Part 1 of this two-part article can be found here.
Dallas Texas Super Bowl Baby! The day was finally here. The cellphone alarm woke my cousin Pete and I up around 8:30AM. We each took a quick shower, changed into our game day attire, and headed downstairs for the free breakfast at the hotel.
Once again, there were plenty of Steeler Jerseys to be seen, with just a spattering of Green and gold mixed in. We joined a couple of fellow Packer fans about our age, introduced ourselves and talked Packers while we ate breakfast. These two fans were originally from Wisconsin, but had both re-located after getting married (to Alabama and North Carolina, I believe).
They talked about some of their early memories in Green Bay and were eager to hear our stories about how we became and stayed Packers fans while living in New Jersey. We had planned to get out earlier and make it over to the NFL Experience, but ended up talking with these guys for almost an hour.
One of the guys was convinced my cousin would make the perfect Vince Lombardi, in a fedora and topcoat and kept coming back to that during the conversation. They randomly threw a little Packers history trivia at us, probably figuring what do a couple of guys from Jersey know, but of course, we handled it all without a problem.
Finally, it was time to hit the road and start our game day adventure. We took off for the “NFL Experience” at the Dallas Convention Center and found we had to park almost a half mile away. The tiny lots next to the Convention Center were already full. We walked along to the Convention Center with a couple of Cowboys fans and their uber-cute girlfriends. As I do with any Cowboys fan I meet, I made them say “thank you” to the Packers for getting Wade Phillips fired. Saying thank you is the least they can do, right?
Approaching the Convention Center, we were dwarfed by a giant XLV as we proceeded into the building. There was a $25 fee, and to be honest, I had no idea why I was paying or what I was paying for, but it didn’t much matter. This was Super Bowl Sunday, damn it – I expected to be fleeced.
We signed the release in case we wanted to try some of the interactive games, but I knew I wasn’t about to go run the 40 yard dash while out-of-shape and end up in the emergency room. Not on Super Bowl Sunday, anyway.
We walked around the show, snapping a few pictures here and there. Watched some really cute little tykes run some NFL combine drills, saw footballs being made to order, and compared how our biceps measured up to some life-sized models of actual NFL players.
There was also a memorabilia show, where we picked up some Super Bowl pins and ogled some of the autographed items being put up for auction. We then headed to the NFL Pro Shop, where hats were $40, Sweatshirts $80 and golf shirts $135, all mostly in sizes X2L, X3L and bigger. Despite the prices, they were pretty much sold out of clothes items in sizes most people might wear, like M-L-XL. We picked up a few hats and said surely there must be a better place to buy souvenirs.
It was at that time I realized I had left my phone charging back at the hotel. So back in the car we go, back to the Hotel, get my phone, and then back onto I-30 to head to Arlington. We were interrupted several times by police-escorted buses either carrying Packers players, Packers-related personnel or family members to the stadium.
Surprisingly, there was no significant traffic to speak of on the highway. Once we exited, of course, we hit the local traffic around the stadium. And once again, the traffic officers were doing a poor job of keeping traffic moving in all directions. It took us over an hour to make it to our parking spot, especially since the navigation system we were depending on kept trying to put us on roads that were closed for the day. We finally stumbled upon our lot almost by accident.
We were parked in the lot of the Siemens building, a half mile walk to the stadium area. Once again, it felt like we had landed in Pittsburgh. We were stuck behind large groups of Steeler fans, who I must tell you, may be the slowest walkers on this earth. Even the young adults and kids rumble along like they have nowhere to go to.
I might have attributed this to our being from Jersey where everything is done at a faster pace, but other Packers fans we saw were moving along at our pace,walking in the streets and passing up the Steelers fans who were clogging up the sidewalk like snails. Seemed like WE were the only ones excited to get to the stadium. This slow-walking Steeler fan phenomenon was observed all weekend, whether at the airport, in a bar/restaurant, or outside the stadium. Everywhere we went, there was a Steeler fan seemingly in our way. Someone ought to do a study…
Anyway, we finally make it to the stadium, which is surrounded by fences stopping you from getting too close. We walked around admiring this huge glistening structure and soaked in some of the Super Bowl atmosphere. Finally, the Packers fans seemed to appear out of nowhere and started outnumbering the Steelers fans. We passed by a row of condos right across from the stadium (even closer than the houses are across from Lambeau field), and of course everyone had a tailgate going.
