SAN JOSE, Calif. — What happens when you put Peyton Manning, Miss Universe, an orange-and-blue leprechaun and 200 TV cameras into the same room?
Answer: Super Bowl Opening Night.
The NFL took a good idea gone surreal — what used to be known as “Media Day” — gave it a new name, added a live band and moved it to prime time Monday night to kick off Super Bowl week between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers.
This new and amped-up interview-fest came complete with a guy walking around inside an inflatable football and a newly choreographed players’ introduction that involved all 60 players from each team coming out on a four-story-high catwalk.
“I had no idea that was a bridge we were standing on,” Manning said.
Suffice to say, the five-time MVP, who built a career on his impeccable preparation, couldn’t have predicted a lot of what came his way on this night.
Who would play him in a movie? “Maybe a young Robert Redford,” Manning said.
Another reporter — or make that, person with a credential — asked him to look into the camera and wish a Happy Chinese New Year to all his friends in that part of the world.
And then, there was a long debate over whether Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras are this week, or next? (Answer: Next week. We think.)
All of this was thoughtfully brought to prime time by the NFL for the first time in the 50-year history of the Super Bowl.
For decades, Media Day was a Tuesday-morning affair — set early in the day, early in the week, so as not to interrupt the teams’ schedules too much and to give writers the rest of the week to craft the stories out of the questions they’d asked.
But this year, the NFL moved it to Monday night, where minor details like dress code, off-color banter and 8-year-olds asking football players questions after bedtime barely raise an eyebrow anymore.
Miss Universe, one of the 5,500 “reporters” with credentials for Super Bowl-week festivities, answered more questions than she asked. Most had to do with Steve Harvey. “Yes, I am the real Miss Universe,” she said, referencing Harvey’s embarrassing gaffe during that prime-time show a few weeks back.
From the costumes, to the beauty queens, to the guys dressed up like Sesame Street’s Swedish Chef, this prime-time special had pretty much everything — except for Donald Trump, who was waiting on caucus results in Iowa.
At one point, though, a reporter reminded Manning that Trump was picking the Broncos on Sunday because he knew Peyton, “and he’s a very, very good guy.”
Would Manning return the endorsement?
“I’m a football player,” he said.