Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Bowl XLV--The Final Frontier or "Beam Me The Hell Up, Scottie!"

As a kid growing up in the 60's I liked to watch Star Trek on television.

The show followed the intersteller adventures of Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise which was exploring the 23rd Century galactic "United Federation of Planets." Every episode began with the narrator saying something like: "Space. The Final Frontier."

Creator Gene Roddenberry wanted the series to be a Western in outer space--a so- called "Wagon Train" to the stars. Or as Roddenberry told friends he was actually modelling the show on "Gulliver's Travels," intending each episode to act on two levels: 1) as a suspenseful adventure story and 2) as a morality tale.

The show also addressed issues that were important in the 60's, such as war and peace, the value of personal loyalty, authoritarism, imperialism, sexism, feminism, racism, class warfare, economics, religion, human rights and the role of technology.

So, I find it more than just a bit amusingly ironic, that my road to Super Bowl XLV experience yesterday reminded me of my favorite television show growing up and every one of the 12 important issues the show addressed would be on display to me all before we even entered the freakin' stadium. Please join me as we go where no man has ever gone before!

The Journey Begins

Our journey began at 11 a.m. at one of my favorite spots in Dallas. The Hilton Anatole which just happens to be the NFL Headquarters Hotel. We found our bus departure and ran into my friend Dave Burke, former G.M. of the Grand Prairie Airhogs, who was running bus operations for the NFL.

Once we confirmed our bus route with Dave, we ate lunch in the Media Bar, had our traditional game-day bloody mary's, ran into NFL Hall of Famer Richard Dent and retired to the outdoor cigar patio. OK, it's not a cigar patio but it's where the hotel sends smokers.

After my game day cigar, we mosied on over to the bus and proceeded to Cowboys Stadium. My iPhone said the time was 1:20 p.m.

After a circuitious route through west Dallas, we ended up on I-30 at Hampton and headed straight to Arlington in about 30 minutes right thru to Parking Lot 15, a couple of blocks west of Cowboys Stadium. It's now 2:06 and I'm thinking, "Great. We'll be in the stadium in less than an hour." Or so I thought.

The Gates of Hell

After herding across Collins street with everyone else and past a sea of God-fearing people with megaphones and signs telling us we were all going to hell, Religion, we eventually ended up in a holding pen in a sea of people all searching for the entrance gate. No signs. No customer service people directing us. Nothing but a sea of people aimlessly wondering into an abyss of people or as the man had just said, "The Gates of Hell!"

I have been to Cowboys Stadium many times. I know my way around. But knowledge was useless yesterday because all gates that were previously known as "A,B,C,D," etc., were now relabled in primary colors: red, blue, green, yellow, brown, etc. This was one situation where the NFL's attempt at simplicity actually complicated matters worse than they should have. Also, the NFL had taken the entire North parking lot for their NFL Tailgate party featuring Keith Urban and other credentialed-VIP's. Economics/Class Warfare. But you see there was one problem we were unaware of: the NFL had decided to close 3 or 4 gates due to the impending ice and snow accumulation on the stadium roof. Chunks of the ice had fallen earlier in the week and injured seven people, one critically.

So unbeknownst to us, we herded right along with everyone else into entrance gate armageddon. That is the only way I can adequately explain our dilemna. Because even though our tickets said "Red Gate", we were basically forced thru the "Blue Gate" without any other option. The sea of humanity following us quickly negated any thoughts of turning around and trying another gate. After about an hour of barely moving and trying to figure out where we were going, we finally realized our future would be a long and winding road.

For over two hours, we baby-stepped our way up to and then through a serpentine sea of bicycle racks (15 total) to a security tent about 30-yards wide. Along the way we bumped and grinded bodies in the heat (yes it got hot on the sunny side of the stadium, especially with bodies pressed against one another,) with Packers and Steelers fans excited about seeing their two teams in the Super Bowl. No water. No restrooms. No signage. No customer service people. Oh, Technology was present. We had a big jumbotron repeatedly telling us what items we could not bring into the stadium and the NFL would not keep it for you until after the game (sorry Fred from Pittsburgh but that camera lense is too long) and showing odd-bits of Fox television shows and stupid Snickers commercials with Richard Lewis and Roseanne Barr.