While most were not surprisingly wearing Cowboys gear, we did stop and talk to a big group of Packers fans who happened to be Wisconsin transplants and lived right there. Literally, the whole Super Bowl experience was happening right in their back yard.
We finally figured out we had to walk to the other side of the stadium to get in (unbeknown to us, they had closed some gates due to danger of falling ice). Once again we made our way over there stuck behind a herd of slow moving Steeler fans. It just happened to be 3:15 and the gates had just opened, so we decided to go in, expecting to just walk around the stadium. As it turned out, that was a very wise decision because an hour later, there was a huge bottleneck and some people I spoke to said it took over an hour and a half for them to get in and they missed the start of the game.
As we showed our tickets and went through the first gate, we came upon a series of tents and entrances, where we observed fans getting patted down before entering the tent. We showed our tickets, got felt up a bit and proceeded to the next security point. I was also asked if my camera lens was less than 6 inches. I said yes and they took my word for it. It happens to be 5 inches and telescopes out to 8 inches, but if all they’re going to do is ask, who’s going to tell them differently?
At the next checkpoint, we had to go through metal detectors after first emptying the contents of our pockets into a bucket. Just like the airport, but we didn’t have to take our shoes off. After passing muster there, we went to the final doorway, where our tickets were scanned and we were allowed in to the magical Super Bowl Land.
I swear, this was like a Wizard of Oz moment for me. Like being let out into the sun and seeing the Emerald City for the first time. There was singing and dancing and drinking and eating and much frivolity and happiness. I kept expecting to see munchkins running around. This was all happening in a big area outside of the stadium. There were stages on each side, food courts, bars, and two platforms where Mike Tirico of ESPN and Moose Johnston of NFL Network were taking pictures with fans.
We were starving, so we headed over to a stand that said pizza and forked over $20 for a tiny Papa Johns pizza and a Miller lite. Yes, I’m getting royally fleeced, this must really be the Super Bowl! A country band was playing on the stage there, and although I’m no fan of Country music, even I could tell they weren’t that good. They did a pathetic cover of Charlie Daniels’ Devil Went Down to Georgia, among other atrocities.
We sat down to eat and did a little fan watching. Some really cute Packers-jersey ladies at the bar, a bunch of old guys smoking cigars, and then something quite unusual. Two guys wearing cheeseheads in orange and black Cincinnati Bengals stripes. Huh? I pondered that as we finished our bite-sized pizza, and when we were done, I just had to go over and get an explanation. The answer was that they were 100% Bengals fans, but they were supporting the Packers because they hate the Steelers so much. That was good enough for me and we went on our way.
As we were walking towards the stadium, I noticed a stage on the other side of the “play area” and a big sign that said “Blue Man Group.” As I wandered in that direction, I could see the stage hands getting things ready and it was apparent a show was about to start. I’ve seen the Blue Man Group several times, and they never fail to entertain. My cousin had never seen them, so I said, we have to stay for this.
The show starts, and as expected, their antics are hilarious. They naturally modified their routines with foot ball themes, wearing Packers and Steelers shirts and stenciling “Packers” and “Steelers” on two fans shirts using the paint balls shot from their mouths. To “prepare” fans for watching the game, they did a routing called something like “best exaggerated movements and expressions to make while watching the game.”
If you haven’t seen them, a big part of their show is music. They have a full rock band backing them, and they play some unusual instruments themselves (pipes, tubes, piano strings, giant gongs, etc.). Suddenly, I see them bringing someone out on stage, and it’s Tracy Bonham (part of the 90s angry female vocalists wave, best known for “Mother, Mother” and using a violin where a guitar solos would normally reside). And yes, she’s carrying a violin.
Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of the synthesizer intro to the Who’s Baba O’Reilly is heard. The Blue Men use a gong for the “Boom…. Boom Boom” part and Bonham sings the lyrics. When they get to the super fast synthesizer solo that ends the song, Bonham uses the violin to perform that part. Violin strings are shredding, the Blue Men are gonging away, and it reaches a crescendo that literally brought a tear to my eye.
Now let me explain. I’m not one to easily tear up over just anything. And it wasn’t just the performance itself. I’ve seen some incredible concerts in my life, so this really couldn’t be compared. But I’m pretty sure what happened was that it just hit me at that moment that I wasn’t at just ANY old football game. This was the SUPER BOWL, where they pull out all the stops. It just hit me how fortunate I was to be there to witness an event that will be discussed for all time.
The Blue Men finished their show with a sea of streamers and confetti, as they always do, but this time it was Black and Yellow and Green and Gold. We walked away thoroughly entertained and now even more anxious to watch some Packers football. We headed towards the stadium gate, but once again were distracted by something that caught our eye – BRATS!
Even though we weren’t really hungry, could we, in good conscience as Packers fans, NOT stop and have a brat before a Packers game? I think not. We sauntered over to the Johnsonville Brats stand and forked over $20 (that seemed to be the magic number) for a brat and a Miller Lite. As we stepped to the side to eat said brats, we noticed a tractor trailer car that had been converted into one long grill, where the Johnsonville folks were grilling up the brats being sold at the stand. Next to the Johnsonville logo on the truck was the slogan, “biggest outdoor grill in the world, period.” I don’t doubt you, guys…
Finally, we made our way up to the stadium gate, but it wasn’t our “color” gate. Hey, this is the Super Bowl – you can’t just expect to walk into ANY gate, can you? So after finding the RED gate and being allowed to step inside this testament to Texas, where EVERYTHING has to be big, we immediately were perplexed. We didn’t see one sign directing us how to get to the 400 sections (upper deck). Plenty of signs for 100s, 200s and 300s. Maybe the entire upper deck got shut down by the fire marshals?
We spotted a sign for the Pro Shop, so we started walking in that direction. After what seemed like a 10 minute walk, we noticed a line wrapping several times around a structure that we soon determined was the Pro Shop. I’m not exactly they type to miss even a minute of a game for any reason, let alone overpaying for “stuff”, so we ditched the Pro Shop idea. Luckily, near the Pro shop was the first place we saw a sign for the 400 sections.
Turns out the way to the upper deck is a seemingly never-ending zig-zag pattern of steps. Go up 10 steps to a landing that overlooks the stadium, go up another 10 steps to the next “level” and repeat – over and over and over. The ingenious thing was that when you reach every landing that overlooks the stadium, they have sold standing room spots, cordoned off by a rope and manned by an usher. These actually offer a very good view of the field and looking at the stadium from the lower levels really gives you a feel for how massive this stadium is.
We finally climbed to our upper level and walked along the upper grandstand to our section, which was on the 20 yard line. On the way, we passed several small souvenir stands with limited selection engulfed by about 100 people jockeying for position and trying to get the salesperson’s attention (no orderly lines here). It became apparent we weren’t coming out of here with any souvenirs.
But we were wrong about that. As we made our way to our seats, we found that every seat had a Super Bowl commemorative seat cushion, which was ours to take home. It also included a pouch with a light stick we were to await directions for on when to “activate” it. Certainly, it would be part of the halftime show, we figured.
We settled into our seats (20 yard line, upper deck), and exchanged hellos with a group of about eight Packers fans right behind us. It took a good 15 minutes before the awe of staring at the giant video screen wore off and we could just enjoy the view. As I looked around our section, I noticed a disproportionate amount of Green & Gold everywhere.
I then noticed 3 Lang jerseys in the row in front of us and five Swain jerseys a few more rows ahead. Looking more carefully this time, I saw multiple jerseys of Driver, Dietrich-Smith, Underwood, Bigby, Poppinga and Smith. Yes, we had landed smack in one of the players’ families section. The best part of that was that there were no annoying Steelers fans in front of us waving their stupid towels. The only thing coming out of this section was “Go Pack Go” and I can assure you, many of those chants you heard while watching on TV were started in our section.
