Heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder talked about his good friend Dre Kirkpatrick on radio row.
SAN FRANCISCO - Radio Row at the Super Bowl.
Or radio row, depending how you feel about it.
It's turned into the nerve center of the NFL during Super Bowl week, a clearinghouse for celebrities, players, coaches, and anyone else in the league to get their message out in 21st century fashion during the biggest sports media week of the year.
Forget the downtown hotel bars or the Super Bowl Media Center work room or the teams' headquarters. In the Communications Age when everyone is their own media entity, the center of it all is where all the microphones are and where people simply have to move from table to table to hit someone's favorite sports talk show from Boston to Dubuque.
If you're media covering a team, you have to get here because if your people are coming they're sure to stop there first and they don't have to tell you because they're the word.
In order to be a radio row guest, the working rule seems to be you need at least three what they call "handlers." The entourage has to include hour-glass bodies and perfectly-coiffed heads. Only Beautiful People Allowed. The only people wearing Relax Fit jeans are the sports scribes.
Word is that Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones slipped into radio row at 6:30 a.m. local time and stayed just long enough to utter a few syllables that put him on the NFL Network crawl every five minutes for 24 hours. He didn't even have to sign a contract. He just had to say he was going to test the market.
Which makes spending a morning at radio row the sports version of walking through Times Square. You just don't know what you're going to see.
How about three Cincinnati icons, the Griffeys and Ickey Woods, posing for pictures? Woods, the NFL Rookie of the Year when he shuffled the Bengals to the 1988 Super Bowl, has become a staple at this week. The Griffeys are here for about 26 hours to spread the word about prostate cancer awareness with the help of Bayer.
"Forty is the new 30. It's good for any age," says the suddenly 46-year-old Griffey Junior. "I had a dad that went through it and when we had the conversations at home, it made it easier for me to talk to my son about it. As a dad, you still want to protect your kids. When he finally opened up . . . he told me about the whole thing, it was enlightening."
Griffey heads to Cooperstown this summer for his first ballot induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Quarterback Brett Favre is the Junior of Saturday's Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee meeting. A first ballot lock.
"Yeah, he belongs. The things he did," Junior says. "I followed Green Bay when Favre was there, (Sterling) Sharpe was there . . . You see him throw the touchdown pass and then run down the field with the helmet off. Playing with that enthusiasm, that's great for the fans."
Junior's connections to the Bengals go back to 2002, when he was coming back from his horrific hamstring injury. The Reds weren't yet in Great American Ballpark and Bengals president Mike Brown, a big Griffey fan, offered new Paul Brown Stadium's underwater treadmill in the training room.
"It was great," Junior says. "The Reds and Bengals never really got along, but I think that helped get a little better relationship. We're all in this together. It's tough for me growing up there watching the Bengals lose in the first round. I'm more upset about that than anything. I thought they had it. (Five) in a row. Somehow it has to break. Hopefully they get back because they've got a great team. What they've done the last couple of years has been impressive."
Brian Goldberg, the Griffeys' ubiquitous agent, became friendly with Bengals secondary coach Kevin Coyle during Coyle's first 11-year stint in Cincinnati and recently asked him to take a look at tape of Junior's son Trey, a wide receiver at the University of Arizona. Goldberg reports Coyle likes the way he moves and the fact that he's 6-4 has Coyle thinking he's got a future at NFL safety in the George Iloka mold.
"They want to keep him at receiver, though," Junior says of the Wildcats.
Not everyone on radio row has a great relationship with the Bengals. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown went up and down the microphones scalding Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones. Jones thought he had cleared things up with a Twitter apology and a text, but as he walked to another interview, Brown unloaded again. Although he did say this time, 'I forgive him.'
There are other odd things. There is a Howard Cosell look-a-like, complete with a 1970s ABC-TV yellow blazer chewing an unlit cigar. He does a very good imitation of the broadcaster but when you ask about his man, No. 58, Isiah Robertson, the guy sing-songs in his best Cosell, "You have a better memory than me young man."
