I will take this opportunity to retell one of my favorite stories: How my family, friends and I found our way to attend Super Bowl XL, featuring the Steelers and Seahawks playing in Detroit, February 5, 2006. This is a combination of two posts I wrote in February of 2010. Trust me, except for Cassie, you didn't see it. Ahem...
2005 was an incredible season that really started in 2004. That was Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year. We went to a lot of games that year… We saw the Steeler lose at Baltimore, in the game that made Ben a starter after Maddox got hurt. We saw the very next game, Ben’s first start, against the Dolphins in Miami, following Hurricane Jeanne. (Full story of that adventure is blogged here and part 2 is here.) We saw the game against the Jets in Pittsburgh.
My brother lucked out and hit the Steeler Season Ticket Waiting List Lottery for the playoffs and so we then had the opportunity to go to the Jets game, featuring the Holy Doink (Jets kicker misses 2 field goals in the last 2 minutes, including one off the post) and the AFC Championship game against the Patriots (aka Soul-Crushing loss #2).
Getting this far with a rookie QB made the prospects for the 2005 season very bright. That year we traveled to Green Bay for the Steelers/Packers game and saw the Steelers lose in OT in Baltimore as Tommy Maddox had to step in for an injured Ben.
After losing 3 in a row, the Steelers won their last 4, starting with the Bus rolling over the Bears in a Heinz Field snowstorm. They charged into the playoffs with the 6th seed and a game in Cincinnati. That’s where my brother and I met this clown and almost had to fight our way out of the parking lot:
Huge wins against the Colts (the Heart Attack game) and the Broncos (a Mile High shellacking) set up the Jerome Bettis Homecoming Super Bowl in Detroit MI. As I touched on in this post, this game was the perfect storm.
First of all, it was within driving distance, eliminating the need for airfare. Second, we grew up in Toledo and have a great nest of friends there. We could stay with them and forget about hotel reservations. All we had to do was get tickets. This job is always entrusted to my brother, The Ticketmaster.
He was able to secure a block of tickets, but it wasn’t going to be cheap. There was a block of 6 tickets available at $2600 apiece. That was a big chunk to swallow. To do this, I’d have to devote my entire annual bonus and tax return, then live fairly lean for the rest of the year. Even so, it was still going to be uncomfortably tight, so my brother and dad told me to fork over the 2K and they’d help with the rest. For this I have been eternally grateful.
So my parents planned to fly up from Florida and Ed and I drove out from Baltimore. The other 2 ticket were claimed by long-time football trip-going friends. Bob, who came with us on the Hurricane Trip and many other football adventures, drove out from Charlotte NC. The other ticket went to Margaret, an old Toledo neighbor who was a veteran of the many Cleveland trips we undertook in the 80’s.
Weather was an issue, however. We had to bump up our departure time and plow through some snow to get to my buddy’s house, but we made it uneventfully. Bob had a much tougher time coming up from the south.
Normally when you think of going to the Super Bowl, you’re thinking about sunshine and palm trees. Not so with this one. Detroit was coated with about a foot of snow and temps were in the 20’s. It was terribly difficult to find our way around because all the street signs were covered with blown snow. And apparently all Detroit could afford by way of event signage were some marker-on-cardboard signs, which were taped under various street signs.
Our first order of business was to secure the tickets. To do that, we had to get to a Detroit hotel, where the sellers (ticket brokers) had a “suite.” How long could that take?
Answer, “forever.” There was a line that snaked back and forth across the entire width of the hotel floor, crammed with people full of Super Bowl dreams. Gee, it seems there’s a lot of money to be made in reselling Super Bowl tickets. What I wonder is where all the tickets came from? These brokers had access to literally thousands of tickets. Don’t tell me there’s not a ton of back-room dealing at the league level. It also occurred to me that it would make a great “heist” movie if someone could do a story about ripping off a ticket broker at the Super Bowl. I’m picturing “Ocean’s Eleven”, with jocks.
Our tickets came with a tailgate party, which we located about 11:00 and was within sight of the stadium.
It looked close, but of course, "you couldn't get there from here." We had a long way to go before we could get inside.
Unfortunately it didn’t officially “start” until noon, so we had nothing to do but stand around and freeze. When it finally did open, we realized that cold beers and lukewarm hot dogs were not really helping our attitudes, so we bailed on the tailgate and went to hang out in a Greektown casino. I figure I’ve paid my suffering-in-the-snow tailgating dues with that 11-degree game against the Patriots.
Our tailgate site.
Family portrait... Freezing together, cheesing together.
We could see from the TV monitors in the casino that the lines to get in were tremendous. Once we could see that they were letting people in, we got moving and got into line… a line that was over 6 blocks long. Enterprising citizens of Detroit were selling beers from store doorways, which helped pass the time. Also helping kill time were the group of anti-abortion protesters holding graphic signs and screaming at everyone in line.
God’s children, ruining everyone’s time in line. (Funny how they're all men, too.)
They were really bothering our friend Margaret, as they were calling everyone sinners, apparently for going to a football game and not spending the day in church. I’m not sure what their excuse was. Margaret tried to plead her case to them but of course they just kept up with their speechifying. I tried to tell her that these people weren’t interested in listening to anyone; they were only interested in doing the talking.
