Female journalist's experience with the NFL

NEW ORLEANS - Anticipating my first trip to the Louisiana Superdome to cover a New Orleans Saints football game as a journalist last Sunday was nerve-racking enough, but how my little adventure ended is really the kicker.

I am a woman. I am also a huge Saints fan. Being given the chance to watch the Saints play the Carolina Panthers last Sunday for an assignment to write about women who love football and women who cover NFL teams offered me a unique story opportunity.

My nervousness stemmed from the fact that I had never attended so much as a high school football game as a working journalist and, most of all, that I am not a sports reporter. What would I do in the big leagues among scores of seasoned male writers?

My day began at about 1 a.m. Sunday - 11 hours before kickoff - with nightmares about everything that could possibly go wrong: I wouldn't find my parking spot, I would be eyed as an impostor in the pressbox, or I wouldn't find the right outfit to wear. It was any number of horrifying situations.

Needless to say, parking was hell. I'm not very familiar with New Orleans and certainly not with the Superdome. I spent the entire drive from my boyfriend's mother's house (where I was staying) to the Dome with a cell phone glued to my ear while my aforementioned significant other barked directions to me from his comfortable perch on his couch.

I circled the Superdome twice and ended up in tears and yelling at my boyfriend, cursing him that he didn't drive me, before I finally found my designated parking space.

Now I was on my way, and, from here, making it to the pressbox was a simple affair. Within 10 minutes of parking I had secured my credentials and was seated at my first-row seat in the pressbox surrounded by journalists who, unlike me, actually knew what they were doing.

But I faked it.

Once the game began, I strictly adhered to the no-cheer rule, which is law in any press box.

This was difficult.

I withheld choice words for the referee when he tripped up Saints wide receiver Joe Horn on what would have surely been a touchdown pass. I sat stoically while quarterback Aaron Brooks fired a bullet to Albert Connell for a score, and I was nonchalant during Ricky Williams' explosive catch and rumble late in the fourth quarter during the Saints' game-winning drive.

OK, maybe I sneaked in a smile or two, but, overall, I was the picture of professionalism. That scream of joy when Terrelle Smith saved a botched play by snatching a deflected pass in the end zone for a touchdown went completely unnoticed, I am sure.

As the game wore on and I became more comfortable (no one had called me out as a fraud, and I hadn't been thrown out), I soon began to obsess over my next worry: the post-game press conferences and locker-room interviews.

This was an area of complete inexperience for me, and I felt totally intimidated. To ease my mind I resolved to keep my mouth shut and planned to follow the other reporters to the press conference area at the conclusion of the game.

I shared my plan with another female reporter I had made friends during the game. Since it was also her first time attending Saints game, she quickly agreed.

We realized, however, we were following the writers more interested in the visiting Carolina Panthers than in the Saints.

Did I feel like an idiot?

One of the few women reporters there and guess who was headed in the wrong direction?

Once we discovered our mistake, we made a mad dash for the Saints' locker room, only to discover we had missed the press conference. I broke out in a sweat as I realized my nightmares were becoming reality.

But, I was saved. The locker room had not yet been opened, so my companion and I joined the other waiting journalists.

Finally the doors were opened, and the media herd moved slowly in.

I should have run, right then and there. I was entering uncharted waters for my young, inexperienced eyes. I had no idea what awaited me beyond those locker room doors.

As soon as I walked in I realized that my companion and I were the only women in a room filled with about 75 men. What made matters worse is that most of them were naked.

I nearly fainted. I didn't know where to look. Obviously down was not good, but up was no better because then I might actually have to look a player in the face as he toweled off.

I felt my cheeks begin to burn and noticed one of the Saints players eyeing me strangely as my companion informed me that I was turning bright red.

I tried to compose myself quickly, searching for anything that might take my mind off where I was and what surrounded me. When my eyes finally landed on Horn's peach-scented Bath and Body lotion I had a hearty laugh, and I was able to calm down.

So there I was, writing down Horn's comments, amidst other reporters and cameramen as if I really belonged there.

With my newfound confidence I sauntered over to Williams and listened in as he answered my companion's questions. But that didn't last long; I hustled her out of there as soon as she was finished with Williams. I was beginning to feel a little conspicuous being fully dressed.

What a day! It was a little scary, a little crazy and definitely more than I ever expected from my initial experience with the NFL.

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