The Stupidest Questions in Super Bowl History

New Orleans, January 1981. My first Super Bowl.

I'm trying to ask questions of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Charlie Smith at the first media availability.

He'd recently broken his jaw, the wires in his mouth standing sentry against solid nourishment and reducing his speech to what under different circumstances would pass as beginner's ventriloquism.

(Confession: Bourbon Street overmatched me on my first night in town. My condition was probably worse than Smith's. To be fair all these years later, he may have spoken perfectly understandable King's English, but to my ears he sounded like a man speaking underwater.)

Smith was an important part of the Eagles team I covered for the Philadelphia Daily News. He'd been injured in the final regular season game and had missed the postseason to that point.

Would he practice? Could he play? How would he keep up his strength?

He tried his best to answer. But in a crowd three deep with the noise of my first Super Bowl media experience exploding around us, I looked at my notebook after 30 minutes. I had written down exactly one sentence.

"I can't eat meat."

That was Super Bowl XV, nearly 30 years ago. Since then, the annual Super Bowl tradition known as Media Day—it happens again today in Miami—has come to represent the NFL at its silliest and smartest.

Proof There Is Such a Thing as a Stupid Question

It's the place where a Japanese reporter once asked of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, "Tell me, why do they call you Boomer?" (Well, they don't actually. That would be Boomer Esiason, the Cincinnati quarterback.)

It's where someone asked Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Joe Salave'a, "What's your relationship with the football?" To which Salave'a said, "I'd say it's strictly platonic."

Asked how he got psyched to play in big games, Buffalo's great running back Thurman Thomas sniffed, "I read the newspapers and look at all the stupid questions you all ask."

Not sure if that was the Super Bowl where Thomas lost two fumbles in a 30-13 loss or the one where he couldn't find his helmet and missed the first few plays in a 37-24 loss.

Media Day is where Downtown Julie Brown, formerly of MTV, asked Dallas running back Emmitt Smith, "What are you going to wear in the game Sunday?"

Where Rams' quarterback Kurt Warner was asked, "Do you believe in voodoo and can I have a lock of your hair?"

Where Denver running back Detron Smith was asked, "What size panties do you think you'd wear?"

Where a St. Louis player found himself pondering the grammatical conundrum contained within the question, "Is Ram a noun or a verb?"

An urban legend grew that Washington quarterback Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to play in the Super Bowl, was asked, "How long have you been a black quarterback?"

(Not true. ESPN.com cleared that up in a recent story. The reporter knew Williams. He also knew Williams was tired of hearing about race. So the question was more along the lines of, "Doug, obviously you've been a black quarterback all along. When did it suddenly become important?")

Even so, right about now my guess is you see Thurman Thomas' point.

But here's the beauty of what the National Football League is all about. Many of the questions that make annual Dumbest Super Bowl Questions lists are staged by non-sports writers. They are ridiculous, purposely over-the-top and all part of a circus the league encourages to fill as many rings as possible on the day that signals the revving of the Super Bowl publicity machine.

So you get Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman in Super Bowl XXXII being asked, "Are you going to listen to Stevie Wonder perform at halftime?"

(Sure thing. What else would he be doing at halftime except shushing the coaches so he could hear "Don't You Worry About a Thing"?)

The NFL gets it as no other sports league gets it. For instance, it subjects its players to three days of madness at the Super Bowl and fines them if they don't show up.

One year, a 10-year-old ''reporter" identifying himself as Sparky Mortimer walked around asking questions of players and coaches on behalf of David Letterman. Who's going to turn down a 10-year-old? Not even Thurman Thomas.

A Day in the Life of a Serious Sports Writer

The free-for-all of Media Day is the worst day in a serious sports writer's year, but if you're there for the spectacle there's nothing quite like it.

Why is it the worst day annually for sports writers covering the NFL? Because it has so little to do with football and it offers such insurmountable roadblocks to coherent conversation.

To give this proper context, I should say that any circle of reporters at the Super Bowl is comprised of any number of agendas. One might be working on the quarterback's life story. Another might be looking for a quote on how the quarterback's team will deal with the opposing pass rush. Another might be asking something that gets him on TV.

