NEW ORLEANS -- It rained for much of the morning in New Orleans on Wednesday, providing a perfect opportunity for some mild, healthy, heavily sponsored indoor thrills.
The NFL hosted a fun day for the winning schools of the league's NFL Play 60 initiative in the Rush Zone section of the NFL Experience. The NFL Experience wasn't open to the public yet, so the winning schools had the football-themed playland to themselves for a few hours. NFL Play 60 is all about getting kids to exercise, so all of the activities had a "get up and go" theme.
Kids had the opportunity to play Xbox 360 Kinect, run through a bowl-of-oatmeal themed obstacle course sponsored by Quaker Oats, play interactive games based on Cartoon Network characters, and kick field goals and run relays on fields bounded by Gatorade banners. Meanwhile, NFL Experience workers put the final touches on the Under Armour NFL Combine Experience exhibit, which is geared toward older teens and adults.
A grand time was endorsed by all.
Eli Manning, Jimmy Graham, Andrew Luck and Artis Hicks were among the NFL celebrities at the event. Manning spent much of the morning doing publicity, playing the Xbox boxing game with media members of all levels of notoriety and credibility. A group of adolescent boys spotted Manning preparing to face off against Michelle Beadle of NBC Sports Network and reacted in a way which, in keeping with the theme of Play 60, can best be described as healthy. "Michelle Beadles! Michelle Beadles!" they called.
Manning battled me after his bout with Beadle, and while I triumphed, the thought crossed my mind that he let me win because a) lunch was approaching and b) I had broken a sweat and he was not sure of his liability in case of a heart attack.
A group of boys stopped me after the fight. "He punches like he throws a football," one said, mimicking Manning's punching style. And here I thought all pubescent eyes were on Beadles. I needed a kid like that in my corner.
Elsewhere in the Rush Zone, children threw footballs into targets shaped like Finn, Jake, and the Ice King from "Adventure Time." It was a great chance for the youngsters to interact with their favorite cartoon characters (or mine, anyway). The best times and results in some obstacle courses and drills were written in chalk beside the exhibits. No one from Rivals.com was there to take note of any exceptional performances, which was either a nod to common sense or a missed opportunity. Hicks and others worked the room. The fight doctor who found the hole in Manning's swing displayed a football signed by Manning, Luck and others, while nearby some young boys enjoyed a photo op with Rich Eisen.
A piercing whistle echoed through the convention center exhibition hall for most of the morning. It was not the recognizable shriek of hundreds of excited children, but actual whistles. Someone had the good sense to equip hundreds of kids with referee-style whistles, and the youngsters took it upon themselves to reenact the Ravens-Patriots game from Week 3.
After a healthy lunch (no doubt filled with brand-name products), the Play 60 winners were ushered onto a giant football field for the most exciting event of any child's day: a series of speeches by adults. A separate "teacher's entrance" to the field should by rights have led straight to one of those New Orleans daiquiri bars, but just got the adults slightly closer to the podium.
A volunteer took the stage and told the children that they were not allowed to blow whistles anymore. All of the adults in attendance let out a roar of appreciation, most because the whistling stopped, a few because they thought that meant the start of playoff hockey.
Another Play 60 representative took the stage a minute later to work the room.
Is there greatness in this room today?
Loud, appreciative cheers.
This man made the Super Bowl possible: the owner of the New Orleans Saints, Tom Benson!
Loud appreciative cheers.
New Orleans is a great sports town, not only because of the Saints, but the New Orleans Hornets, who are soon to be renamed the Pelicans!
Even children know a dubious idea when they hear one, and while the NFL Experience is a little over-branded, the kids had an obvious blast, as did some childlike adults. A little video game time is healthy, oatmeal is healthy, avant garde animation disguised as children's entertainment is healthy, and making peace with corporate culture is also healthy in its own way. The Play 60 winners got to meet some NFL stars and media celebrities, have a miniature theme park to themselves for a few hours, blast their teachers' eardrums out, and hear a speech by an NFL owner. With any luck, they will grow to be adults who do not break a sweat while playing a video game.