At another party, this one at an Arizona botanical garden, Steinberg and then governor Janet Napolitano released an endangered hawk into the wild.
Then there was that one in New Orleans, where Steinberg hired an old white steamboat to go out on the Mississippi River.
Steinberg, who represents Patrick Mahomes and inspired “Jerry Maguire,” has thrown Super Bowl parties each of the past 33 years — each successive event seemingly bigger and grander than the previous one. But not this year. The coronavirus pandemic has forced Super Bowl week to go virtual, with stilted Zoom calls replacing a week of glitzy elbow-rubbing. “I thought it would not be great to have a superspreader event,” he told The Washington Post this week.
It is likely that no one is sadder about this development than Steinberg, whose famous annual party in the host city has come to symbolize not only the game but the uniquely American excess it celebrates.
“Super Bowl week has become a convention of Americana,” Steinberg said, wistfully, in an interview Tuesday, a few hours before he ushered in this year’s edition on Zoom. “The point is it’s much more than a football game. The general rule is if you think you see someone famous at the Super Bowl, it is that person!”
At his party, Steinberg said, “You might see Tom Daschle, the majority speaker of something, something, or there goes Al Gore, and there’s Jennifer Lopez and the CEO of Southwest Airlines or Northwest Airlines. There’s Nikki or Mickey or whoever from ‘Desperate Housewives.’”
Steinberg would normally spend the entire week at the Super Bowl. This year he won’t be in Tampa until Saturday, an abbreviated schedule that nearly everyone involved in the game is getting used to. The NFL said it issued fewer than 2,400 credentials this year, compared with more than 6,000 last year. ESPN’s contingent alone is down from 340 to 170, and CBS has reduced its traveling party to the game by 15 percent. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo, who will call the game for CBS, are arriving late in the week and will not see each other until they get to the stadium ahead of Sunday’s kickoff because of coronavirus protocols.
Radio Row will also be a pixelated shadow of its typical self. It’s usually a tangle of A through D-list celebrities, former football greats and not-so-greats, all roaming the halls of a convention hall, hawking everything from rental cars to pot supplements. Steinberg said he did 71 interviews a year ago.
“Last year, we had guys like Barry Sanders walking around,” said John Mamola, the program director at sports station WDAE in Tampa. “This year we may get some handicappers, but it’s all Zoom, all remote.” The NFL said 33 stations will broadcast live from Tampa compared with the usual 100.
Given the cuts across sports media over the past year, Mamola wondered how stations will cover future Super Bowls. The pandemic has forced (and taught) many stations to produce content with fewer people and less travel. “How could it not be in the back of your head,” he wondered, whether Radio Row will ever be the same?
There is one constituency who might enjoy the quieter atmosphere: the players and coaches. Phil Simms, who quarterbacked the New York Giants to a Super Bowl win, said he had spoken with the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and both were delighted to have fewer media obligations. “They love the fact there’s not as many distractions,” Simms said.
Steinberg, though, will miss everything about this week, from the networking to the navel gazing. He threw his first Super Bowl party as a young agent in 1985, at his home in Berkeley, Calif., waking the next morning to find guests passed out around his house. The year “Jerry Maguire” came out, one of its stars, Cuba Gooding Jr., strutted across a stage at Steinberg’s Super Bowl party, shouting his famous line from the movie: “Show me the money!”
More than fun, Steinberg insisted, there was business, too. His has always been a daytime party, where people could meet and talk. It was the start of free agency for his clients, whom he could introduce to owners such as Bob Kraft and Jerry Jones. He could line up marketing deals. Kevin Greene, a Hall of Fame pass rusher, once attended his party, Steinberg said, and was so impressed that he switched agencies.
At his virtual event Tuesday night, Steinberg stood in front of a green screen with an image of the Tampa skyline. No luminaries. No politicos. Not much sizzle. Just a few Frank Caliendo impressions and Steinberg talking up his clients and showing highlights of them. He invited viewers to participate in a silent auction, with proceeds benefiting Warrior Rising, a charity that helps veterans transition to corporate America, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“At least we got a broadcast,” Steinberg said before this year’s edition, trying his best to “look at the glass as half full.” But he was already looking forward to next year, when the Super Bowl is scheduled to be held in Los Angeles. Steinberg is planning to rent out a movie studio.