So it usually goes like this:

Reporter No. 1: "You say you were poor growing up?"
QB: "Yes, all I got for Christmas one year was an orange."
Reporter No. 2: "Should we expect to see you throw downfield early?"
QB: "I'm not going to give away the game plan."
Reporter No. 1: "What kind of orange? Did you eat it or decorate it?"
QB: "What?"
Reporter No. 2: "What do you see when you look at their secondary?"

An ESPN.com story from this time last year recounted one tedious conversation that occurred 10 years ago between a reporter and the Rams' Isaac Bruce, who had just told the story of a harrowing experience a month earlier when his car flipped and he thought he might die.

"I called on the name of Jesus," Bruce said. "That's the name that I know saves me. And when I did that, I knew everything would be fine."

Said a reporter (for some reason), "Did you say 'Jesus, Jesus, Jesus?' Or just 'Jesus?'"

Bruce: "It was one Jesus," he said. "That's all it takes."

Good to get that cleared up.

I wasn't there for that tortured exchange. But I was in the group of reporters at Super Bowl XV when Oakland quarterback Jim Plunkett was asked a question that makes every Super Bowl list. And this one wasn't staged by a TV or radio personality. As sports writers we have to own this one.

Plunkett had just answered a question about his parents. He spoke in low, respectful tones about growing up in a special needs household, that his mother was blind and that his father, also blind, had passed away.

Five more topics came and went after Plunkett mentioned his parents. A reporter from the Philadelphia press corps, a guy I once worked with at another paper, jumped in. He was a columnist. He wasn't there to write about the blitz. Plunkett's family situation was far more intriguing to him.

He tried two or three times to ask a follow-up. But he kept losing the floor to reporters who timed their questions better or who were close enough to make eye contact with Plunkett, or who simply spoke up louder.

Finally, he forced his way back into the interview.

"Jimmy, Jimmy, I want to make sure I have this right. Was it dead mother, blind father or blind mother, dead father?"

You can find that kind of sensitivity in Don Rickles' stand-up, but not many other places.

The Original Sports Hostage Situation

Long ago, the NFL saw the crossover marketing potential in welcoming not just newspapers with NFL teams in their cities. But E!, Letterman, Leno, Comedy Central, MTV, every big national radio show.

In the media center, Radio Row goes on for a quarter mile. It's a city unto itself, a media "Babble-on." It wasn't always so. The Super Bowl became a media event after "Broadway" Joe Namath led the Jets to a milestone upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III. It became a cultural linchpin because the NFL has been pure genius in the staging of the week leading up to the game. [Image courtesy of Flickr user snblogs.]

It sets aside Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for player interviews. After that, the players are off limits.

Try coming into town Friday for a Sunday game as a member of the media, and you've not only missed the players but maybe even a room at the NFL headquarters hotel (they demand a four-night minimum).

Come in time for the player interviews and you spend almost a week previewing one game. A friend once called it "the original sports hostage situation." The NFL would have it no other way.

Sometimes the players and the game even prove worthy of all the attention.

When Dallas linebacker Hollywood Henderson famously said Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw couldn't spell "cat" if you spotted him the "c" and the "a," Bradshaw responded by throwing four touchdown passes in a win over the Cowboys.

If the drumroll gets louder with players working off nervous energy by talking trash, all the better for the league. But it's not necessary.

The marvel of what the NFL has fashioned over the past XLIV years is that the game is almost beside the point.

Norman Vincent Peale once said, "If Jesus were alive today, he'd be at the Super Bowl."

In what capacity, Peale didn't say.

But it's an intriguing thought, if only because it could explain the question asked of New England quarterback Tom Brady at a Super Bowl not long ago.

"Tom," came a voice in the crowd, "what is your purpose in life?"

Bud Shaw is a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer who has also written for the Philadelphia Daily News, San Diego Union-Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National. You can read his Plain Dealer columns at Cleveland.com, and read all his mental_floss articles here.

