Shortly after the New England Patriots whipped the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game, I started having desultory thoughts about going to the Super Bowl. I figured if it wasn't too expensive, I'd think about going. Well, it was too expensive, but Cory started to work on me. Anybody who likes football as much as I do should go to the Super Bowl once in his life. And when better to go than when the hometown team is not only in the game, but favored to win? To make a long story short, I bought a tour and a game ticket through Sports King and was off to Houston. Here are some notes and photos from my trip. Click on any photo to see a larger version.
(I might have taken more photos, but I was trying to save shots for the game. Then when I got to the game, I was a little too involved to take a lot of pictures. But you'll get the idea anyway.)
At 2:45 AM Saturday morning, I get up to catch a cab scheduled for 3:00. I have actually managed about 4 hours sleep. Too sluggish for photos, though.
My cabby is the same one I always get for a really early flight: A retired Marine who spent more than 20 years as an unarmed-combat instructor. He's all decked out in his Patriots jacket, and like the dispatcher I talked to earlier, he's thrilled that I'm going to Houston to watch them play. As usual, he's very chatty, but today I just want to nap.
After my best time ever for the run to Logan, I show up at Terminal C at 3:17 AM. Checkin was to have started at 3:15, and there are already about 60 people in line ahead of me. An impressive variety of Patriots wear is on display—I see a sweatshirt I really like. Almost everyone is a Patriots fan, except one very confused woman who wants a flight to Chicago. I am unable to explain to her that we are all in line for a charter flight to Houston, and eventually when she reaches the head of the line she is told to come back at 5:30 when the ticket counter opens for real people.
At the gate
It takes just over an hour to get through checkin and security, but despite the fact that we are supposed to leave at 4:45, they are not yet boarding the plane. They start boarding around 4:40. The flight is full and everybody has too much baggage. The flight attendants "ask for our cooperation" in increasingly shrill tones. Eventually the pilot announces that unless everyone is seated and bags are stowed in seven minutes, our departure will be delayed an hour. I don't think we meet the seven-minute deadline, but nevertheless we finally leave at 5:30.
I spend the first two hours of the flight asleep (or close to it), the third hour resting, and then finally the sun comes up for real—I wake up and start nibbling on Tiger Milk bars. Texas is covered with thick, white, fluffy clouds, and it's a bit bumpy, especially when we're inside the clouds, which seems to take forever. We finally break the cloud cover at just about 200 feet, and there's the airport. Houston, we have landed!
First stop is breakfast, since otherwise I doubt I'll be safe on the road. I know I'm in Texas since I get salsa with my eggs. Then it's off to the rental car and a 45-minute drive to my hotel. The traffic is fairly impressive for 9:30 on a Saturday morning, but after four years in Boston, I can do heavy traffic in my sleep.
My tour group is staying at a hotel near Hobby airport—but our plane landed at Houston Intercontinental. The big boss tells us he had hoped to get permission to land at Hobby, but no go. (I bet he also hoped for a later departure time—he was on that flight too.)
This is what it looks like outside my hotel. And basically, this is what Houston looks like, at least on the path between one airport and another. (I used to have family in Houston, so I know that somewhere in town there are trees and Spanish moss, but for all I can tell on this trip, Houston consists of superhighways and strip malls with one brief interruption for tall buildings.)
Since I've had about four hours' sleep (and am still recovering from a cold), I go to bed.
Awake again, and downtown
After sleep, lunch at Dixie's, then a drive downtown. It's a short trip, and I'm astounded to find parking for $10. (Regularly $2, but this is the Super Bowl.) All of downtown is dressed up for the game. Men on street corners claim to have tickets, but supposedly I'm getting mine through Sports King, although there's been no sign of it yet.
The NFL Experience
The convention center to your right is full of the `NFL Experience'. Those crowded people way ahead are waiting to get in.
Moving in line
Suddenly the crowd starts moving very rapidly. I am confused and go the wrong way, but it doesn't matter—in a minute or two the whole mob of us pour inside.
