I enjoy the Super Bowl as much as the next guy, as long as he's a guy who doesn't really enjoy the Super Bowl. It's not the game's fault. It's just hard to enjoy something after two weeks of constant hype between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. That's two long weeks of listening to guys say they're going to play their own game, keep doing what they did to get there and give 110%. I don't blame the players. If I could get away with that many clichés, I'd be laughing all the way to the bank.
Feeling a responsibility to do my part for football and America, I decided to teach an NFL player how to give interesting answers to dull questions. I called Ryan Clark, a safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers with 90 tackles, two interceptions and some boring-ass quotes. "Boring is good sometimes," Clark told me. "We're a boring team. That's what we want. We have one guy on our team in commercials, and that's because he has pretty hair." The pretty-hair bit gave me hope, since Troy Polamalu has not had his hair cut in more than eight years, and it is pretty only in the way that poorly financed productions of Hair are pretty.
I told Clark his Polamalu shtick is exactly the kind of stuff America needs to get through these two weeks, but he said his goal was simply to avoid giving the opposing Green Bay Packers "bulletin-board material" to post in their locker room and motivate them. He explained that it takes quite a bit of skill to be boring enough to do that, and even then it doesn't always work. When Clark tried to be boring before the Jan. 23 game against the New York Jets, he told a reporter that the only story in Pittsburgh is that the team has six Lombardi trophies and is trying to get another. That caused the New York Post to start its article with "Steel City became Snob City yesterday when the snooty Steelers offered to let the poor, little Jets kiss their six rings." And the Jets used it as motivation, Clark said: "The Jets' LaDainian Tomlinson came to me at the beginning of the game and said, 'We don't care about your six trophies.'" Then the Jets played like they meant that.
I suggested a simple strategy to liven up Clark's quotes. If he didn't want to inflame the Packers or give away game plans, he could simply avoid answering questions. If reporters ask him for predictions about the game, I said, he should tell them that he's pretty sure the other two guys in the Black Eyed Peas aren't going to get a lot of camera time. If they ask him what he learned from his Super Bowl experience two years ago, he could say he was disappointed to learn that they don't show the commercials on the field. "You can't say disappointed," Clark interrupted. "To the millions of Steelers fans in the world, this is the most important thing in the world." Fine, I said, but basically, try to think of your answers as Kanye West tweets: random, illogical and comically self-assured. To which Clark said, "But who likes Kanye? People like his music. But they think he's an a-hole."
Clark apparently had no problem being clever about things everyone completely agrees on. But he was unwilling to take any risks, especially about something as touchy as the Super Bowl. After a lifetime of scraping for attention as a smart-ass, I'd never realized that being snide has a downside only to people who are already loved for being talented and powerful. It's why hot people have no personality.
But Clark knows there's always a chance he's going to slip up and say something accidentally interesting. "At some point I'm going to say, in a sarcastic way, that there's no way we can win this game because there's no way we can cover their receivers. It's just me being a turd." I told him we could easily punch that up to nonturd material, or at least shiny-turd material. When I asked him for facts to work with, he said the Green Bay Packers' receivers get paid way more than he does. So we came up with this: "There's no way we'll be able to cover them. They get paid so much more, they'd have to cover our rent." We've got until Feb. 6 to polish that one.
Clark assured me he would take his job of entertaining us more seriously than he has in the past. "Pay attention this week. I'm going to throw out some things for you," he said. But I'm going to need my reporting brethren to fix their questions too. Ask Clark if he's ever lost anything in Polamalu's hair. Or to compare opposing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Pittsburgh legend Mr. Rogers. Ask him to find Green Bay on a map, or what a Packer is. He's ready. Especially for that last one.