do this,’ talk and I said fine. Romanowski would come on at the bottom of our first hour.
I started the show by saying we were, ‘live from radio row,’—as opposed, I suppose to be being dead from radio row—and that we were going to be joined by Bill Romanowski in the first hour and by Phil Emery in the second hour. Before we went to our second break I again promo’d Romanowski’s upcoming appearance.
And then he didn’t show up. I asked Max to find out what the —- was going on. He returned to say that Romanowski’s booker—his wife—had added something at 9:30 but Romo could come on at 10. My instinct was to say NO WAY, but I sighed and said okay. At 10, we went through the same drill: promo Romo; no Romo. I was now officially done and I told Max that. By then, during one of our breaks, I had run into Scott Pioli, the assistant general manager of the Falcons—and former GM of the Patriots.
I didn’t know Pioli very well but he and my wife grew up in the same hometown and we both share an affinity for Army football. I asked if he could come on at 11:30 and he said sure.
As went to the 10:30 break, Mrs. Romanowski appeared in front of me.
“I’m sorry Romo couldn’t get here for you at 10,” she said.
“Thanks,” I said. “Apology accepted.”
She looked down at her notes. “He can fit you in next hour at 11:30.”
“No thanks,” I said. “We’re good.”
She was confused. “Are you off the air at 11?”
“We can do tomorrow if you prefer.”
She was now getting it. “Look, this is very hectic for him,” she said. “He’s very much in demand.”
“Well great then. Missing our show won’t be a problem.”
She was looking at Max for backup. Max knew better. She stalked away.
The other thing that’s always fun is the celeb who is being shepherded around and, once the prom for the product is done, the PR guy starts giving you wrap signals. Naturally, when this happened, I would ask extra questions even if I was done. This had happened the year before in New Orleans when Andy Roddick came on to promote some new website.
Roddick was a pro and started working the promo into his answer to my first question which was about why no American man had won a major title since he’d won the U.S. Open in 2003. (The list is at 53 majors and counting as of this moment) Two questions later, the PR guy started giving me a wrap signal. I kept Roddick another 10 minutes, in part because of the PR guy, in part because Andy’s a good talker.
The PR guy said nothing, just glared. Then, Roddick stayed and chatted for a few minutes off-air which clearly made the guy nuts. Finally, walking away, he said to Max, “Doesn’t your guy (I’m sure he had NO idea what my name was) know what a wrap signal is?”
“Oh he knows exactly what a wrap signal is,” Max answered.
I learned, eventually, to say early on, “we’ll get to (whatever they were selling) in a minute but first…When Bogusch and I were finished asking our questions, I’d signal Bogusch and he’d ask a couple promo questions. He was always a good sport about it.
The best moment in the ongoing battle between real questions and promo questions was with Doug Flutie. I was delighted to talk to Flutie because he was a great story as a player and has always been a good talker. He was flacking for a knee brace. Fine. I did my, ‘we’ll get to the knee brace later,’ disclaimer and we began walking through his career and the famous Hail Mary pass at Miami. Doug was really good—funny, good memory, poignant.
But at some point he began getting nervous that I’d forgotten about the knee brace. He was holding it in his hands and he began snapping it against my arm. I looked at him, he pointed at the knee brace. I nodded, put up a finger to indicate one more question and he kept snapping my arm with the knee brace.
Finally, I turned to Bogusch and said, “please ask Doug about his knee brace before he snaps my arm off with it.”
Flutie was actually apologetic when we were done. “I gotta earn my money,” he said.
I can say this with complete honesty and no malice: When CBS decided to cancel the show at the end of 2014, I was disappointed. I enjoyed doing it; enjoyed the people I worked with and thought it was a good, smart show. Business, as they say, is business. It was nothing personal.
As it happened, I was in Mike Krzyzewski office interviewing him for “The Legends Club,” when I saw that my bosses at CBS were calling. They had told me a decision on my fate was imminent. I asked Mike if we could break for a minute, walked into his bathroom—killing two birds with one stone—and took the call.
That’s where I got the news. I walked back in and Mike said, “everything okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said. “I just got some good news.”
“Really?” he said.
“Yeah,” I answered, “I don’t have to go to The Super Bowl this year.”
It really was, as Stuart Little might say, the silver lining. So, I hope everyone enjoys radio row.
Now THAT is an oxymoron.
John Feinstein’s most recent non-fiction book, “The Legends Club—Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry,” was on The New York Times bestseller list for six months. His latest young adult mystery is, “The DH,” published last fall. His first YA book, “Last Shot,–A Final Four Mystery,” was awarded The Edgar Allan Poe Award in the Young Adult category.