INDIANAPOLIS -- About an hour before Madonna was scheduled to walk onto the stage, media members began spilling into the JW Marriott's converted ballroom as if an hourglass had been overturned.
The podium sat atop a makeshift platform and faced countless rows of brown upholstered seats. The room was meant for corporate PowerPoint presentations, or the local high school's prom, or a wedding banquet; but on Thursday afternoon, it was where Madonna stood in front of us "media members" (we were there mostly for the show) as we asked her silly questions in serious voices.
I arrived purposefully early. There appeared to be an open seat in the second row, but as I leaned toward it, an entertainment reporter swooped in like we were fighting for a parking spot. I spotted another seat in the middle of the third row and shuffled sideways past everyone's knees and lowered myself into the seat, which offered a surprisingly unobstructed view. Madonna's 1994 track "Take A Bow" was playing softly on the ballroom's overhead speakers.
I exhaled, took out my iPhone and did what everyone in my position would do: mass-texted my friends. My first text (sent at 1:29 p.m. local time) commenced what will likely be the strangest 55 minutes of Super Bowl XLVI.
Here are a few of my favorites from those minutes:
1:30 p.m.: A public relations representative for Cirque du Soleil is offering a press release. She's making small talk with a few women behind me.
"Our creative genius her creative world let's throw it together and see what happens!" the PR rep earnestly tells the women. I look at my handout: Madonna is teaming with Cirque du Soleil for Sunday's halftime performance.
A collision of creative genius.
1:32 p.m.: Madonna's 1984 hit "Like A Virgin" starts playing.
1:36 p.m.: The mix shifts to "Holiday."
1:40 p.m.: The ballroom is three-quarters filled and two women over my left shoulder can't contain their excitement.
"I can't wait to see Madonna!" shrieks one, and then turns to the other and says, "Do your Madonna face!"
What's a "Madonna face," you might ask? Good question. I pretended to stretch, turning 180 degrees toward the woman, but she was still turned away. Her friend was nodding and the nod said it was a Madonna face.
1:45 p.m.: "Into The Groove" comes on, Madonna's 1985 chart-topper, which then blends seamlessly into "Vogue."
1:59 p.m.: A voice from behind me says, "This is insane, the amount of people here." (A popular radio host tells me afterward it was the largest crowd for a halftime performer's press conference. I'm unimpressed. It's Madonna.)
2 p.m.: "Crazy For You" pumps into the ballroom.
2:02 p.m.: An assistant briskly walks on stage, places a glass of water with a red straw on the table next to the podium, and then shuffles off, head down. She's not Madonna and she knows it.
2:04 p.m.: A representative from Bridgestone (sponsor alert!) steps to the podium to introduce Madonna: "We want to thank our 'Lucky Star' that the Material Girl "
(I love music puns, especially those delivered by the spokesman for a tire company.)
2:06 p.m.: Madonna walks onstage wearing a black vest and black trousers. She stops in front of the podium, unobstructed, as the room fills with the sight of flashbulbs and the sound of shutters. (I might have taken a picture with my iPhone.) The more experienced photographers yell, "Madonna, over here!" Everyone in the room seems to be very good at this game.
2:07 p.m.: "I'm so excited, incredibly nervous for the Super Bowl " she says, now standing behind the microphone. "If I speak fast or run out of breath, you'll know why." She explains that playing the big game is a "Midwestern girl's dream." (Madonna is from Detroit, and all the Motown-ers in the room shriek in excitement over their overlapping heritage.)
2:08 p.m.: Madonna says she's been training so hard for Sunday's show (she's recovering from a pulled hamstring) that she "feels like one of the football players."
2:12 p.m.: Asked to choose between Saturday night invitations from New England quarterback Tom Brady and New York quarterback Eli Manning, Madonna first says, "That's not fair," and then concludes, "I have to say Eli because he lives in New York." First points scored by the Giants!
2:13 p.m.: When asked about her approach to success, she says, "I approach my shows like a game," and then goes on to attribute more to "the grace of God and as many guardian angels as you can attract."
It's unclear how we arrived at attracting guardian angels, but the crowd nods in acknowledgement: Yes, absolutely, the more guardian angels, the better.
2:14 p.m.: She thanks the NFL for giving her "all of the things I've been asking for [for the performance], and it's quite a long list."
2:15 p.m.: When told she's never before performed in Indy, she says, "I haven't?" She seems to think she might have 18 years ago, but doesn't further question the information because it's very likely she hasn't performed before in Indy.
"I have to keep pinching myself, I can't believe I'm here," she says, and we all assume "here" is the Super Bowl and not downtown Indianapolis.
"A lot of people say I'm a masochist," she says. "I would just tape my ankle and take an anti-inflammatory and get my butt out there. Does that answer it?"
"Do you think he'll play?" the reporter continues.
"I hope he does!"
(This feels like a particularly dicey situation for Madonna because I'm not totally sure she knows who "Gronk" is, but the reporter doesn't press for additional insight about the tight end's playing status, or what his potential on-field impact might be.)
2:17 p.m.: Madonna is asked if New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez really does possess a photo of himself as a half-man, half-horse.
"If he does, I haven't seen it, but I'm pretty sure he has a very large photograph of me," she answers. Shockingly, no one seems to think this is an awkward moment.
2:17 p.m.: Madonna guarantees there will be no wardrobe malfunctions during her performance.
2:18 p.m.: "Me!" she says when a little girl asks what is the craziest thing she's seen in the city.
2:19 p.m.: Madonna feigns annoyance when again asked about her set list (top-secret, people!). "I promise I'll be singing three old songs and one new one, OK?"
We all know one of the "three old songs" won't be "Like a Virgin" because this will be a G-rated show.
2:19 p.m.: A Japanese reporter asks Madonna what she thinks about the word "toose," which means "fired up" in Japanese, and then asks her to point into the camera and say the word "toose!" She does. Everyone laughs. It's like we're all involved in one, big, inside joke.
2:20 p.m.: Madonna reveals that a combination of cardio, pilates, dance cardio and jump rope is responsible for her slender physique and rope-like arms.
2:21 p.m.: (WARNING: PRODUCT PLACEMENT AHEAD!) Madonna announces that her single, "Give Me All Your Luvin'" drops on iTunes on Friday.
"I might be performing that [on Sunday], I'm just saying."
2:22 p.m.: A reporter from New York wants to know if Madonna has a criticism of the salsa-ing performed by Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz when he scores a touchdown.
"Absolutely no criticism," she says. "Actually, he's inspired me."
Madonna steps to the side of the podium and salsas. Everyone takes pictures and laughs. Sensing the perfect closing moment, the event's directors usher her off the stage.
2:23 p.m.: "That was SO fun!" says a man a few rows behind me, appearing to be speaking to no one in particular. Huh, I guess it was kind of fun.
2:23 p.m.: Madonna's "Express Yourself" blares from the speakers.
2:24 p.m.: I walk out of the ballroom. I'm happy. I've never seen Madonna in concert, but somehow this afternoon seems even better.
Kate Fagan is a columnist for espnW. You can follow her on Twitter @katefagan3.