HOUSTON: The final countdown to the biggest date on the US sporting calendar kicked off here Monday (Tuesday in Manila) with a traditional media circus greeting the arrival of Super Bowl 51 opponents New England and Atlanta.
Thousands of fans and several hundred journalists from across the globe thronged MinuteMaid Park, the home of the Houston Astros baseball team, as the Patriots and Falcons held court ahead of next Sunday’s showpiece in Texas.
The Super Bowl protagonists have almost become secondary to the spectacle in recent years, with the prime-time event becoming a byword for the surreal.
On Monday, two reporters from an Austrian television network dressed as prince and princess — the princess sporting a generous beard — before heading off for interviews.
Meanwhile, a reporter for Bleacher Report donned an eerily lifelike mask of New England quarterback Tom Brady while posing for selfies with onlookers who included Simone Biles, the pint-sized superstar US Olympic gymnast doing a guest stint for television.
Cooper Manning, the oldest brother of Super Bowl-winning quarterback siblings Peyton and Eli, popped up wearing a garish suit made of fake dollars.
On a stage, Patriots’ billionaire owner Robert Kraft and his Atlanta Falcons counterpart, Arthur Blank, took questions about who was the most famous celebrity on each other’s cellphone. (Blank named country music star Kenny Chesney; Kraft opted for Elton John).
Kraft, who is preparing for his eighth Super Bowl as Patriots owner, was later asked what was the best decision of his 23-year ownership of the team.
“Hiring Bill Belichick,” he said without hesitation, naming the coach who on Sunday could claim his fifth Super Bowl victory guiding the Patriots.
Almost an afterthought among the good-natured chaos were the players.
The Falcons, preparing for only the second Super Bowl in the franchise’s history, appeared first to a soundtrack of booming music and dry ice.
Unsurprisingly, a large scrum of journalists surrounded a riser where Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan took questions for nearly an hour.
Among the nuggets Ryan coughed up was the fact that he has been in regular contact with New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who masterminded two defeats of Brady and the Patriots in past Super Bowls.
“We’ve been in touch, yes,” Ryan said.
But the unquestioned man of the hour remained Brady, who is chasing a fifth Super Bowl crown on Sunday at the age of 39, 15 years after first leading the Patriots to the title.
Unsurprisingly, many questions related to Brady’s relationship with Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner who imposed a four-game suspension on the quarterback at the start of the season for his role in the Deflategate saga.
Brady deftly sidestepped questions about whether Goodell handing him the Vince Lombardi Trophy on Sunday would be an awkward moment.
“Well, I just hope we win and that we’re in that situation where we can go celebrate,” Brady said. “I’ve just been thinking about the game, and the game I’m going to play. I’m not worried about post game or anything like that.”