The scene upon entry. I quickly become overwhelmed until I find an information desk. Unfortunately, they have no directory of any kind—in fact, they seem rather annoyed when I ask for one. So I head for the brightest lights.
Field goal, anyone?
The bright lights turn out to be simulated football fields. This area is for kicking field goals. The strange red figures on wooden platforms are "defenders" trying to block your kick. Nobody's kick is blocked while I am watching—but nobody's kick is good, either. Why not? Because almost nobody is over four feet tall. The best the kids can do is kick the ball maybe 20 or 30 yards in the air.
Missed field goals
There is an army of white-shirted volunteers who retrieve and set up balls. We have punting as well as more field goals. Every attraction is jammed with a huge line, almost all kids.
They have mini-camp here. My playing days ended before high school, and I recognize almost none of the equipment, but the kids are really into it.
Johnny has just threaded between two defenders to catch a touchdown pass thrown by one of the ubiquitous white-shirted volunteers. Dad applauds wildly. But the fans are not into it—perhaps because they are painted on.
The hollow men
This is one of the weirdest things at the NFL Experience. Spread throughout the convention center are 32 large plastic men each of whom has been (a) dressed in a uniform; (b) stripped of spine, back ribs, and internal organs; and (c) decapitated. If you stand behind one, you look almost like a football player. I am tempted, but each man is wearing 04, which is not a real number. Purist that I am, I don't want to be photographed wearing a bogus number. Plus the line for the Patriots guy is huge, and I can't find the 49ers guy. Had they been wearing number 80, I would have stood in line until midnight.
NFL Experience for grown-ups
Wandering around the convention center, I become convinced that everything here is for kids. It looks like a lot more fun being a white-shirted volunteer. But I do find one thing for which I am a sucker: talking heads. As it turns out, I show up just as Walt Anderson finishes the "referee clinic", and I am just in time for the only half hour between 1 and 8:30 for which nothing is scheduled. I think this is bad luck, but I am tired and my cold symptoms are back, so I sit down anyway. In the second row.
Maybe my luck is not so bad after all. Next on the schedule is Coach Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans. By the time the half hour goes by, the place is packed and people are standing six deep in the back. I am sitting pretty in the second row. Coach Fisher shows up on the dot of 6:30 as scheduled. After a very few opening remarks, he throws it open for questions. He is articulate and personable, but even that doesn't seem to explain how happy the crowd is to have him here. Suddenly I catch on: The Titans used to be the Houston Oilers. Lots of these people are here to see their old coach. There are several questions about how he liked Houston and whether he thinks they are putting on a good Super Bowl. (He does.)
The hour is very enjoyable. I even get to ask a question, about the past and future of the salary cap, and Fisher says that something ought to be done so beloved players like Eddie George can finish their careers with their original teams if that's what they want to do. I'm happy to go along with this plan. My favorite answer is not to my own question, but to the question "Who drew up the Music City Miracle?" I learn quite a bit of history, and my favorite tidbit is the original name of the play: Home Run Throwback.
Back to bed
I would like to poke around some more, but since it's 7:30 (8:30 Eastern) I decide I'm better off to go back to sleep and rest up for tomorrow. I have a hard time finding the exit; apparently we may use only the exit "by the Foot Locker", wherever that is. Eventually I find it, and I am 30 feet from walking out when a nice woman hands me what looks like a Sunday newspaper supplement. It is the visitor's guide to the NFL Experience. I suppose now that I'm leaving, they want me to know what I've seen.
This shot didn't come out so well, but the Convention Center is still going strong.
When I return to my hotel, I have voice mail from a man who had my ticket. This voice mail is very comforting, as the people I bought it from had changed their story so many times that I had been wondering if they were for real.
More confident that I will be going to the game, I cross the street to Dixie's for a very late dinner: waffle with maple syrup.
