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Media day stranger than usual

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

HOUSTON -- Super Bowl media days don't come any stranger than this -- and players hardly cared a whit.

Rookies and veterans alike rode the wave of goofiness, even welcomed it, embracing questions about music, fashion, politics, sex, MTV -- some from kiddie reporters.

Bring them on!

For a Super Bowl cast thought to be duller than a roomful of tax agents, Tuesday's media frenzy was wildly entertaining.

"It's almost like the Final Four," said Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers, who also played basketball at North Carolina, "except with a whole lot more media asking a whole lot more weird stuff."

Indeed.

Jake Delhomme brushed off NFL Network reporter Warren Sapp when he asked a question.

Rod Smart of "He Hate Me" fame and Carolina teammate Jarrod Cooper of no fame at all put on a vaudeville skit complete with wrestling, off-color jokes and tall tales.

Patriots rookie Dan Koppen read cue cards for Spike TV. Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi was challenged to a spelling bee by a 13-year-old Nickelodeon reporter with spiky canary-yellow hair.

"Spell Delhomme," Justin Phillips boldly challenged Bruschi. Delhomme is Jake Delhomme, as in the Carolina Panthers' quarterback.

"D-E-L-H-O-M-E," Bruschi responded. He missed an 'M,' and as the last letter spilled from his lips, the youngster pounced: "Wrong!"

Delhomme later admitted he couldn't spell Bruschi.

The players, who otherwise had the day off, were getting a kick out of the hundreds of reporters shoving their way through hordes of other reporters.

Many were there to ask serious questions about audibles, defensive schemes and game plans. Even more were interested in anything and everything that had nothing to do with football.

The Patriots and Panthers were accommodating, none more than He Hate Me and his sidekick, Cooper, who dubbed himself He Love Me.

Cooper, a backup safety, screamed out to the MTV cameras that he wanted a date with pop star Christina Aguilera. Then he bragged about killing a pet anaconda in a bathtub.

Smart, whose nickname earned him headlines in the now-defunct XFL, complained with a laugh that he deserved a podium like the ones given to his more accomplished teammates.

"Is the NFL scared of me?" he asked.

Their shtick drew a scrum of television cameras and microphones. Someone insulted Cooper by asking about the Panthers not having any big names.

"Are we the no-name Panthers?" he shouted. "You find something like this anywhere in the NFL? I don't think there is a group of people like me and him anywhere.

"Hollywood. We're trying to get a reality show."

Down the other end of the field, Sapp, whose real line of work is as a Tampa Bay defensive tackle, was moonlighting as a reporter. Delhomme was not an accommodating interview.

"I don't want to see you this week," Delhomme said to the man he faced twice during the season. "No, I've seen enough of you during the season."

Plenty of the Panthers and Patriots were equipped with hand-held video cameras. Carolina safety Travares Tillman bought his on Saturday for one purpose: media day.

"Oh, yeah, I want to capture it all," he said. "I want to show my family how crazy this is. I'm going to watch it today when I get back to the hotel."

No doubt, there would be plenty to watch:

-- Koppen, New England's starting center, butchering his lines while trying to look at cue cards and the TV camera simultaneously.

-- Pick Boy, a caped, masked crusader also employed by Nickelodeon who was fixated on helmet hair.

-- Camera crews from Japan, Germany, Mexico and Australia seeking messages for the folks back home who, presumably, had some idea about this thing called the Super Bowl.

"You walk into a kind of empty stadium," Patriots rookie Eugene Wilson said, "and you say, 'Ain't there supposed to be some kind of people here?'

"And then, it's WOW! Here they all come."


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