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Sports

Super Bowl is the main attraction but opening night has become a can’t-miss sideshow

Super Bowl week kicked off with Opening Night featuring the Los Angeles Rams, the New England Patriots and a few thousand media members and fans inside State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

A clown, a comedian and a security guard walk into a bar. It has the makings of a bad joke but it’s just one way of describing Super Bowl opening night, which was held Monday at State Farm Arena on a raised platform that covered the home court of the Atlanta Hawks and the NBA’s first courtside bar.

The kickoff event of Super Bowl week has transformed from a Tuesday morning, media-only event into a Monday night production complete with team entrances and live music. It’s now televised in prime time, and fans can buy tickets for $29 and pay for overpriced beer and nachos while they watch and listen to reporters ask players and coaches questions on earpieces handed out at the door.

“The fans paid to come here?” Rams defensive end Michael Brockers asked. “That’s crazy. That’s crazy. Those are some real fans.

The majority of the approximately 10,000 fans — who watched 5,800 accredited media from 25 countries — were from Atlanta since most fans traveling won’t arrive until later in the week.

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“I live 45 minutes away so I drove down here to come to this since I unfortunately can’t go to the game,” said T.J. Cray, a 31-year-old Rams fan who celebrated his birthday Monday. “I’m a hardcore Rams fan and I haven’t seen them in years so this gives me a chance to see them in person.”

With the cheapest upper end zone tickets for the Super Bowl selling for almost $3,000 on the secondary market, Super Bowl opening night gave fans a chance to see and hear from both teams and interact with a few that made their way toward the stands after each team’s 60-minute media session.

“When am I ever going to have a chance to be this close to my team?” said Stan Plavin, a 55-year old Patriots fan who moved to Atlanta from Boston 25 years ago. “It’s a great event. It’s the next best thing to being at the game and it was only like 30 bucks.”

The NFL first opened media day to paying fans at Super Bowl XLVI, which was held in Indianapolis in 2012. The league switched media day, which is broadcast live on multiple channels in prime time, from Tuesday to Monday before Super Bowl 50, which was held in Santa Clara in 2016.

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“It felt like there was an opportunity to kick off the event in a bigger way and really engage the local community and turn it into a bigger broadcast event to set the tone for the week,” said Peter O’Reilly, senior vice president of events for the NFL. “We just wanted to make this event as fan-friendly as possible and hosting it on Tuesday morning wasn’t really fan-friendly. It’s now an event you can come to with the family on Monday night.”

In between the media sessions for both teams, the opposing quarterbacks, head coaches and star defensive players meet and answer a few questions on stage before posing for a picture with the Lombardi Trophy. There’s even an opening night halftime show that takes place outside the arena. On Monday, Jermaine Dupri sang “Welcome to Atlanta” in between the Rams and Patriots media sessions.

The only thing more over the top than a halftime show between media sessions are some of the characters that have come to define these festivities. On Monday, players were greeted by Georgina Holguin, a sombrero-wearing TV personality from Televisa. She had players eat crickets, worms and scorpions while they wore a sombrero. “They finished the worms,” she said. “They liked it.”

Some of the other accredited media were Dan McDowell from The Ticket in Dallas, dressed as a clown, Guillermo Rodriguez, the security guard from “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” who pleaded at Tom Brady to look at the pillow he made for him, and J.B. Smoove, an actor and comedian who was covering the event for “The Rich Eisen Show.”

“You have to understand this is not a normal event,” Smoove said. “You have to be able to be able to move and shake and connect with the players’ souls. I’m just trying to have some fun out here.”


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