For the most part everyone behaved which is simply amazing considering the emotions, heat, confusion and basic hopelessness. Human Rights. Oh, it did get physical but thankfully War was avoided with some Peace. My wife figured out that if you went wide in the turns around the bicycle racks, you could actually pick up a couple of spots. We noticed one man who entered the holding pen with us who was actually a couple of rows a head of us after about one hour. I admired him.

So when my wife grabbed my hand and motioned me forward I was quickly moving past a Pittsburgh fan dressed in matching jerseys with his brother, or so I was about to find out. Because as soon as I moved past him I felt this forearm shiver in my back. I turned around to see an agitated, 30-something, Ben Rothlisberger-look-alike who quickly reminded me I had cut him off from his brother: Personal Loyalty. I politely responded, "Sorry, big boy. Get on up here with your brother!"

We continued on for another hour like this when we finally had reached the final row. But before we made it down the last row of bicyle racks I noticed Big Ben was now one row behind me without his brother. I looked ahead and big brother was in front of me. I think I noticed a slight tear coming down Big Ben's face. Now we were surely on our way into the stadium. But, alas. Simplicity was not to be on this day. You see the NFL had figured out that Feminism had earned it's place at the Super Bowl. When we made it up to the security tent, we saw male/female symbols overhead the metal detector entrances. The only problem with this einstein-moment was that the ratio of men to women in our cattle pen was about 4 to 1 male. Meaning? The women's lines were empty. The men's lines were backed up 20-deep. Oh it didn't matter pointing this fact out to the first real customer service person we had seen for the past two hours. She simply held up her hand and said, "Ladies Only!" Are you kidding me? Authoritarism.

So as my wife quickly moved through the metal-detector, she was forced to wait on the other side of the tent for 10 more minutes as I waited in the men's-only line. Sexism at work here, people! Once I made it through, we witnessed a scene right out of "American Idol" You know. The way contestants react when they come through the doors after their audition? Glee. Joy. Happiness. Jumping into their loved ones arms. The only thing missing was Ryan Seacrest to interview everyone.

Except my wife was calmly waiting for me to tell me about her new BFF. As I finally reached her she wasn't glad to see me but rather matter of factly pointed to a white courtesy van right behind me. I said so what. She said "So Fergie!" Yes, the Black Eyed Peas were being loaded into the van for their trek into the stadium. Imperialism/Racism! Funny. I didn't see Fergie waiting in line. As I turned to get a better peak inside the back of the van before the driver closed the back door, I spied Fergie and snapped a shot. She gave us a little wave and grin as if to say: "I feel your pain!"

The Dark Side of the Moon

Now thoroughly exhausted, we began our final trek into the stadium. Or so we thought. Because not only did we enter the wrong gate (I never did see a Red Gate Entrance,) we now found ourself on the opposite side of the stadium from our entrance gate.

So, tired, sweating and thirsty we began our walk to our entrance: Gate B. After walking another few minutes or so we quickly realized it is now increasingly colder on the other side of the stadium because the sun was now being blocked. So we went from one extreme temperature-wise to the other. But it wouldn't last long because Gate B was just on the horizon when what to our horror did we find? Gate B was closed. Yes, that's right. The NFL decided to put a merchandise tent in front of Gate B. Like we wanted any Super Bowl merchandise at this point of our journey! So we walked further around the dark side of the stadium to Gate C where we saw the funniest sign.

Finally We're In the Stadium...But Wait, There's More!

So after almost three hours from departing the hotel, we finally enter the stadium. Find our escalator. And enter our concourse. We quickly size up where the bathrooms, concession stands, and most importantly where the bar is located and approach our seats. Along the way we see the glass-partioned NFL On Location section with a buffet, open bar and seating. This area is restricted for customers who paid way more than I did for their tickets and I'm pretty sure they didn't go through the Gates of Hell security line we did to get here.

We stand for a few minutes at the Mexican Cantina Bar until the bartender, Jambi, makes eye-contact with me. I introduce myself. Place my order. Tell him I'm thirsty and I'll be back several times during the game and hate waiting in lines. I give him my credit card and tell him in my best Arnold Schwartzenegger line: "I'll be back!"