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10 Amazing Facts About Bruce Lee On His 80th Birthday

Photo courtesy of The Bruce Lee Family Archive
Photo courtesy of The Bruce Lee Family Archive

Bruce Lee is one of pop culture's most multifaceted icons. Legions of fans admire him for his movies, his martial arts prowess, his incomprehensible physical fitness, his championing of Chinese culture, and even his philosophies on life. Yet for all the new ground Lee broke, most of his recognition only came after his death at the age of 32. Read on to learn more about the life of this profound, if enigmatic, superstar.

1. Bruce Lee’s first starring role in a movie came when he was just 10 years old.

In 1950’s The Kid, a pre-teen Bruce Lee played the role of Kid Cheung, a streetwise orphan and wry troublemaker, based on a comic strip from the time. Starring opposite Lee, playing a kindly factory owner, was his father, Lee Hoi-chuen, who also happened to be a famous opera singer. (Bruce Lee was actually born in San Francisco while his father was there on tour; Lee would move back to the U.S. in 1959).

According to Lee biographer Matthew Polly, the movie was a big enough success in China to earn sequel consideration. There was just one problem: A young Bruce Lee was getting into fights at school and out on the streets, so his father forbid him from acting again until he straightened up—which, of course, didn’t wind up happening.

2. Bruce Lee was deemed physically unfit for the U.S. Army.

While he may have walked around with body fat in the single digits and could do push-ups using only two fingers, Lee still managed to fail a military physical for the U.S. draft board back in 1963. Despite being an adherent to physical fitness all his adult life, it was an undescended testicle that kept him from fighting for Uncle Sam in Vietnam.

3. Bruce Lee was an exquisite cha-cha dancer.

Long before he was known for breakneck fight choreography, Bruce Lee’s physical skills were focused on the dance floor. More specifically, the cha-cha. In Polly’s book, Bruce Lee: A Life, the author explains that the dance trend made its way from Cuba through the Philippines and soon landed in China. And once the cha-cha settled into the Hong Kong social scene, it didn’t take long for youth dance competitions to spring up. Lee had been taking part in cha-cha dancing since the age of 14, and in 1958, he won the Crown Colony Cha-Cha Championship. Foreshadowing his later dedication to martial arts, Lee would keep crib notes of all 108 different cha-cha steps in his wallet so that he could obsessively memorize them.

4. Bruce Lee refused to lose a fight to Robin.

The Green Hornet aired its first episode in September 1966, with Bruce Lee as the Hornet's (Van Williams) lightning-quick sidekick, Kato. The series would immediately be compared to Batman, ABC's other costumed crime-fighting show, and it wouldn't be long before a two-part crossover episode was in the works. And as heroes do, before they teamed up, they first had to fight each other. According to Newsweek, since Batman was by far the more popular show, the script featured a fight between Burt Ward's Robin and Bruce Lee's Kato that was set to end with the Boy Wonder getting the upper hand. But who would really buy that?

Well, Lee certainly didn't—and he knew no one else would, either. Williams later recalled that Lee read the script and simply said, "I'm not going to do that," and walked off. Common sense soon prevailed ... sort of. The script was rewritten to change the ending—not to a Kato K.O., but to a more diplomatic draw. Though The Green Hornet was Lee's first big break in the United States, the series itself lasted only 26 episodes.

5. Bruce Lee trained numerous Hollywood stars.

As Bruce Lee worked to become a big-screen heavyweight, he made a living as a martial arts trainer to the stars. Among Lee’s students were Steve McQueen, James Coburn, James Garner, Roman Polanski, and Sharon Tate. For his services, Lee was known to charge about $275 per hour or $1000 for 10 courses. McQueen and Coburn grew so enamored with Lee over the years that they remained close friends until his death in 1973, with both men serving as pallbearers at Lee's funeral (alongside Chuck Norris).

6. Roman Polanski may have (briefly) thought Bruce Lee murdered Sharon Tate.

In addition to providing Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate with kung fu lessons, Bruce Lee also lived near the couple in Los Angeles when Tate and four others, including Lee’s close friend Jay Sebring, were murdered by the Manson Family in August 1969. It would be months before the Manson Family was arrested for the murders, but in the meantime, according to an article from Esquire, Polanski had grown obsessed with finding a suspect, looking for potential perpetrators even amongst his own inner circle.

