All day Monday, Super Bowl XLV Press Row at the Sheraton downtown was filling up, as the best and the brightest out-of-town media checked in, grabbed their credentials and settled down with a bag of Cheetos at their Dallas bureau-for-a-week.
Earlier in the afternoon, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano treated the story-starved lot to a rundown of the extra-tight security measures in store for Sunday in Arlington, including an unveiling of a Super Bowl edition of the Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative and DHS's expanded "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign (a slogan that'll be familiar to serious Dallas crime-watchers).
Maybe you already spotted the ads on buses around town or on TV. You can read about it all here, in this release from DHS. I arrived early for the press conference, to which we'd been invited, fully intending to hear in person from Napolitano about how Super Bowl security is tighter than ever this year, only to crawl through the five layers of security for 15 minutes -- including the window where a team of volunteers passed around my driver's license and my press pass, called their boss and had me fill out two forms for an official day pass to the rest of the hotel.
By the time I reached the conference room, the three well-dressed Secret Service guys were posted outside, blocking the door. The room, they told me, had already been secured.
Instead, I helped myself to a tour of press row.
Rebuffed at the conference room, I wandered back to the escalator, catching sidelong glances from each red-shirted security guy and Dallas Police officer I passed, who all seemed suspicious of this camera-toting guy who'd just been trying to talk his way past the Secret Service.
I passed three reporters huddled up with Roger Staubach, still mulling the words of one cheery volunteer at that media pass window. She'd asked where I was headed, then turned to a friend of hers at the counter: "I kinda want to go to this Janet Napoli-ano thing," she told her friend. "It sounds boring, but she's kinda big..."
Downstairs, an exciting banner with football players squaring off covered one stretch of wall, the entrance to something called the "Gatorade Sports Science Institute" with just one red-shirted guy vigilantly hanging around outside. I decided to find out which other rooms I could get myself blocked out from.
He eyed my media pass skeptically as I approached, but I gave him a casual nod as I walked by, and figured I was in the clear after a couple more steps, until he stopped me: "Sir, you can't go in there."
Not only couldn't I go in, but as another red shirt approached to engage the escalating situation, I lost my shot at even learning what they kept inside.
"Well, what's in there?" I asked.
"It's just what that sign says."
"So it's a Gatorade..."
"That's right. It's Gatorade."
The radio teams were setting up and broadcasting downstairs from a sea of mic-topped tables. Big crews like The Ticket's had places of honor lining a path from the door to the middle of the room. On the fringes, solo broadcasters stared off at a distant patch of ceiling while they talked into their headsets. Steelers and Packers media guides and stacks of press releases were piled high on one row of tables.
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My day pass gave me the run of the place down here, with only an occasional cross-eyed glance from bored security guys. Past the broadcasting room was a workroom for print media, long rows of tables dotted with folks on laptops. In the corner was a maze of curtained-off workspaces reserved for big newspapers and ESPN.com.
Along the back wall, I spotted something that made all the security checks seem suddenly worthwhile: a Pepsi vending machine set to give out cans for free. Second from the bottom was a button for Diet Mountain Dew, and I realized why the security just couldn't be tight enough, why Olive Street should indeed be blocked off outside the hotel all week. I hit the button once, and two free cans of soda came down, one right after the other.