Sunday, February 5, 2012

Super Dreams: Attending Super Bowl XL

It's Super Sunday here in America, our de facto National Holiday.  That alone should tell you that I'm not up to writing anything coherent today, and if that didn't do it, my Penguins are playing the NJ Devils at 1.  That means I am NOT doing anything productive.  However... 

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.


Anne said...

Judie posted your photo at her blog as a kid! Handsome! I figured it was you! Ha Ha! Cheating a bit, so many of us are girls! Ha Ha!
Enjoy the Super Bowl and your other sport activities. Sometime here we have five laptops and 3 tvs showing different games! I know we are weird!
Enjoy the day!

bluzdude said...

Thanks Anne. Yeah, I knew I'd be pretty easy to spot. But you should see the other pic I sent her... same age, better fedora, red sport coat. I looked like a hockey coach from 1962.

Nothing weird about your viewing habits... I love going to a sports bar and following all the games at once. I do that whenever my team (the Steelers) aren't on local TV.

dad said...

Great recollection Bluz, we remember it well. That was my third Super Bowl, I am 2-1 in victories. That was a great time but having family along made it the best. Dad

bluzdude said...

It was killing me at the time, to miss seeing SB XXX with you and Ed, but it retrospect, it worked out for the better. If I'da mortgaged the house to go and then we lost, I might have wandered off into the desert and found a hole to die in.

I'm glad I went to SB XL... was one of the best days of my life. I'm indebted to you and Ed for making it happen. But I don't think it's an experience I'll be having again. I'll take the 2Gs (or more) and buy a bigger TV, to watch shit on year round.

Anonymous said...

You know, I've asked myself many times if going to the Super Bowl is really worth it (even if you can get/afford tickets) with the price of a hotel/airfare/etc., and all of the hype and the madness and the waiting in long lines while protesters shout at you -- and what if your team *loses*?!? But you definitely had luck on your side and an experience that will last a lifetime. What a great story, thanks for sharing this!

"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." YES! Bluz, you should write this movie! I will totally help you out. It will be awesome!

Am I the only one who is more interested in the hockey game than the Super Bowl? I have a bad feeling there's gonna be like 8,000 people at the Rock cause everyone in Jersey is too worried about the Giants. Oh well. If having the most fans meant anything, the Maple Leafs would win the Cup every year!

Go Devils! :D

bluzdude said...

The game was totally worth it, because we won. Otherwise, I'd have felt like the biggest dope in America. (Although I would have had about 65,000 that felt the same way I did.)

I love having the hockey game on Super Sunday afternoon. Great way to take your mind off the big game and kill the time. That's especially true when your team is in the Super Bowl, but that's not my problem this year.

FYI, while the Pens are my favorite team, I used to be a big fan of the Devils as my "secondary" team. When I lived up in Albany in the min 90s, I was a big River Rats fan, who were the farm team for the Devils. A lot of kids I saw cut their teeth in the minors went on to play for NJ. Can't just stop rooting for them completely.

That's why I was so thrilled to see the Pens pick up Steve Sullivan. Saw him playing for the Rats Calder Cup team in 94-95. He was a scrappy little shit... We haven't had a former River Rat since Kristoph Oliwa.

bluzdude said...

Oops... last Rat on the Pens was Petr Sykora, an integral part of our 2009 Cup team.

Anonymous said...

So I went to a Stones concert and , lo, a football game broke out. Got my ticket's worth that day. Even enjoyed freezing my tail at the gate.
Great big good fun with family, friends and football.

Mary Ann said...

Detroit did not deserve to host a Super Bowl. Remember the pieces of lined notebook paper with handwritten messages taped here and there to direct fans. Sandlot sports events have better signage. AND refreshments. How about that tailgate wait until the clock struck noon. Maybe we were all supposed to turn into frozen pumpkins.
Had the scene been perfect, we wouldn't remember. The very stupidity added to our fun and made happy memories.

bluzdude said...

Like I always say, the best stories come from tragedy, not from those times that everything went just right. Was a great time and the last hurrah in suffering for your team. Now, bring on the sky boxes...

Unknown said...

You got some great pics here! I bet it was worth all the cold just to be there. And you got to see Aretha Franklin sing!! How many of your work friends secretly hated you because you had tickets and they didn't? Enjoy the game today and enjoy the party!!!

bluzdude said...

The way I see it, it was a mini Stones concert, with Stevie Wonder and Aretha opening.

Yeah, there were a couple of Steeler fans out here that were jealous, but as the Steelers are public enemy #1 around here, people were just as glad to stay home to hate on'em.

sherry stanfa-stanley said...

Still trying to wrap my arms around the idea that you spent $2,000 to watch a football game, albeit the biggest one of the year. I'm sure the fact that I'm not a football fan has something to do with it. (As my dad used to say, I don't know whether it's pumped or stuffed.)

I did, however, pay $1,000 to see Stephen King, John Irving and J.K. Rowling speak at Radio City Music Hall. But that was partly tax-deductible and included an autographed from each of them. I figure I got my money's worth...

