It’s been almost a week and I’m still processing everything I witnessed Last Sunday at Super Bowl 50.
Levi’s Stadium broke ground in April 19, 2012 and the NFL wasted no time in awarding the Super Bowl to the SF Bay Area and I wasted no time networking with my contacts within the 49ers front office, the Super Bowl host committee and the NFL league office to get my name in the hat to work the game. (Career tip #1)
It’s never too early to start networking or to tactfully leverage your existing network)
After years of delivering guest lectures at college campuses around the country, I am most often asked what I like most about my role with the SF 49ers. My answer is always the same, “it’s the access my role offers me to witness the behind the scenes action of a NFL game.” Super Bowl Sunday would be the most access I’ve had yet.
When I received confirmation that I was selected to work Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s stadium, I was ecstatic. My boys (and parents) were in the car with me when the NFL called to let me know which made it extra special. Every year the NFL holds its annual big top circus event, otherwise known as the Super Bowl. This year was extra special as it was the Golden anniversary of the biggest sporting event on the planet.
My first thoughts were of the 49er Public Relations staff that were so pivotal in me getting my start; Jerry Walker, Rodney Knox, (the late) Dave Rahn, Al Barba, Darla Maeda and (the late) Ricky Sandoval (who was actually the teams Security Chief but our bi-weekly racquetball games back in 1991-92 were equal part workout and life / career conversations).
I want top recap my experiences and in the ongoing mission of Voice of the Box, add in my career advice along the way.
Saturday, Feb 6th, one day before the game, I was part of the operations team that was mandated by the NFL to be at the stadium to go through a dress rehearsal. This is the NFL after all and this is the Super Bowl! I arrived at 9:30am at the Santa Clara Convention center where I was asked to go to pick up my day pass credential to give me access into the stadium for the day. As soon as I exited my car I heard military Blackhawk helicopters circling at low altitude. Upon closer look, there are three and the doors are open with mounted high power rifles clearly visible. A fleet of Military Humvees are patrolling the perimeter and foot soldiers are standing post everywhere with rifles in hand…not slung over their shoulders, in hand! Moreover, there was local police with specialized dogs sniffing like crazy beyond that. To say the area was secure is an understatement. I was concerned at first then relieved that homeland security is at work.
The accreditation center the day before the game was an event unto itself. I learned that there were 40,000 day passes issued on the day before the game alone. Everyone from broadcast engineers to caterers to technicians working on the miles of high tech cabling were all scurrying about like worker-be ants marching around Levis Stadium. Everyone making last minute preparations and testing their equipment over and over, covering any and all contingency plans to ensure the “circus” would go off without a hitch. I was at the stadium to make sure my audio equipment and connections to the official stat crew, who log in every play of the game into a specialized software system, were in place and operational. We had to check the entire system, and have it approved by the league to make sure we were set for game day. Before we started the dress rehearsal with the league officials, I took out my camera to snap a few shots of the field below as the Broncos were holding their last walkthrough. The stadium was empty except the players on the field. Anyone who was at the stadium were nowhere close the field. No sooner was the camera to my eye the door to the booth I was in busted open and a frantic security guard asked me to put the camera down and step away from the window. Yes, security was tight and yes, paranoia runs deep on NFL teams!
After a 90 minute game simulation, the league staffers who were overseeing this exercise were confident we were ready to go. I was then issued my game day credential and game day (league issued) polo shirt. Time to get back home to rest and get ready for the biggest day in my announcing career. I took the elevator down to ground level to retrace my steps back the way I came in. No chance of getting lost in the lower reaches of the stadium as security is everywhere to guide me. I pass the halftime entertainment locker rooms, the team locker rooms, the cheerleader locker rooms, the mascot locker rooms, NFL equipment locker room, referee locker rooms and a number of other rooms that have been assigned. All of which are much different that a regular season game. Before I make my way out, I walk past two large rooms that have been transitioned into the “podium” rooms where head coaches and star players will be sent to conduct post-game interviews. I head out to the brilliant sunshine and cloudless afternoon, take one look back at the stadium and think to myself, tomorrow will be great.
