This is media day
Play-by-play of Ducks, Buckeyes playing meet the press
DALLAS Covering a premier sporting event such as the Super Bowl or the major league All-Star Game always offers the opportunity for a couple of things:
1) a really cool personalized press pass, with your photo on it
2) media day
The former provides credentials that ensure you'll be able to cover the game for which your news-gathering agency paid good money to get to you to the scene.
The latter presents the chance to interview participants from both teams, which certainly beats the alternative.
That was the case Saturday as coaches and players from Oregon and Ohio State -- along with 1,200 members of the media -- convened at the Dallas Convention Center for a couple of hours of Q&A.
There's a herd mentality to all of this, of course.
If a reporter is looking for an exclusive, he/she is wise to seek out a place-kicker or a reserve offensive lineman or one of the team's strength coaches.
When I got off the media shuttle bus and walked into the convention center at 8:25 a.m. -- five minutes before the Ducks were scheduled for their hour-long appearance -- at least 50 reporters and camera operators already were parked in front of the podium in which Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota would operate.
Maybe 25 media members were around coach Mark Helfrich's podium.
Three other podiums -- for center Hroniss Grasu, safety Erick Dargan and linebacker Tony Washington -- flanked those of the Big Two.
Name tags for all of the other Oregon players and the assistant coaches were distributed at about 20 tables spread out in the area that not only was big enough to span a football field, but also was a football field.
A full 100 yards of plush FieldTurf covered the area that will be used for several CFP championship game activities over the next three days. Had I brought a football, I'd have sent colleagues Jason Vondersmith, Stephen Alexander and Jonathan House out for pass patterns. That would have livened up the party considerably.
In another part of the convention center -- which offers one million square feet of exhibition space -- "Playoff Fan Central" was set up and ready to roll. There will be appearances by bands, cheerleaders and mascots, along with interactive gaming, exhibits and sponsor activities through Monday. It's all part of what makes premier sporting events what they are -- especially the sponsor activities.
With a paid admission to Playoff Fan Central ($17 for adults, $12 for kids, seniors and members of the military), fans were allowed to watch media day from bleachers set up on one side of field, with a capacity of 4,500.
I'm going to guess maybe 200 fans showed up. I'm also going to guess they were pretty much bored. Supposedly they were given headphones so they could listen to player interviews. I can guarantee you they were unable to hear reporters' questions. I could hardly hear them, and I wasn't up in the stands watching through my binoculars.
On the field were work sets for ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and the Pac-12 and Big Ten networks. I noticed Tim Tebow talking earnestly and Mack Brown listening on the ESPN set. I also saw ESPN's Chris Fowler, the play-by-play voice for Monday's game, clad in jeans and sweatshirts, prowling the grounds, casually visiting with players as if he were on vacation.
The CFP championship trophy had its own spot in one corner of the field. Photos were welcome. Next to it was a sign: "Please do not touch the trophy." (I saw several of Ohio State's players take selfies and group shots. I saw some of them touch the trophy. If there is a suspension, you'll know why.)
At 8:35, the Oregon fight song struck up. I looked around to see if the Ducks' marching band was on hand. It was not. A few fans decked in green and yellow stood up and clapped.
At 8:40, 10 minutes late, the UO bus rolled into the center. Over the loudspeaker, someone said with importance in his voice, "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Rose Bowl champions, the University of Oregon Ducks!"
The Oregon players, wearing their white game jerseys with gray sweats, filed into the room and headed for their designated areas. For the next hour, they answered questions from the media. Lots of media.
"It's kind of like the Final Four in basketball, and I've been on the fringes of the Super Bowl stuff," Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens said as he surveyed the scene. "It's big."
All of the Oregon players -- even those who declined many interviews through the season, such as running back Thomas Tyner -- took part.
"It's just part of the process of being a college athlete, I guess," said the Aloha High grad, who seems like a nice kid, if a little shy.
One of the UO players considered a go-to interview subject by many of the media -- receiver Keanon Lowe out of Jesuit High -- had mixed emotions.
"It's enjoyable, I guess," Lowe said. "I'm excited to get out of here, though. I'm not really much of a talker, but it's fun. It's a good experience."
When I asked Washington if the event was pleasurable or a necessary evil, he half-grinned, half-winced.
"It's a necessary evil," he said.
You don't enjoy it that much?
"No, not at all," he said.
Linebacker Joe Walker politely told me, "I would rather be in meetings or something, to be honest."
And this from tailback Royce Freeman: "A lot of us would rather get down to business and play the game already."
Other Ducks seemed to catch the spirit -- and the enormity -- of the whole scene.
"When you're playing in such a big event, it's a good thing," said defensive tackle Alex Balducci out of Central Catholic. "You have to take it in and run with it and value where you are."
"We're still kind of in awe," said center Doug Brenner, the former Jesuit High standout. "It's crazy that we're here, playing in the national championship.
"Anytime we're watching ESPN, it's just showing us and Ohio State. We got on the buses and there was a countdown until we arrived for media day. We had seven (motorcycle) police officers escorting us. It's outrageous."
"It's fun," said linebacker Tyson Coleman from Lake Oswego High. "It's a dream come true, really. Some guys may get annoyed by it, but you have to think back to when you were in youth sports, watching the big games and thinking how cool it would be.
"You can't be too big for the moment. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You have to make the most of it."
Soon it was time for the Ducks to leave and the Buckeyes to arrive. The Ohio State fight song was played. From the PA system: "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the Sugar Bowl champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes!"
At the podiums, coach Urban Meyer and players Cardale Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett held court. Former Ohio State running back Eddie George brought a red Buckeye No. 27 jersey for Elliott to autograph, "for my son, Aaron, who couldn't be here." Then George, slipping from unprofessional to professional, asked Elliott a couple of questions on behalf of Sirius Radio.
Soon enough, it was all over. Time for the coaches, the players and the media to go to work.
When I'm asked by CFP to be on the advisory board for next year's media day, I'll have a couple of suggestions, including the elimination of the rock music that pounded in the background through the day -- just loud enough to be picked up by microphones, videocameras and recorders. Great for the dozens of folks in the stands. A distraction for reporters trying to do their job.
Overall, though, it was a jolly good show. Except, it would seem, for a few of the players, and the spectators.