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Column: 'Are you ready for a freak show?'

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady smiles during an NFL football media availability in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady smiles during an NFL football media availability in Foxborough, Mass., Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
By Jim Litke
AP Sports Columnist / October 6, 2011

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Are you ready for a freak show?

Thought so. Then circle Jan. 31, 2012 on the calendar. It could be your lucky day.

The NFL just announced it will put 5,000 "affordable" tickets on sale to Super Bowl media day, a "first-ever" opportunity for fans to get a "behind-the-scenes" glimpse into the glamorous sport of celebrity interviewing.

The fortunate few will have access to the stadium club, concession and merchandise shops and a seat in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, plus a gift bag with a radio to listen to the NFL Network's coverage and sound bites from a few players being grilled.

The league's statement promised that "fans in attendance will see the participating teams take their team photos in their game uniforms."

In between, they'll be treated to kids carrying microphones and posing as reporters and more than a few players carrying video cameras and covered in bling interviewing themselves. The closest thing to real action will be the blocks thrown in the scrum around the star quarterback. So what will all those fans take away from the once-in-a-lifetime experience?

Speaking from personal experience, I thought the Bride of Frankenstein was a movie until I wound up standing next to her at media day in 2008. That was when the Patriots were heavily favored to finish off a perfect season against the Giants in the Super Bowl, Tom Brady was still a bachelor, and a reporter from Mexico's TV Azteca showed up in a bridal outfit on loan from a slasher movie to ask coach Bill Belichick's opinion of her plan to steal Brady from Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

"Better talk to Tom Brady," Belichick said, without batting an eye or apparent humor.

"I'm better than Gisele," she shot back.

"I wouldn't go that far," Belichick retorted, definitely without any humor.

Media day is a freak show already. Sports writers hardly need help. Remember, one asked Jim Plunkett, "Is it your mother who's blind, and your father who's deaf, or the other way around?" back when the league's idea of reality TV extended no further than the games themselves.

How times have changed. Now, the league is inviting an audience to hoot and holler throughout the interview session, apparently hoping for something resembling an episode of "Maury." This is what happens when guys twice the age of the demographic they so desperately want to get down with decide to get "edgy". Just like the time the NFL built an ad around Eminem's "My Name Is," then had to pull it after discovering whoever liked the beat apparently didn't bother to listen to all the lyrics.

There's no arguing with the NFL's success. Almost everyone and just about everything connected to it holds a license to print money. Guys getting measured and weighed, or jumping up and down in Spandex suits -- what the NFL calls its "Scouting Combine" -- drew five million viewers over a mere few days last spring. Last Monday night, a meaningless early-season game between the Redskins and Bucs pulled nearly doubled the TV ratings of baseball's playoffs, despite plenty of big-market teams and the best closing night of a regular season.

It must be tempting then to see how much more money -- er, programming -- the league can crank out. The further it veers from the basic mission -- football games -- the more risks it takes. Some have been rewarding, like HBO's "Hard Knocks" series, where the access justified the occasional embarrassments. If anything, the honesty in those shows presents a more candid picture of players and coaches than all the reporters on the sidelines could ever convey.

But it doesn't always go quite so smoothly. Anybody remember "Playmakers," the short-lived dramatic series on ESPN that not only cut too close to the dark side of pro football, but actually exaggerated it? The NFL put the kibosh on that because while it's always searching for "cutting-edge" programming, the one thing the league won't stand for is somebody else bloodying up the product. Witness the disappearance of Hank Williams Jr. from the opening of "Monday Night Football" after a very dumb analogy.

Media Day at the Super Bowl is where a week's worth of sausage gets made for the NFL's awe-inspiring hype machine, which goes into overdrive by the time Sunday's big game kicks off. Seeing that could make the finished product look a whole lot less appetizing. .

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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/JimLitke.

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