As the start of the game grew nearer, the empty seat 2 seats down from me were filled by a hulking young man with braided hair wearing a Quinn Johnson jersey. If the Packers weren’t in the Super Bowl, I surely would have thought it was Johnson. Turned out to be his younger brother, a very quiet, but polite young man with a definite Louisiana vibe to him.
One of the Packers fans behind us, who turned out to be rather annoying (more on that later) immediately tried talking him up, asking questions in a loud, excited voice, the young man would politely turn, give a one word answer and then tun back around. This didn’t stop Mr. annoying fan, who then took to spewing compliments like “You’re brother is the best, he’s going to be a great player, yada yada…” Anything to befriend the younger Mr. Johnson. Annoying fan finally relented after making the young Johnson promise to take a picture with him later. I don’t think it ever happened, which I’m glad about.
As nice as the young Mr. Johnson was, one annoying thing was that he must have left his seat at least 15 times during the course of the game. Having the aisle seats, it was a constant up and down to let the big guy pass. Not that’s it was a big deal, I just wondered what he could be doing so many times.
Game time creeps closer. The requisite songs are sung, including the National Anthem. The fans in the stadium were so excited, nobody seemed to even notice she screwed up the lyrics. I certainly didn’t. I just remember watching on the big screen and thinking she was wearing a rather old fashioned dress and wondering when she put on this weight?
And then one of my favorite things, the military jet flyover. Of course, this wasn’t any ordinary flyover – no, it was a flyover over a stadium with a closed roof. We could neither hear it, or see it, except for on the video screen. The Navy justifies the expense by saying it was great exposure, and it’s hard to argue with that – but it sure felt dumb at the time.
Game time! Finally! The coin toss is performed by new Hall of Fame Inductee, Deion Sanders. The Steelers call tails and it comes up heads. The Packers immediately defer, which many were surprised at, but I was fully expecting.
And then the game. I’m not going to go into a lot of game detail here. You’ve all seen it, and this has grown too long already, so I’ll stick to just describing the experience.
Enter Mr. Annoying fan. On the very first play of the game he was yelling something about the referees and how they were awful and robbing “us”. This continued throughout the game. Ref comment after ref comment after ref comment. I doubt if he even knew what the players were actually doing. Ironically, I thought this game was fabulously refereed. They let plenty go, but were balanced. I’d much rather see that than a penalty fest.
Mr. Annoying fan also made his mark during the Packers’ first possession. When James Starks was stopped for 1 yard and 3 yards on two running plays, he asked Quinn Johnson’s brother, “How come Quinn wasn’t blocking for Starks. He would have opened up a hole.” Young Mr. Johnson turned and said, “they’re not playing him today,” and then turned back around. That’s how I found out Johnson was inactive for the game.
The Steelers fans were pretty loud at the beginning of the game. Definitely out-cheering the Packers fans. But a three and out quieted them up a bit. And when Nelson just missed the long pass from Rodgers, I detected a bit of worry amongst Steeler Nation. Of course, their fears came true on the next Packers possession, when Nelson and Rodgers connected this time on the same play for a touchdown. We stood and raised our arms to the sky with pride. The Steelers would have to catch us this game.
This of course became painfully obvious to the Steelers on their next play from scrimmage when big Howard Green caused Big Ben to throw a lame duck that Nick Collins was all to happy to snare. With the help of some blocking from BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett, Collins found the end zone and a sheer euphoria let loose amongst the fans of the Green and Gold.
They even played Todd Rundgren’s “Bang on the Drum”, just like they do at Lambeau. It seemed like a dream, and I had another emotional moment, but my uncontrolled jumping and screaming conquered it. I can honestly say I’ve never screamed louder in my life than at that moment. At no point during the rest of the game, not even at the end, did I have such a euphoric feeling. It was like I knew this meant they were going to win. No matter what happened the rest of the game, I just knew they would win.
Halftime show: It was almost as much fun watching them put the stage together in 5 minutes as it was watching the show.
