By PAUL NEWBERRY
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Welcome to the Freak Show.
It starts on my way through the security checkpoint at University of Phoenix Stadium, where, after clearing the metal detector and reclaiming a set of rental-car keys, a handful of loose change and a cell phone, I have my first encounter with a vision in white (and red, if you make it down to the towering pumps).
I gaze upon the veil flowing down her bare neck, the strapless, thigh-high wedding dress that must have come from the Britney Spears Collection, the garters holding up her lacy hose. Clearly, she’s got matrimony on her mind and a bunch of wealthy bachelors — potential husbands all — waiting on the stadium floor.
Her main targets are Tom Brady and Eli Manning. She’ll take the other Manning (you remember Peyton, last year’s Super Bowl MVP?), though someone must have forgotten to tell her that players who already lost in the playoffs aren’t likely to be here.
Heck, she’s willing to settle for anyone. The backup linebacker. The long snapper. The third-string quarterback.
“Would you marry me?” will be her refrain for the next three hours.
Welcome to Super Bowl media day.
On this sunny morning, Ines Gomez Mont is no different than me, a lowly blogger for The Associated Press, or the plethora of award-winning writers, columnists and broadcasters prowling the floor in this flying saucer of a stadium, all in search of the stories that will fill newspapers, Internet sites and sportscasts between now and Sunday’s game.
Gomez Mont’s outfit includes the most important accessory of all: a credential to Super Bowl media day, an event that started out as a supersized news conference but has evolved (or should I say devolved?) into a chance for fringe celebrities, would-be pranksters and pseudo-journalists to take on a starring role.
The players and coaches are no longer the story. Everyone — myself included — spends much of our allotted time — one hour for each team, with a 45-minute meal break in between — tagging along behind the odd assortment of characters who couldn’t care less if the Patriots complete their perfect season or the Giants pull off a monumental upset.
There’s someone dressed as a wizard. There’s another guy carrying a puppet. There are several schoolchildren getting an early start on their journalism careers. And there’s a plethora of scantily clad ladies, from the midriff-bearing Miss Nevada USA (her belly button hidden by a sash) to one of those briefcase-carrying models from “Deal or No Deal.”
Frankly, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see someone break out a stripper’s pole (consider that idea trademarked for 2009).
I certainly didn’t bat an eye when former “American Idol” contestant Kellie Pickler, doing a bit for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” climbed atop a set of bleachers to quickly snare the attention of New York Giants defensive star Michael Strahan.
“Do you listen to music before the game?” Pickler asks.
“Sure,” Strahan replied.
“Will you listen to my album?” Pickler says, holding up a copy of her debut, “Small Town Girl.”
“Sure, pass it up,” Strahan said.
The CD flows through the hands of real reporters like a bucket of water on its way to a fire, arriving at Strahan’s podium in a matter of seconds. He scans the playlist, clearly having never heard of even one song on Pickler’s country album.
“My Angel,” he calls out.
“Red High Heels,” he says next.
“That’s the one!!!!” Pickler screams out. “Play ’Red High Heels.”’
Strahan plays right along.
“OK, I’ll just imagine Tom Brady in the game wearing red high heels,” he chortles.
Speaking of Brady and red high heels, Gomez Mont is on the prowl, scouring the floor in her pursuit of a husband.
(To meet the standards of full disclosure, I must report that she’s actually an entertainment reporter for Mexico-based TV Azteca. But since I have this part in parenthesis, you don’t necessarily have to read it. Besides, we’ll all have a lot more fun if we just pretend it’s real).
Gomez Mont sets her standards high: the supermodel-dating, ruggedly handsome quarterback of the 18-0 Patriots.
“Would you marry me, Tom?” she asks Brady.
No chance. He decides to stick with the play he called, Gisele Bundchen.
“Tom Brady, I’m very, very disappointed,” Gomez Mont reveals later, playing the role of jilted lover to a tee. “I don’t love you anymore.”
Next up: Manning, the Giants’ quarterback and Peyton’s little brother.
“I’m in love with you,” Gomez Mont insists.
Apparently flustered, Manning comes back with a disjointed response.
“Sorry,” he says. “I’m taken for.”
Smooth, Eli, smooth.
With wedding planning duties on hold for the time being, it’s time to do a little prowling of my own. What’s this? A rope? A red carpet? A model lugging a silver briefcase?
Hmmm, she looks familiar. Where have I seen her before?
Ohhhhh, yeah, it’s Claudia Jordan, one of those briefcase-opening technicians on the mindless NBC game show “Deal or No Deal.” (Well, I guess I just outed myself. Yes, I have been known to sit in front of the TV and shout “Deal, deal, you moron! How could you turn down $200,000?”).
On this day, Jordan is moonlighting for “Entertainment Tonight,” providing lessons on walking the red carpet to any interested players.
Kyle Bissinger, a practice squad player from the Patriots, jumps at the chance. After all, he’s not exactly being inundated with interview requests.
Bissinger struts along the carpet, smiling and waving at no one in particular. Work it, Kyle, work it.
“You’ve got to pose for everybody, then spin,” he says confidently.
Bissinger is followed by running back Lawrence Maroney, who puts Jordan on his arm and strolls up to the rope.
“What are you wearing?” another ET reporter asks.
“I’ve got a nice jersey made by Reebok,” Maroney answers, struggling to contain a smile. “I’ve got on these nice silver pants.”
He points toward Jordan.
“She picked it out for me.”
I wonder how Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ no-nonsense coach, is tolerating his hour-long ordeal with the media, faux media and accompanying circus — though, I have full confidence he’s making it through without saying much of anything.
Or even cracking a smile.
My ears pick up Belichick’s boring mumble, droning off in the distance. Somewhat reluctantly, I make my way toward his podium. Maybe I can pick up a nugget on his coaching philosophy — something about organization or time management or, at the very least, videotaping.
I walk up just as someone is trying to lure Belichick to the psychiatrist couch.
“How close is the perception of you to the reality of you?” the Freud wannabe asks.
“Oh, I don’t know. Next,” Belichick replies dourly.
Then comes: “If you were in a movie, who would you want to play you?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Next,” Belichick repeats.
Well, enough of that. I wonder how the quest for a husband is going?
Gomez Mont keeps asking, but no one will say, “Yes.”
She strikes out with the Patriots. Ditto for the Giants. Finally, when the clock hits 0:00 (yes, they actually time the 60-minute sessions on the scoreboard), Gomez Mont strolls slowly back through the stands, heading toward the same spot where we had that first magical counter at the X-ray machine.
Could it have been just a few hours ago? It seems as though we’ve shared a lifetime.
“Did anyone say ’yes?”’ I ask.
“Nobody,” she replies. “I’m very sad.”
I feel her pain, then head for my car. Along the way, I notice a Ferris wheel set up in the parking lot.