During one kung fu lesson in the months after the murders, Lee had mentioned to Polanski how he had recently lost his glasses, which immediately piqued the director’s interest. A mysterious pair of horn-rimmed glasses had been found at the murder scene near his wife’s body, after all. Polanski had even purchased a gauge to measure the lenses and find out the exact prescription so that he could do his own detective work, according to The New York Post.

The director, without giving himself away, offered to bring Lee to his optician to get a new pair—this would allow him to hear Lee’s prescription firsthand and determine if the specs discovered at the crime scene belonged to him. It turned out Lee’s prescription didn’t match, and Polanski never told his friend about his suspicions.

7. Bruce Lee had his sweat glands removed.

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973).Warner Home Video

Bruce Lee brought an impeccable physique to the screen that was decades ahead of its time. But because his roles required so much physicality, he would be drenched with sweat while filming. And apparently, the martial arts pioneer loathed the sweat stains that would show up on his clothing as a result. His solution? In 1973, Lee actually underwent a procedure to surgically remove the sweat glands from his armpits to avoid the fashion faux pas from showing up on camera.

8. Bruce Lee’s cause of death still raises questions.

Bruce Lee’s death at the age of 32 on July 20, 1973, was officially ruled the result of a cerebral edema, or swelling of the brain. Lee had complained about headaches on the day of his death, and was given a painkiller by Betty Ting Pei—an actress who claimed to be Lee's mistress—before lying down for a nap. He never woke up.

Though many reports at the time suggested Lee had an allergic reaction to an ingredient in the painkiller, Polly points to a mystery that began on May 10, 1973, when the star previously collapsed in a hot recording studio while dubbing new dialogue for Enter the Dragon.

In Polly’s opinion, Lee’s collapse had to do with heatstroke, since his stint in an overheated recording studio was compounded by a lack of sweat glands that prevented his body from cooling off naturally. Heatstroke can also cause swelling in the brain, much like was found during Lee’s autopsy. And Dr. Lisa Leon, an expert in hyperthermia at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, told Polly, “A person who has suffered one heat stroke is at increased risk for another" and that there may be long-term complications after the initial incident.

9. Footage from Bruce Lee’s Funeral was used in 1978’s Game of Death.

At the time of his death, Bruce Lee was involved in numerous projects, including the movie that would become Game of Death, his next directorial effort. According to Vice, there wasn’t much completed on the film by the time of Lee’s passing—there were some notes, a story outline (which simply read “The big fight. An arrest is made. The airport. The end.”), and 40 minutes of footage, including Lee’s now-iconic fight against NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Usually, a project in that situation would just be a lost cause, but production company Golden Harvest wanted to salvage what they could, so they hired Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse to put together ... something. The result was a Frankenstein’s monster of a film, comprised of 11 minutes of existing footage Lee shot, overdubbed clips from his previous movies, and stand-ins to fill out certain scenes. The director even resorted to using an unfortunate Bruce Lee cardboard cutout to complete one shot.

That’s not even the top rung on the ladder of poor taste: When the movie called for Lee’s character to fake his death, they used footage from his actual funeral to realize the scene, complete with waves of mourners, pallbearers, and closeups of Lee’s open casket.

10. Bruce Lee’s posthumous success resulted in its own sub-genre.

Lee’s career was exploding in China and gaining momentum in the United States by 1973, but he passed away just a month before his biggest hit was released: Enter the Dragon. The movie, which grossed more than $200 million at the worldwide box office, catapulted the late Lee to icon status. But with the star himself no longer around to capitalize, there would soon be a wave of knockoff films and wannabes looking to take advantage of the martial arts craze.

Both affectionately and derisively known as “Bruceploitation” films, this strange sub-genre of martial arts cinema gave life to z-movie oddities like Re-Enter the Dragon and Enter the Game of Death, starring the likes of—and we’re not kidding—Bruce Le and Bruce Li. Jackie Chan was even roped into a few of these movies, like 1976's New Fist of Fury. In 1980, Bruceploitation even went meta with The Clones of Bruce Lee, starring Dragon Lee, Bruce Le, and Bruce Lai, who play genetic reconstructions of the late actor after scientists harvest his DNA.