Jessica R. said...

Awesome lifetime experience, though it looks cold.

And I can't get over how adorable your parents are.

bluzdude said...

It’s totally worth it, from a fanatical sports fan’s perspective. Think about it… We travel across the country for games. We went to a game in a hurricane. We get threatened and sworn at just for showing up at away games. I have 10 different Steelers game jerseys and Lord knows how many tee shirts, sweatshirts and hats. I track my apparel with a spreadsheet to determine which outfit has the greatest effect on the outcome and then write about it online.

I looked at it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and never regretted doing it. And hell, I’ve gotten at least 3 blog posts out of it.

That said; I don’t see doing it again. You’re right; it IS a buttload of money and gets even more expensive every year. Like I said in the post, SBXL was only doable for me because I didn’t have to pop for hotels or airfare; the ticket was the only real cost. MAYBE I’d reconsider if the game was here (or in Pittsburgh) AND the Steelers were in it.

This was the end game to a magical season. The Steelers hadn’t won a title in 28 years. We were heavily invested in that team, even without the big push to get their running back Jerome Bettis, into his only Super Bowl, which happened to be in his home town.

The feeling in the stadium was surreal… in some strange city, yet surrounded by like minded Steeler fanatics. It was an emotional catharsis… where can you get that kind of successful therapy in only one day, for $2000? Totally worth it.

bluzdude said...

My dad and brother had a much better time at SB XXX in Arizona, right up until we lost the game. But the weather, the venue and the facility rocked. So yeah, I hated the cold, but the win more than made up for it.

I agree, about the folks. Makes you wonder how a big galoot like me came from that!

Deb K said...

Tom Brady doesn't deserve to be booed even if he can't win a super bowl against the Giants. We just went to the Sugar Bowl and our team won. So I totally get for the first time all the hype about going to the big games. Didn't hurt a bit it was in New Orleans. Great story as usual.

bluzdude said...

Yep... nothing like that crazy energy in the stadium. You're not paying for the view of the game, you're paying to be part of the vibe.

Facie said...

Awesome! My mom and brother went too. I hope to get there someday as well, and I feel as if there is a pretty good chance. And I agree with your comment above; there is just something about being there. I had a similar feeling when the Steelers beat Indy in in the AFC championship game in '95. I definitely would not want to be there for all those big games, though.

For the record, I think your smiles should have been MUCH bigger when you were realizing the Steelers were going to win. I am pretty sure the Steelers winning that SB was one of the top 5 happiest moments of my life (I was a kid when they won the first four and really did not care). :-)

bluzdude said...

That's funny... MY brother was at the Colts game in '95 too. His friend got so excited when they caught that long pass down to the two yard line, he knocked my brother's Steelers hardhat off his head... Knocked it right over the edge of the upper deck. He had to go running down the ramps to the lower bowl to try and find it. He didn't think he'd see it again, but when he ran down the aisle, a guy was holding it up for him. 'Burghers...

Our smiles were bigger, later. Seattle was still had a chance. But I liked the composition of that shot, with the towel.

The enormity of the outcome took a little while to sink in... even as the final seconds ticked down, I was still worried that somehow something would go wrong. Instead of the explosion I expected, it was more like relief...

But I tell you... every time I watch the DVD of that game and that season, I tear up like a widow woman. Never fails...

Mrs. Bachelor Girl said...

I know I'm not a sports expert or anything, but I fail to see what abortion has to do with the Super Bowl. I mean, I firmly believe in American citizens' right to a peaceful protest, but aren't Super Bowl attendees really the wrong audience for that sort of thing?

You are the only person I know who has ever been to a Super Bowl! That makes you kind of famous.

P.S. I almost typed "Super Bowel."

Judie said...

I guess I saw maybe 15 seconds of the game, but Rod told me it was good one. Oh, I did see the part where the player accidentally fell into the end zone for a touchdown. Not their plan, I hear.

I spent the first half on the patio of a friend's house, eating great SB food and telling jokes. The Saints were'nt playing, and I was broke, so no betting for me this time.

So Mrs. BG almost typed "Super Bowel?" My friend calls it "Super Blow!"


bluzdude said...

They gather where ever there’s a crowd and they had a captive audience in front of the entry line there. I still can’t get over the audacity they have, to assume that just because you’re going to the Super Bowl that you’re automatically a sinner. I mean, they weren’t in church either.

They reminded me of back when I was in college and every spring, we’d get this band of fire and brimstone evangelists who would show up on campus, hop up on a stump and start preaching and ranting at everyone. We were all whores and whoremongers, in their eyes, regardless of backgrounds or actions. I’ll have to post about them some time, but suffice to say, it kind of bothered me the first time, but after that, I just went to enjoy the show.

If someone had a Super Bowel, I wonder what their special powers would be? I do know that I wouldn’t want to be around to see them demonstrated.

bluzdude said...

The Saints have only been in 1 Super Bowl and you’re already jaded? Sheesh!

Nah, just kidding… sitting on the patio eating snacks and telling jokes seems like a pretty good place to be to me!