While I’m not really impressed with the individual talent of the Black Eyed Peas, I do recognize they hit on a wildly successful formula and made bazillions, so my hat goes off to them. Slash made an appearance (which was cool) and Fergie tried to sing and move like Axl Rose (which was a failure). Usher was wasted in his brief appearance and the rest of the show was mostly successful for the visual effects and glowing people.
Overall, it sounded pretty impressive on the stadium’s sound system. Over the next few days I had many people comment how awful it sounded on the TV broadcast. After having watched it myself this week, I can concur. the broadcast sound was horrible. ALL you heard were their voices – which was not a good thing. The music was muffled, even Slash’s guitar solo could hardly be heard on TV, while at the stadium, it was shaking the rafters. But back to the game…
The second half starts and we’re all feeling good with an 11 point lead and Green Bay gets the ball first. A march down the field for a score would surely break the Steelers will. But it wasn’t to be. James Jones dropped a likely touchdown pass on 3rd down and the Packers had to punt. 5 plays later, the Steelers pull within 21-17.
If the Packers had gone into ultra conservative mode to let the Steelers back in the game, I might have been worried. But I give Mike McCarthy credit (hold on to your hats) for not doing that. As long as they were still throwing and trying to score rather than just eating clock, I felt confident.
But the Packers fans had grown a bit quiet at this point. Throughout the third quarter and early fourth, when the Steelers had the ball, there wasn’t nearly enough noise from the Packers fans in the stadium. I was trying like hell to get things started and make noise when the Steelers offense came to the line , but not until the mid-fourth quarter did the Packers fans seem to wake up.
After Greg Jennings scored the Packers final touchdown and the Steelers got the ball, finally the echoing chants of “Go Pack Go” were loudly greeting Big Ben at the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to help as the Steelers marched down the field to pull within 3 (28-25) with seven minutes to play.
The Packers then executed a 5-minute drive ending with three unsuccessful scoring attempts inside the Steelers 10 yard line. Instead of a game-sealing touchdown, a Mason Crosby field goal put the Packers up by only six with a full 2 minutes to play. A sickening deja vu feeling came across me at that time. It might have been the only negative thought I had the entire game – it was just too eerily similar to last year’s meeting between these two teams.
But we all know what happened. The Packers have had a new script for such games this season; one where the defense stops the other team on their final drive to secure the victory. The Packers stuck to the script and they were WORLD CHAMPS, as the Journal Sentinel headline blared.
The wild celebration commenced, with confetti, music, mobs of photographers and reporters surrounding Aaron Rodgers and other Packers, making it pretty difficult to shake hands with any Steelers players. After the presentation of the Lombardi trophy, it felt like all was right with the world again. It was returning to it’s rightful owners.
As we exited the stadium, I really expected to find a wild and crazy scene, but in reality it was ll pretty clam. There were no Go Pack Go chants, as I expected to hear, just a few high fives here and there. It seemed like everyone was exhausted after a long day and were just anxious to get back home. When we got to our car, I texted Jayme Joers from the Packers Lounge to see how they would be celebrating. Seems they were calling it a night, and that’s all it took for me to decide to go that route also.
We hopped onto I-30 from a back exit of the Parking lot and encountered almost no traffic. This was very strange for someone from New Jersey, but I wasn’t complaining. I remembered my pledge to C.D. Angeli and John Rehor that I would call in to the CheeseheadRadio post game show they were doing and proceeded to do so while driving (look away children…).
I was pretty much a blubbering idiot for 5 minutes, yelling out “Champions, Baby” several times, which is not usually my personality, but hey, this was not your usual night. After ending the call, we listened to the rest of their show from my cell phone speaker phone until we got to the hotel. I fired up the laptop to see if the internet had exploded and it was still intact, so I felt comfortable putting head on pillow and calling it a night.
The next morning would bring a fairly smooth trip back home (I managed to find some Super Bowl souvenirs at the airport, which made some people very happy). I also got the chance to lecture another Cowboys fan in the Las Vegas airport (my layover city) about why he should thank Packers fans. Finally made it home at 2:00 in the morning and my adventure was over.
But what an excellent adventure it was…——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.