INDIANAPOLIS – Chad Ochocinco was recounting how much he had changed during his one season in New England, when a section of fans in the stands started to cheer.
Startled, he turned his head away from the microphone and tried to see what was causing the commotion at Super Bowl media day, which had a new look this year. For the first time, fans were allowed to sit in the stands and watch the goofiness unfold on the field.
What he heard was some of the 7,300 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium cheering Tuesday when a player complimented their city and their restaurants.
"It's kind of crazy," Patriots linebacker Tracy White said. "It's a new thing with the fans being able to buy tickets and come watch us do interviews. It's pretty cool."
For $25 apiece, they got headsets that allowed them to hear how coaches and players at some of the 14 podiums on the field responded to media questions and everything else thrown their way.
They quickly became part of the ambiance.
While videographers were setting up tripods at the most popular podiums — the one for quarterback Tom Brady drew the most attention — fans settled into their seats, most of them wearing Colts jerseys. One fan dressed like Brady — blue Patriots jersey, pants, shoulder pads, hand towel and pretend play list on his left forearm — ventured to the front row and quickly got his desired several minutes of interview attention.
Shortly before the Patriots started walking onto the field, a public address announcer told the crowd: "Let's respect all the media, all the players." The crowd applauded, then started figuring out how to tune in the headsets to listen to the interviews.
"It's such an intimate experience," said Nick Lowery, a Patriots fan who drove from Columbia, Mo. "This is really cool."
Until Tuesday, the NFL had restricted interviews at the Super Bowl stadium to accredited members of the news and entertainment media. By opening it up to fans, the two hour-long interview sessions felt more like the practice sessions before NCAA basketball tournament games, which are open to the public.
Fans weren't allowed to get autographs or take photos with players, but a couple of them managed to sneak one in. A fan got Giants safety Kenny Phillips to autograph a football and toss it back.
Mostly, they watched a typical media day — lots of questions, a little bit of strangeness.
A man dressed as a caped character from a cable network wandered about with a crew taping his off-beat interactions with Giants and Patriots. A Spanish language network sent a crew with a dance instructor and a disco ball on a stick, luring players into showing their moves to salsa music. Ochocinco's social media network — the Ochocinco News Network — prowled the sideline for interviews.
Nobody enjoyed the day more than Ochocinco, who reached the playoffs only twice during 10 seasons with Cincinnati and wound up 0-2. When he was traded to the Patriots in July, he knew he would have to keep most of his comments to himself to co-exist with coach Bill Belichick, who doesn't tolerate diva distractions.
Ochocinco kept quiet and accepted a reserve role on the team. He was the last Patriot to wade into the media throng on Tuesday, smiling at one of the best moments of his career.
"Aw, man, I've dreamed of it," Ochocinco said. "I've been playing this game a long time — started out at 4 years old. And this is what you dream of, to come to this stage and enjoy it. So that's what I'm going to do."
Asked if it was bittersweet because he wasn't a starter and didn't get to sit at one of the podiums, Ochocinco smiled again.
"It's not bittersweet," he said. "It's the Super Bowl."
AP National Writer Nancy Armour in Indianapolis contributed to this report.