Career tip #1
The number of people it took to coordinate the accreditation center on the day before the game was mind boggling. The Super Bowl is awarded to the host city years in advance and SB host committees are set up immediately. Tip #1 is to research what city is hosting the next two to three Super Bowls and strategically connect with hiring managers via LinkedIn. The number of volunteer opportunities is immense. The hundreds of roles at the accreditation center is just one idea. But the cast of thousands of volunteers and paid jobs in and around the Super Bowl week are there for the taking. Super Bowl City is yet another area to focus. (I know a college student who flew in from Mt Pleasant, MI to be a shuttle driver). You just never know who might be on your shuttle that you can engage in a conversation and connect with. The Super Bowl entertainment committee leverages a massive amount of volunteers to help with a number of roles leveraging the in game entertainment. The NFL as well as large corporate sponsors are hosting large scale hospitality events all week leading up to the game and are always looking for local help. There are event planning companies that specialize in putting together these grand scale events at sporting events so there is yet another avenue to pursue. (Bay area Company SportsMark is just one company for you look at to get ideas).
Security companies who have contracts with event planners, the league or the venue is yet another idea. The sheer number of yellow jacketed event security staff was amazing. From parking lot attendees to helping media know where to walk, to actually being on a post to funnel the mass of humanity are all in need in large numbers based on the all the shifts they work. Catering companies employ countless volunteer and paid roles on a variety of levels. The list goes on but I think you get the picture! Get in touch with the host committee EARLY.
SUPER BOWL SUNDAY:
The day is finally here and the weather could not be any better, really. I meet my game day carpool friends from the 49ers staff who I normally ride down to the stadium with on a typical NFL Sunday. My timing to pick them up is precise which a good way to start the day. Not a lot of banter in the car drive down but we do offer each other a treat…in the form of playing the NFL Films music CD to get us going…it was perfect! We arrive at NFL employee parking lot at Avaya Stadium (home of the San Jose Earthquakes) and there are plenty more volunteers and paid roles on hand directing traffic and answering questions. The NFL provided employees transportation and I was pleasantly surprised that they contracted with a local school district to use their buses as shuttles. Good call on part of the NFL to spend some dollars locally.
The bus ride from the employee lot to the stadium was very quiet. Most passengers just alone in their thoughts to get in the right frame of mind. The bus ride took about an hour to travel the 5.7 miles. Traffic was heavy despite the massive efforts of the CHP to keep it moving. I still arrive plenty early as the bus arrives at the Santa Clara Convention center. More gold jacket clad security staff are there to greet and direct us as we get off. If you didn’t already have your credential you were set in motion to go inside the convention center, if you did, you were moved to a new line to walk over to the gigantic tents nearby to start the security screening process. More extensive than any airport yet moving quickly, the line zig zagged into a large tent where you were hand scanned, patted down and then sent through a metal detector. Three times?…why not! Super Bowl winning head coach Mike Holmgren, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, Hall of Famer Roger Stabauch all in line with me…not bad! My head is on a swivel as if someone is going to blindside me, I am taking in the whole spectacle around me and noticing how amazingly detailed this event really is. Anywhere there is a fence (and there were many to keep areas secure) there is tactful and appealing NFL bunting. It’s everywhere and it looks great. The league spared no expense in making every area look like a top notch outfit was in charge. The gold and Black SB 50 logo and signage was omnipresent throughout the stadium area and surrounding neighborhoods yet it was classy.
I enter the stadium from a different entrance than I normally do on a 49er game day. I am ushered in through the north entrance and down two flights which ends up in the hallways next to the post-game interview rooms, team locker rooms and field entrance. Even though I’ve been scanned from head to toe thoroughly, the security presence once inside is still tight. K-9 police dogs and heavily armed police squads are everywhere.
As I navigate the lower reaches of the stadium I realize I am walking right in front of Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and just behind me are retired legends Jim Plunkett, Marcus Allen and just ahead John Riggins and Joe Theismann (odd based that back in 1984 they met in the Super Bowl). The league will be honoring all of the past Super Bowl MVP’s before the game and I’m walking in with many of them. Just a start of the veritable who’s who of football royalty all around me all day.
Before the gates open up for the fans I walk inside the stadium bowl to get a close look at the field, all the media structures that have been built out and to just walk around to soak it in. The stadium is sparkling, the playing field is as green as ever and the freshly painted logos on the field are eye popping. As soon as I see CBS studio hosts, Bill Cowher, Boomer Esiason, Tony Gonzales and James Brown ride off in golf carts, it’s time for me to go up to the press box.
