By Ron Flatter
Houston – This has been a dream of a week – if only I had time to step back and realize it.
I am not sure how many of the 5,000 members of the media covering Super Bowl LI here in Houston were also at Pegasus World Cup I in Florida. My guess is less than a half-dozen – and even then mostly from Miami. I do know I am one of that rare breed.
For this small group – the few, the proud, the wearers of dirty laundry – we toil away wishing we could take a deep breath and truly realize how lucky we are to be at arm’s length from some real sports glamour. A few minutes ago I was in the same room as Lady Gaga – standing there with a million reasons to be showing my poker face and hearing the cacophonous clicks from the paparazzi (If you are not a fan of Ms. Gaga, you did not get that, so carry on).
OK, so Lady Gaga wasn’t at Gulfstream Park on Saturday. Then again, Arrogate is not here at the George R. Brown Convention Center, home of the Super Bowl LI media center. Believe me, there is plenty of room in this gargantuan place for him and the other 11 horses that were in the Pegasus. I have had my own workouts – furlongs at a time – simply finding my way to the men’s room.
Last week I was pointing a microphone at Art Sherman and Bob Baffert and Mike Smith – and occasionally it seemed as if I was competing for their attention with a throng of people. That throng of a handful was nothing compared with sometimes 100 or more people who I joined to surround Tom Brady and Matt Ryan.
Which brings me to Super Bowl Opening Night. Only hours after landing here Monday on my flight from Miami, I found myself at the home of baseball’s Houston Astros to bond with thousands of other people craning to hear the wisdom of the likes of Julio Jones and Dwight Freeney. Many of those thousands were dressed up like the fashionably late-arriving crowd that descended on Gulfstream Park – turning the otherwise hum-drum gathering into a veritable cocktail party where it seemed as important to be seen as it was to see.
Moreover, as is the case with any big horse race, Super Bowl week is a chance to catch up with people who are seen only on those occasions. NBC’s latter-day racing host Mike Tirico once told me as I was grousing about some displeasure of a Super Bowl week nearly 20 years ago that the best thing about events like that and the Final Four are that “you get to see people who you know will be there, but you know you won’t see the rest of the year.” Through that prism my attitude changed about these sorts of events that lure the thousands.
Yes, the traffic in Houston stinks – maybe more than any metropolitan area in the U.S. outside Atlanta and San Francisco. Everything at this Super Bowl is too spread out as it was in San Francisco last year. And yes, the TVs did not work last weekend in the auxiliary media center at Gulfstream.
But in each case I was far more drawn to the feeling of enjoyment in those moments when I saw faces that I had not seen in months and even years. These catch-ups are like high-school reunions for people who actually have grown up – mostly.
Yet even if I did not recognize one person in the crowds upon crowds of people I have experienced in south Florida and south Texas over the past week, I have had the good fortune to be up close to two seminal events – both of which are still being written.
To be in on the ground floor of the Pegasus World Cup has me feeling like those pioneering football writers and broadcasters who were there for the first AFL-NFL World Championship of Football. Will it grow as big as the Super Bowl? Probably not. But already we are seeing the idea copied in Australia with the advent of “The Everest.” So there is already every reason to feel proud of being at that first poker game of horse racing.
As for Super Bowl LI, I will take New England, lay the points, hope for an entertaining game – and pray that there are no major, show-stopping traffic jams between now and Sunday night.
Oh, one more thing. May I keep one of the dogs that has been sniffing my bag at the security checkpoints here?
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