Row two in the upper deck is not a bad seat especially with the Mitsubishi video board staring you in the face. You only have one row in front of you and your field of vision is unobstructed with the Packers fan wearing his Cheesehead or Antlers. I went to retrieve food and drinks one last time before kickoff and returned to our seats right before the national anthem. Our rows had quickly filled up in my absence and my wife pointed to the seat in front of me and said, "You aren't going to like that."

A Pittsburgh Steeler fan, two of his sons in matching Ben Rothlisberger jerseys and his buddy had sat down in the row on the aisle in front of us. The only problem is that Big Ben only had two seats for his three people. Meaning that Ben Jr., who was about six years old, planned on standing in front of his father the entire game blocking the view of the only fan in Cowboys Stadium that mattered to me: Yours Truly.

So, being the wise-old sporting fan that I am, I know better than to try and reason with the father who plans on Jr. standing in my way the entire game, 15-minutes before Super Bowl XLV kickoff. I walk back up to the section entrance and talk to a S.A.F.E. Management employee. These are the same guys who were credentialed at Lone Star Park all week. I know Mike Kevorkian the head S.A.F.E. man in charge of employee credentialling and have his cell phone number on speed dial, just in case. I said excuse, me. I have a problem with my seat. I tried to get his attention but at this particular point he is too busy taking a photo of Christina Aguilera about to butcher the National Anthem to address my customer service problem. So I wait for him to finish taking his photo and for Christina to finish her song and then politely attempt to tell him my problem. He listens. And tells me to speak to his supervisor!

So I find his supervisor who is too busy taking care of another problem to deal with me. I politely wait again. He asks me what is wrong. I explain to him that I didn't come all the way to the Super Bowl to have Jr. Ben Rothlisberger in my dashboard waving his Terrible Towel the entire game and would he go move the Pittsburgh fans to the appropriate seats? He responded that children under two didn't need a ticket. I told him that Jr. Ben was at least six and he was standing in my vision. And besides, I waited two hours in line to get in the stadium and heard at least a thousand times the NFL video tell me all the things you could not bring into the stadium and pretty sure I heard at least 1,001 times that all persons had to have a ticket to be inside the stadium regardless of age! He said give him a minute and he would handle the situation.

I went to the bar and found our bartender Jambi who poured my Silver Tequilla into two separate cups because stadium policy would not allow him to combine two drinks into one. And find myself thinking, the bartender can't pour my double into one glass but they'll let Jr. Ben Rothlisberger stand in my sight line? I go back to my seat and by now Mike from Connecticut and his wife are sitting beside me in their Jets jerseys. He is wearing an "NFL Tailgate" hat so I know he didn't wait in line to get into the stadium. Mike does work for the NFL and is about 6' 5" tall and sits knees-wide in his seat. You know him. The guy who uses his seat, your arm rest and basically makes you sit slant-wise into your wife sitting next to you. Oh, and by the way. Mike brought his iPad into the stadium and has it on his lap reading about the Super Bowl. I'm pretty sure I recall the NFL video said iPads are excluded from the stadium!

So the game is about to start and here comes the S.A.F.E. management Supervisor to tell Big Ben about the no child under two policy or something like that. I am peering through my binoculars and have my headset on ready for the game acting like I don't notice him but listening intently. I hear him say basically that you need a ticket for your son. He explains that he had to buy tickets that split up his family and did not want to leave his kids by themselves. The supervisor tells him he understands but that his son will have to sit on his lap the entire game and if he gets any complaints about his son blocking anyone's vision, he'll have to go to his assigned seat. Good enough for me.

It's Just A Game

So now the game starts and what a game it was because I enjoyed every last minute. I followed every play with my binoculars, listened to Kevin Harlan and Boomer Esiason call it on ESPN radio in my headset and thought the game was well-coached, well-played and well-officiated.

Now, for my wife. She enjoyed being there but felt a little isolated. That's because with all my technology gadgets, I had little time to chat with her. But as I told her, "Honey this is football and I am into it!" Besides, I had my system to chart. You see, I actually have been watching football games ever since I can remember. My dad and I watched Dallas Cowboys football games every Sunday. He would always want to pick the team on the left just before kickoff. I would usually always play along with his game unless one team played: the Dallas Cowboys. They were not only America's Team but my team. Ironically, my dad's favorite team was always the Green Bay Packers. So as kickoff approached, I was more than aware of the irony that Green Bay was kicking off on my left in Cowboys Stadium home to my beloved Dallas Cowboys. Somewhere in heaven, I think my dad was smiling down on me!

