A toned-down Super Bowl media day

Former Baltimoreans Bob and Barbara Reese paid $25 each for the privilege of sitting in the lower bowl of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Tuesday. He wore a Joe Flacco jersey. She wore Ray Rice.

This was as close as they could get to the Super Bowl — an opportunity to watch the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers face a horde of international reporters and broadcasters that numbered in the thousands and listen in on the combination of serious journalism and fringe media foolishness that has become a very popular component of the tightly packed Super Bowl event schedule.

"We would love to go to the game," Barbara said, "but it was just too much money, so we're just going to have a party at home."

Even living within driving distance — on the gulf coast of Mississippi — they could not justify the thousands of dollars it would have cost to buy two tickets on the bloated secondary ticket market. Factor in the airfare and the price of hotel rooms for Ravens fans who haven't relocated to the deep South and it was no wonder the Reeses didn't have a lot of purple-clad company so early in the week.

They seemed satisfied with their little slice of the big show, though Super Bowl Media Day isn't what it used to be.

What once had devolved into an annual festival of foofery was surprisingly serious and subdued. Nobody appeared in a wedding dress to propose to Ravens receiver Torrey Smith the way a sexy TV Azteca reporter did to Tom Brady a few years ago, and only a few costumed characters showed up to compete for attention with the players and coaches.

There were plenty of stupid questions. There always are when you get so many celebrities and media types from so many different backgrounds together to share the glare of professional sport's biggest spotlight, but they were largely drowned out by more serious subject matter.

Ray Lewis may have been left almost speechless when a guy dressed as a superhero asked him if he was afraid "a 49ers player might (pass gas) in his locker," but he didn't hold back when he was grilled about a Sports Illustrated report that accused him of using a possibly illegal substance contained in deer antlers to speed his recovery this year from a triceps injury.

Lewis, who already knew he was going to get questions about the Atlanta double-homicide that was the hot topic of the 2001 Super Bowl leadup, called the report a "two-year-old story" and said he would not let it spoil "my moment."

Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco was busy making a case for the Hall of Fame candidacy of the late Ravens owner Art Modell, who is one of 17 finalists this year and could get his ticket to Canton punched on Saturday.

"The reason (the NFL) is as popular as it is today and guys are making the money is a lot because of what he's done and the vision that he had," Flacco said. "That's my thing. He should be in it, but if he's not in it, what's that say about the Hall of Fame?"

There was also the daily dose of Har-Bowl hype. Jim Harbaugh spent a chunk of the 49ers media hour heaping praise on his older brother. John Harbaugh played that for laughs, claiming that his hyper-competitive younger sibling was just engaging in some gamesmanship.

"He's just trying to soften me up," he said.

Though both coaches have said from the start that they want their teams to view this week's visit to New Orleans as a business trip, the Ravens — to a man — seemed much more relaxed than the 49ers during their back-to-back Q&A; sessions. Flacco, in particular, seemed very loose as he sparred with reporters, even when he was answering pointed questions. He usually shows little emotion during his media briefings, but he was smiling and laughing throughout his time on the podium and seemed supremely confident.

Whether that's a sign that the Ravens are better equipped to handle the pressure of this huge matchup remains to be seen, but they definitely appeared to be embracing the moment.

Mike Pfeifer, a Tulane University law student from the Washington area, would like to embrace it with them this weekend, but he had to settle for a chance to soak up a little purple passion on Tuesday. His family has season tickets, but only a very limited number of Super Bowl tickets were available in the Ravens PSL lottery.

"I couldn't get any, so I'm flying back to Baltimore to watch the game with my dad," he said.

Obviously, it's going to be must-see TV, especially after the Ravens flesh out a number of their most intriguing storylines over the course of this week. Lewis may have hit a few journalistic speed bumps during his hour of media interrogation, but he just kept coming back to his preferred narrative.

"He said 'My last ride' so many times," joked Tampa Bay Times columnist Gary Shelton, "if that were a drinking game, we'd all be in a coma."

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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