TAMPA, Fla. – The appointed time came and went. Still no Mike Tomlin.
Where could he be? The Pittsburgh Steelers coach was supposed to be at the podium Friday morning for his final news conference before the Super Bowl. Instead, the stage was empty. Five minutes, 10. Finally, a whole 15 minutes behind schedule, Tomlin arrived.
Was he involved in a wreck on his way over? Had he stopped off to secretly tape Arizona's final practice? Maybe he was a just coming in after a night on the town. C'mon, coach, give us something — anything — to spice up the week.
"I apologize for my tardiness," he said.
Everyone edged forward in their seats.
"I was working on some football stuff, if you can believe that," Tomlin said, not bothering to pause for dramatic effect.
Borrrringggg — and totally appropriate for a Super Bowl week devoid of drama.
On the 40th anniversary of Joe Namath guaranteeing his New York Jets would beat heavily favored Baltimore — then backing it up — the Steelers and Cardinals turned the lead-up to this year's championship game into a snoozefest.
While there's still time for a startling development — remember, Stanley Wilson, Eugene Robinson and Barret Robbins all ran into trouble on the eve of the game — there seems little hope of these teams breaking character. They arrived in Tampa looking to provide as little bulletin-board material as possible, and they've stuck to the script all week.
Sure, there are some appealing story lines: Kurt Warner's comeback, the Cardinals reaching a title game for the first time in 60 seasons, the Steelers' quest to win a record sixth Super Bowl ring. But those were all scripted out before they arrived in Florida.
Anyone looking for a juicy bit of news was sorely disappointed. Tomlin took daily questions about the health of star receiver Hines Ward, who's got a sprained right knee, but he made it through two full days of practice and has every intention of playing against the Cardinals.
On Friday, someone asked about reports questioning the health of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was banged up in the AFC championship game but has taken part in every Super Bowl practice. Heck, he wasn't even listed on the injury report.
Like everything else this week, it appeared nothing more than a desperate bid to drum up something of interest.
"Like a lot of situations that go on with Ben's medical status, I have no idea where that report came from," Tomlin said. "Ben is fine. He's going to play."
The Super Bowl is usually preceded by all sorts of subplots, from injuries (Terrell Owens' foot, Jerry Rice's ankle) to big mouths (Deion Sanders, Ray Buchanan) to scofflaws (Wilson, Robinson, Robbins). The tone is often set on media day, when players and coaches endure everything from dumb questions to marriage proposals.
This year was especially lame — just one guy with a bad wig dressed in a frothy red dress and some dancing with and without stars. Even the legendary parties have been scaled back because of the economic crisis.
The normally taciturn Steelers had Joey Porter the last time they played in the Super Bowl. The defensive star stirred up the week with his incessant trash talking, and basically called out the entire Seattle team for a lack of toughness.
Porter is now in Miami. There wasn't anyone to take his place in Tampa.
"He's a talker. That's what he did," Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "We do our talking on the field with our pads. We go out there and we do our thing. I have never seen a game won in a press conference."
Of course, it's all about the game. A classic contest Sunday will wipe away those yawns leading up to it. But for now, we'll have to cherish nuggets such as these:
— "Saturday will be a normal Saturday for us with the morning meetings and a walk through. They'll have time in the afternoon to spend time with their family and take care of those things that they normally do, and then we'll have our normal Saturday night meetings, our normal Saturday night routine. We'll have a meal, we'll have a special teams meeting, and we'll have an offense and defense meeting. I think the biggest thing that you have to do is you have to keep a sense of normalcy with your players." — Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona coach and sleep specialist.
— "Really, it is going to be the way Saturdays and Sundays have been for us all season. We will have a final walkthrough on Saturday morning, and guys will have free time after that to get some final things and adjustments made in terms of taking care of their families and personal business. We will rally in the evening, go to an undisclosed location and go through our normal night before the game routine in seclusion. We will get up on Sunday morning and have chapel service. ... We will have a pregame meal, board buses and go to the stadium. We will approach the locker room time in the same way that we always do. It has been a pretty good formula for us. We are going to try to move as close to normalcy as we can." — Tomlin, doing his best Ken Whisenhunt impression.