My wife had a similar remembrance about her father who recently passed away. She said how much he would have enjoyed the game or simply the fact that his oldest daughter was enjoying her first Super Bowl. So I guess the trek into the stadium was worth the experience if it generated such wonderful remembrances for both of us about our dads, who we spent so many games watching with them growing up, once we got into the stadium.

So back to my system. I check the usual down and distance, play clock and size up the situation before every play. I know the tendencies of each team, who the playmakers are and can read defensive alignments as well as the offensive ones. Having a dad as my coach for years and playing quarterback from 4th grade thru High School didn't hurt either. So I play the game within a game at the Super Bowl. I watch every play through my binoculars but instead of watching the quarterback and the ball like the television cameras do, I watch a specific playmaker I identified before the game for each team move without the ball. Two on offense and two on defense per team. This sounds awkward but it's simply amazing how many times the ball comes into your field of vision when you have done your homework.

For Super Bowl XLV, my playmakers were Hines Ward, Rashard Mendenhall, Troy Palomalo and James Harrison for Pittsburgh. For Green Bay, Greg Jennings, James Starks, Clay Mathews and Charles Woodson. Pittsburgh and Green Bay ran a total of 119 plays. I correctly focused on the right player 23 of those plays including three of the seven touchdowns. Countless others developed around my focused player but in my system you don't count those. Oh sure, I missed some plays develop but that's what the Mitsubishi screen is for: instant replays. Also, it didn't help my stats that Charles Woodson broke his collarbone in the first half and was out the rest of the game or that Green Bay's offense effectively neutralized Palomalo and Harrison for Pittsburgh.

And what about my wife's new BFF? Fergie and the Black Eyed Peas delivered a Super Bowl halftime show for the ages. The glitz and glamour of their 13-minute performance will rank right up there with the best of all-time. Special guests Slash and Usher were not necessary and seemed a bit out of place interrupting the flow of the Peas' set but all-in-all, I thought the halftime show was right up there with the Michael Jackson and Clint Black and the Judds shows of my previous two Super Bowls.

So as the clock ran out and Green Bay celebrated its' fourth Super Bowl title, I felt relieved that we made it, exhausted we had to go through what we did to get into the stadium but ready to go home. Thankfully we made it back around the other way we came into the stadium (I never saw a Red Gate entrance,) and into our bus in 35-minutes in a drizzling rain. Another 45-minutes later and we were back at the Hilton Anatole where our journey started almost 12 hours before.

So, as I sat on the Anatole patio smoking my cigar, drinking my double Silver Patron with a lime poured in one glass, I was completely satisfied with our experience regardless of our obstacles along the way. The NFL has created a monster with Super Bowl. All the ingredients of the original Star Trek are present: such as war and peace, the value of personal loyalty, authoritarism, imperialism, sexism, feminism, racism, class warfare, economics, religion, human rights and the role of technology.

And after all the hullaballou over the Super Bowl, all the VIP parties, weather issues, stadium issues, attendance records (the attendance of 103,219 fell 766 from the Super Bowl record,) television viewing audience (a record 111 million people watched Super Bowl XLV,) it all comes down to this for me: it's just a football game.

In Summary

Finally on the bus and headed back home, I couldn't help but notice the convertible with Wisconsin license plates in front of our bus. That's right. A convertible. With a surfboard mounted in the back seat proudly flying a Green Bay Packers flag. A closer look revealed two people with mohawk-Packer yellow hair hunkered over the dashboard obviously feeling for the heat to warm their faces. Perhaps they were part of the 103,219 in attendance who witnessed the Packers win their record 13th NFL title and fourth Super Bowl. Or, maybe not. Perhaps they were some of the 400 who were turned away because their temporary seats were not installed in time?

Regardless. The very image of the tricked-out car shows the depth of the Super Bowl and passion of the respective teams fans.

The NFL, the North Texas Super Bowl Host Committee, Jerry Jones and the entire North Texas community should be proud of the effort involved to pull-off the spectacle of Super Bowl XLV.

It wasn't perfect but much if anything in life ever is. However, we enjoyed our experience, glad we went but 100% certain we will watch Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis at home in Dallas!