Lawrence: From San Francisco, With Love

By Amy Lawrence

What a week. What a jam-packed, high-flying week as the football world descends on the San Francisco Bay Area for Super Bowl 50. The signs of the year’s biggest sporting event bombard you from the second you touch down at the airport. Impossible to miss the memorabilia from championship games and MVPs of the past, the life-sized “50” logo everywhere you look, outdoor video monitors constantly rolling highlights of previous Super Bowls, fans proudly wearing their Panthers’ and Broncos’ gear, the NFL Fan Experience and Super Bowl City clogging up several city blocks, and media members from all corners of the world.

While the two teams practice and prep in San Jose and Santa Clara, the hub of activity for everyone else is the Moscone Center which houses Radio Row. Television and radio outlets of all shapes and sizes fill up several floors of this massive conference center. It’s “home” for the week. Throw in football players past and present, their PR reps, agents, and families; thousands of other credentialed media types (photographers, reporters, analysts, support staff); and fans who buy tickets for their brush with NFL greatness–and Radio Row quickly turns into a madhouse.

Tuesday: In addition to serving as a central media location, Radio Row also operates as a football convention. Current players who rarely see each other have the chance to talk without helmets, former players get to swap stories, and the honored guests turn heads with their gold jackets. Everyone stops to pay homage when the Hall of Famers make their way through the crowds. Tight end Vance McDonald of the Niners acts more like a fan watching the greats work the room. He tells me he’s going to Sunday’s game at his home stadium just to soak it all in.

Even in San Francisco where the attention is on crowning the next NFL champ, Radio Row is buzzing about Johnny Manziel on Tuesday. With the news breaking that the Browns plan to cut ties with him, speculation runs rampant over what team might take the risk to bring him on board next season. Even though Manziel is as far from the Super Bowl as any player can be, he manages to force his way into the center ring of the circus. Inside the football fraternity, he’s wearing out his welcome.

Wednesday: Space to maneuver on Radio Row becomes more of a luxury the deeper you get into the week. Dozens of players fly into the city for a day’s worth of appearances and interviews–and to pick up their tickets for the game. Previous Super Bowl winners strut through the Moscone Center flashing their rings. If you’re lucky, you get to try on the bling. Former Giants punter Steve Weatherford is always generous enough to share; and it’s a WOW moment when he slips that sparkly, weighty, beautiful ring on my finger. No matter what else NFL players do in their careers, once they have a ring, they all tell you it’s worth every obstacle, adversity, and challenge confronted. It’s a source of pride you can see on their faces.

Cam Newton comes up in every conversation. Players rave about his skill set and physical prowess. But not one of them calls the Panthers QB controversial or arrogant or disrespectful of the game. Most of them say they don’t understand the controversy surrounding Cam. They see him as fresh and exciting, the new face of the league. Everyone I talk to acknowledges him as the 2015 MVP, even before the NFL honors are unveiled.

Thursday: It’s Hall of Fame Day on Radio Row with at least a dozen making the rounds. Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks wears his gold jacket, his Super Bowl ring, AND his Hall of Fame ring. He’s the rare breed who spent his entire career with one franchise. In fact, the Florida native never left the Sunshine State since he played his college ball at Florida State. When I ask him how he would limit Cam’s effectiveness on the field, he laughs and says he’s thankful he never had to face him.

Old-timer Bobby Bell is attending his 49th Super Bowl. He played in the first and fourth championship games, and he was the first Chief to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He tells me today’s athletes couldn’t survive in his era when the rules allowed defenders to hit however they wanted as long as their opponents were in front of them. He confides that he earned a $7500 bonus for competing in the original Super Bowl.

As strange as it sounds, it’s tough to determine who creates bigger waves on Radio Row: Hall of Famer and three-time champ Troy Aikman or Tim Tebow. The way fans clamor for pictures and autographs with Aikman and the way other players greet him is understandable, but when the Tebow Tornado blows through, you can’t help but stop and stare. It’s fascinating how many people still want to talk to him, take his picture, and just be near the former Broncos and Jets QB.

In talking to Bell, Aikman, three-time champion Ted Johnson, and quarterback Dan Pastorini from the 70s and 80s, I bring up concussions and long-term health concerns. All admit to multiple head injuries, and they all believe the NFL is late to the party when it comes to taking concussions seriously and caring for retired players. Pastorini even calls the NFL’s efforts a “joke,” mere lip service for athletes from previous eras. It remains the most prominent issue the league must address.

What a week. What a privilege to represent CBS Sports Radio in San Francisco. From being the eyes and ears for listeners to observing the fraternity from the inside, it’s an unforgettable experience. Now bring on Super Bowl 50!

A well-traveled veteran and pioneer of sports radio and television, Amy Lawrence is the host of CBS Sports Radio’s late-night program ‘After Hours with Amy Lawrence.’ The show can be heard weekdays from 2-6am ET on the nation’s largest 24/7 major-market radio network. Follow her on Twitter @ALawRadio.

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