Most of the time, stadiums have multiple entrances all around the venue. For the Super Bowl, there was only one, although there might have been another on the opposite side. That’s what made the lines so long… that and the giant security station. They had a large tented area were everyone had to pass through an airport-like security check. They checked our bags, did a pat down and we walked through the big metal detectors.
Once through that, it was home free. We skipped on up to the entrance, eager for our first sip of Super Bowl atmosphere. But first I had to stop and stare at little Linda Cohn, sportscaster with ESPN, as she interviewed people in the crowd. I would have stayed longer and was hoping to get a picture but the rest of my crew was steadily steaming ahead.
It was weird seeing all the Lions signage inside Ford Field. You just don’t mentally link the Lions with the idea of the Super Bowl. But the venue was indeed very nice.
My parents, showing off their tickets, on the concourse behind the corner of the end zone.
We were stunned to find how good our seats were… 2nd row of the 2nd deck. And in the row in front of us, it was nothing but press photographers. This was great, because they never stand up, they just sit there with their one-legged camera stands and long lenses. (What do you call a tripod with one foot? A monopod? I suppose "I-pod" is already taken.)
This was our vantage point. You can see our analogous position across the way... 2nd row of that middle tier.
At least this was my vantage point. Ed and Margaret sat a couple rows behind my parents, Bob and me.
The players all ran out from the corner at our lower right. The towels were really flying, but it’s hard to tell from the shot.
This looks more like what we saw. I believe this shot is from the Post Gazette.
I couldn’t get over the ratio of Steeler fans to Seahawk fans. It’s like they weren’t even there. I’d put the ration at 85/15. Steeler fans owned the place. This became evident during the introductions of the past Super Bowl MVPs. When Franco ran out as the MVP of Super Bowl IX, waving a terrible towel, the place just went crazy. And you should have heard the boos for Tom Brady when he went out. You could see him laughing about it.
Pre-game entertainment was stellar. Stevie Wonder played a rocking medley of his hits, then Aaron Neville and Aretha Franklin blew out the National Anthem. That’s when it really hit me that I was actually at the Super Bowl. I wished like hell my friend Brill could have seen this day. I couldn’t help but tear up, just a bit.
But then the player introductions began and there were yells to yell and towels to wave. I’ll never forget Jerome Bettis charging alone onto the field, whooping and hollering, then turning around and going, “Where the hell is everybody?” We couldn't see it but Joey Porter was holding everyone back. It was a classy move to give the Bus his spotlight in his hometown.
The game had an under whelming start. The Seahawks seemed to move up and down the field at will, firing short pass after short pass. The Steelers went 3 and out time after time and couldn't seem to get out of their own way.
The Steelers, starting at their own 20, for the umpteenth time.
We went to halftime, up 7-0, owing to a short run from Ben. Whether he crossed the goal line is still debated. The Seahawks have been whining about it ever since. As far as I’m concerned, photos I’ve seen online remove all doubt. He didn’t make it by more than an eyelash, but he made it.
The halftime show was great… It was the Rolling Stones! We were in the same building as Mick and Keef! Just breathing the same air as Keith Richards will add at least 3 years to your life.
The 2nd half began with a bang, as Willie Parker ripped off a 75-yard run right into our end zone. The place just went berserk. I will never forget the sight of Fast Willie churning down the field, with no one else even close to him. There was exactly zero suspense about that play. He got past the line and was just gone!
After that, the Steelers just started putting the game away, while the Seahawks blew play after play. They were called for penalties and dropped several key passes. Looked like a serious case of the yips, to me.
The Steelers administered the coup de grace with the Antwaan Randle El pass to Hines. That play went away from us but was on our side of the field. You could see Hines streaking wide open and we just prayed that the pass would end up somewhere near him. It was a true thing of beauty.
Bob, my parents and moi, realizing that the Steelers were going to win Super Bowl XL.
On the Seahawks last possession, they worked very hard to remove any suspense. Their 2-minute drill was atrocious as they pissed away a great deal of time. When the clock ran out, I barely realized it. But then there is was. The Pittsburgh Steelers were Super Bowl Champions, finally attaining that legendary “One for the Thumb.”
Bedlam on the field, as the trophy presentation stage is set up at midfield.
When I was a teenager, Super Bowl championships seemed to be my birthright. Next thing you know, 26 years had rolled by and my perspective had changed. Only then did I begin to understand what my dad had gone through with the Steelers, prior to 1972. Nothing makes victory sweeter than the endless years of failed seasons.
We stayed for a while, just soaking in the winning vibe. We saw the trophy accepted and handed around. We saw the Bus retire after a long, fabulous career. We cheered when Hines Ward was named MVP.
This shot was specially framed to include the final score.
But eventually we had to get the hell out of Dodge, so we high-tailed it to our outlying parking lot and actually got out to the freeway in pretty good time. We got back to my buddy John’s house about 1:00 am, to find that he was still up and waiting for us with some Gentlemen Jack.
We toasted all around, to a great season, to a satisfying victory, to good family and friends and to the joy of being a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
The ticket to my dreams.