KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — A man traipsing around Monday’s Super Bowl opening night in a full-length gown declaring himself “The Empress of Austria, Elizabeth I” was the most outrageous guest at what was a rather tame media night compared to the circus this event has been in the past.
The Empress, otherwise known as Julian Kurzwernhart, who said he’d been covering the Super Bowl for a television station in Austria for the past six years, spent more time being interviewed in his crazy getup than actually conducting interviews with the players from the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots.
“Why outfits? Oh yeah, that’s funny questions because we want to spread some Austrian flavor every year here and spread some Austrian charm and you guys have something to love,” he said. “It’s a crazy event and you have to dress up.”
The event, which is the first availability with the teams during Super Bowl week, was held at Minute Maid Park, where the Houston Astros play.
While media mingled with players on the field, 10,204 fans filled the stands to get a glimpse of their favorite players.
There were a handful of other strange getups, such as a man from a television station who wore a long blonde wig and a jersey which was half that of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan and half New England tight end Rob Gronkowski.
A reporter from a local television station sported an oversized red foam cowboy hat and asked everyone who spoke to him if they’d like to try on the matching blue one he held.
He handed the hat to Atlanta receiver Julio Jones who thanked him and placed it beside him on the podium next to his seat.
When the reporter informed him that he wanted him to try it on and not keep it and then tried to ask another question Jones jokingly snapped at him.
“Next question, I ain’t messing with you,” he said before cracking up.
Jones embraced the silliness of the night and said he couldn’t think of a question he wouldn’t answer.
“We have a lot of fans from everywhere, Australia, Mexico … and everyone wants answers and I’m going to answer them to the best of my ability,” he said. “It hasn’t been too crazy for me.”
Guillermo Rodriguez, a talk show personality on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live”, asked the players sign what he called a football, which was actually a soccer ball.
He asked questions like: “Do you think Nick will find love on ‘The Bachelor’?,” to Atlanta coach Dan Quinn and “What do you like pizza or pineapple?,” to Falcons running back Devonta Freeman.
His fun didn’t stop with the Falcons and he was even able to get a smile out of notoriously gruff New England coach Bill Belichick.
Rodriguez pronounced the coach’s name “belly check” and told him: “You know you are much prettier when you smile.”
He wasn’t able to get an autograph from the coach though.
“No,” Belichick told him. “Because it’s not a football.”
He eased up a second later telling him he might sign it later.
Rodriguez also had an extended exchange with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady where he told him his teammates said he smelled like flowers and asked him if his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen had a sister he could date.
“No,” Brady said simply.
Rodriguez followed up with: “I thought she had a twin.”
Brady then explained: “She does but she’s married,” which drew boos from Rodriguez. “I know. Too bad.”
Working alongside the traditional media on Monday night were a handful of people who are normally the ones fielding questions from reporters.
Gymnast Simone Biles, who won four gold medals at the Rio Olympics, worked as a correspondent for “Inside Edition”, Houston Rockets power forward Kyle Wiltjer, reported as what he called an unpaid intern for NFL Network. And Houston Astros pitcher Lance McCullers asked questions recorded by the team’s social media department.
Biles said she would not be asking any difficult questions about politics or new President Donald Trump.
“I’m all about the fun questions,” she said.
She said she might consider a career in media after she’s done competing.
“We’ll see,” she said. “It’s definitely different for me to be behind the camera on the other side.”
Wiltjer, who is a huge NFL fan, had a little fun with some of his questions. He opened with a serious query to Quinn about the importance of special teams before hitting him with a more entertaining one.
“I’m 6-foot-10 with a 7-1 wingspan, you think I can I block some kicks for you?,” Wiltjer said raising one of his long arms skyward.
That drew a big smile from the coach.
“There’s no question you could,” he said. “So let’s talk afterward.”
Actor Kel Mitchell entertained the players dressed as his character Ed from the 1997 movie “Good Burger.”
He did an extended interview with Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett about why the black unicorn is his spirit animal.
“Shout out to the black unicorn,” Mitchell bellowed.
Bennett replied by leaning into his microphone and neighing like a horse, which drew a huge laugh from Mitchell, who first gained fame from the Nickelodeon show “Kenan & Kel.”
But the loquacious Bennett, who grew up in Houston, was far from done having fun in the return to his hometown.
He did interview after interview, took pictures with anyone who asked and by the time he was finally coaxed off the field he was the only player remaining, with his teammates long gone from the event.
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