I get upstairs to the top floor of the Verizon Press Box and once the doors open I can sense the intensity and excitement, it’s impossible to not feel it, it’s in the air. Everyone buzzing around the best they could through the large number of people milling about. The press box has been touched up by the NFL and since it’s a stadium I’ve called home since it opened I see the changes right away. Where there was once a large dining area for press to sit down and enjoy a hot buffet is now NFL operations command central which has been constructed within the press box. I try to take a peek but am kindly asked to leave, pronto. Because of this change in the physical layout of the press box I quickly change gears to, “what about the food for the day.” I don’t see the normal catering crew setting up the hot buffet and I learn that the NFL has provided box lunches for everyone, to a controlled number. But at 1:30pm the catering crew opens up the buffet line after all but the line is a ¼ mile long so I skip it. Walking the length of the press box was unique, it runs the full length of the field and it has now become a game of how many luminaries will I see. Terry Bradshaw and Lynn Swan…not interested because as a youngster they were bitter rivals with my team, the Oakland Raiders. Funny how that still lingers inside of me! Randy White, “the Manster”(half man half monster as opponents would call him) …now I got to see him up close and personal. The once massive physique is still there but time has not done his body any favors after his playing days. What jumps out are his hands, I liken them to a workbench vice. I see Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, who I’ve worked with on the past as a spotter but I don’t feel the urge to talk to him because he was a Charger and I used to yell at him through the TV when I was kid. (See Steelers comment earlier…same thing!) Truth is, Fouts is a very nice man and easy to work with. The parade of current and former players who are all in to either cover the game or watch it is steady throughout the day. My favorite encounter was pre game in the men’s room when I was in line with a guy who looked a lot like former Miami Dolphin and super bowl MVP and two time SB Champion) Larry Csonka. Turns out I was right. You just never know who you will have a restroom conversation with!
After having to scramble a bit for a game flip chart (any announcers key tool) I finally secure one. (and a game program too). Meetings with both teams PR staff (to get inactive players, injury updates and to go through any annunciation questions I have) are complete so I settle into my NFL sanctioned box lunch. I pass on the turkey and roast beef and opt instead for PB&J…it just felt right at the time. One more walk around the entire press box and I hunker into my press box booth to settle in. Its 60 minutes to kickoff. As I wait for the 3:40pm kick off, I am looking through my binoculars to field level and scanning the entire boundary as it overflows with VIP’s from all walks of life. Hollywood A listers, media personalities, former players, pro players from different sports (large group surrounding Golden State Warriors Star Steph Curry who is decked out in a custom Panther Jersey with his #30 on it. It’s approximately 20 minutes to kick off and I take one last step outside my booth to walk and stretch before I will be seated for a while. The hallways of the press box are a bit quieter and the coaching staff of the Panthers walk by my booth to get to theirs and they all have a far off stare in their faces. Clearly they are locked in and ready to go. Game time approaches and an NFL executive sits right next to me as I prepare to work the game…no pressure. He tells me to relax and do my thing. Fabulous rendition of God Bless America followed by Lady Gaga ripping through the National Anthem and my heart is pounding. Finally the ball is on the tee and from this point forward, I do my thing, just like the NFL executive asked me to.
On numerus accounts the execution of Super Bowl 50 was flawless. So many people coming together to make the bay area region shine. So many people from arounds the world got the chance to see first-hand the diversity, the character and innovation of Northern California. The Host committee had a goal to be the most philanthropic SB ever and so far the committee has given away $7.5 million to over 141 local area nonprofits. They are on target to give more than $13 million, the most ever by a host committee. In addition to being the most philanthropic SB ever, the game was the most watched single broadcast with 167.0 million viewers, the most in history.
In summary, at an event with the size and scope of the Super Bowl, there are months of preparations, many last minute fires to put out and countless to do lists so my final piece of guidance is this; when thinking over your career search strategy, don’t ask yourself what you want to do or be, rather ask yourself what problem(s) you want to solve. This changes your career focus from where you want to work to what you need to learn to be able to do bring some unique value.