The real Cosell, Greg Cosell, Howard's nephew and the estimable scout for NFL Films, surfaces a few minutes later a few steps away, where he praises Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. Cosell is a tough grader and has always been hard on Dalton, but not now as the AFC passing champion.
"A far more effective and efficient player and I think that's what his ceiling is," Cosell says. "He's playing behind a good offensive line and he has a lot of weapons. The run game is not what it should have been. It was not very good. If he's efficient, he can be a very successful quarterback. He's a director and an orchestrator . . . He's not going to make oh my God throws, but if he just orchestrates the offense he's a very good player . . . Look at it. He's been a pretty good quarterback for five years."
He says Andy Dalton is "better than I thought. His arm was better than I remember when I evaluated him coming out of Alabama. I didn't think he had an NFL starting arm. He doesn't have a gun, but he showed he's got potential to be like a Dalton. An orchestrator. A guy that can run your offense. . . . If you don't have a quarterback, he's a guy that could come in and compete."
Speaking of quarterbacks, the original Super Agent, Leigh Steinberg of 20-year-old Jerry Maguire fame, has been on the comeback trail for the past year or two and he's assaulting the airwaves. In between stops he reflects when he was at the height of his powers in the 1990s and he repped four Bengals' first-rounders including overall No. 1 picks Dan Wilkinson and Ki-Jana Carter.
But it was quarterbacks David Klingler and Akili Smith that went through the holdouts. If this current system of an assigned rookie salary slot system had been in place then, Steinberg doubts they would have picked quarterbacks that were coming in behind Boomer Esiason and Jeff Blake.
"They already had an incumbent quarterback in place," Steinberg says. "In this system they would never have drafted those players not expecting them to start."
Speaking of Alabama, you only have to wait a few more minutes and suddenly you're shaking hands with the undefeated WBC heavyweight champion of the world. Tuscaloosa native Deontay Wilder has come by with Tim Smith, the former Cincinnati Enquirer Bengals beat reporter who went on to cover boxing for The New York Times. Now Smith, one of the nicest men in the business, is working in the fight game and works for the agency that represents Wilder.
It shows you how far pro football and boxing have changed roles in American society. Pro Football Hall-of-Famers like Tim Brown and Jerry Rice have those old boxing-like entourages while Wilder and Smith are getting around pretty easily.
"You know why Darth Vader went to the dark side?" Smith jokes. "More lucrative."
It turns out that Wilder, 30, is close friends with Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and has a good feel for the intensity Kirkpatrick has for the game and his teammates.
"That's my man," Wilder says. "I talked to the (Alabama) team back in 2009. We clicked instantly . . . We send back messages . . . 'How you doing, bro?' . . . He's a great guy. If he likes you, he goes hard for you. Even though he's a football player, when he's dealing with me, he'd get in the ring with anyone for you."
It looks like Kirkpatrick is going to be pulling for Wilder in a unification title match here pretty soon. According to reports, Wilder is prepared to go to Tyson Fury's home in England if Fury wins his rematch with Wladimir Klitschko.
"I've got ten years. My goal is to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world." Wilder says. "Then I'll defend it a couple of times and then I'll go to a place where I pretend I'm getting hit and that's going to be acting."
Later in the day, after talking to former Giants running back Tiki Barber about his advice for the Bengals' Jeremy Hill, and walking with ESPN's Stephen A. Smith why he yells about the Bengals' lack of success in the postseason, you see Frostee Rucker looking for a familiar face. Rucker, the former Bengals defensive end, admits he thought there was a shot his Cardinals would play his old team here this week.
Especially after the Cards beat them in the final minute back in November.
"You knew it was going to be a slug match like that," Rucker says.
He did think of guys like defensive tackle Domata Peko and left tackle Andrew Whitworth, his '06 draft classmates, when the Bengals season ended.
"Of course, we're a brotherhood," Rucker says. "It was tough. Getting my start with the Bengals and knowing a lot of the guys there, it was tough to see. I remember how hard we worked to get people to turn around the way they viewed us and changed the culture of how we played football."
You never know on radio row.