Super Bowl Sunday
Finally, the big day is here. I have been thinking about little else for ten days. I get the hotel breakfast, which is shockingly good for an airport motel. I shower. I put on my 2001 championship shirt. Somehow in doing all this, I set off a muscle spasm in my back, so I hop in my rental car and go off in search of massive doses of Advil. Luckily I don't have to go far.
Just as I get back to my hotel room, the phone rings. It's the front desk: Jim is here from Sports King with my ticket. I set a new speed record for four flights of stairs, sign the envelope, and I'm all set. I'll be in Section 102, which looks like it's between the goal line and the end line. Not quite what I was promised (between the 5 and 15), but at least my ticket has a player/spaceman hologram and it glows in the dark, so it looks like the real thing.
The wheels on the bus go round and round
We've all been told that the bus arrives at 1:00, but the departure time keeps changing. Eventually Jim settles on 1:45 as a good departure time. It's a big bus, but there are only about 30 of us, and we finally get going just before 2:00. We're all Pats fans here, and the crowd is excited and chattering but not raucous.
After a 15-minute ride or so, somebody spots Reliant Stadium, and they have the roof open. We all cheer—suddenly everybody is pumped up. As we get closer, we see many desperate people, all holding the same sign: WE NEED TICKETS.
After driving all the way around to the other side of the stadium, we eventually find parking. Jim warns us not to lose track of the bus, but our lot is fairly easy to find—near the Texans' practice bubble.
It's a pretty short walk from here to the stadium, but there is temporary hurricane fence everywhere, and nobody is sure where to go. Eventually we find a long line.
By the time I take this photo, I have already been in line for 10 minutes, and absolutely nothing has happened. The next day I see in the paper that many of the lines for security are maybe 50 people wide in the back, narrowing to turnstiles that let 4 people through at one time. I am in one of these lines. Most people are dressed sanely, but a few rows ahead of me is a guy with a Mohawk done in Patriots' colors. I see his picture in the Houston Chronicle the next day.
The sun has come out, it has become hot, and I have no water, because the NFL said no bottles would be permitted in. I was too stupid to bring a bottle to drink and throw away. After another 20 minutes, my line has moved forward by maybe four rows. I am beginning to think of sitting down on the pavement until someone carries me away. But eventually I wise up and go searching for another line. I find one three or four times as long, but only 3 or 4 people wide—and it is moving!
Finally I reach the head of the line—a bunch of turnstiles staffed by energetic young people wearing bright yellow jackets. I remove everything from my pockets, submit to a pat-down search, then go through a metal detector. I guess the pat-down makes sure I am not carrying anthrax or something. Because of the pat-down, the lines are segregated by sex. There is only one line for women, but they cannot find enough fans to keep it full. Staff keep running down the line asking for "ladies" to step forward. Female fans, take note!
In at last!
After just over an hour, I'm in! (I learn later that many fans took two hours to get through.) Note the road and traffic signals—for an ordinary game, you can actually drive to this point. But for the Super Bowl, this point is far inside the security perimeter. Above the stadium we see Apache helicopters from the Texas Air National Guard, and we can also see silhouettes of men on the roof of the stadium. I later learn that the Texas authorities have had snipers stationed high in the stadium throughout the day.
After climbing surprisingly many ramps for a lower-level seat, I get inside, finally get some water, and head for my seat.
On the field
The stadium itself is gorgeous. Even the nosebleed seats appear to be pretty close to the field. This shot is taken about an hour and a half before kickoff. Unfortunately there is not quite enough light inside, and all my stadium shots are a bit blurry.
Reliant Stadium panorama
A panoramic shot of the stadium from my seat.
Although I am in a section of Patriots fans, it is a pretty subdued bunch. The gentleman to my right looks worried already.
Tedy Bruschi, who has a leg injury not otherwise specified, is on the field very early. No uniform yet, just a T-shirt, shorts, and lots of wrappings. He stretches for a while, and then he does some sort of "linebacker dance" that involves running sideways while picking his knees up very high. This is all fascinating, and by the time I think to take a picture, he's gone.
Punters and kickers
The first players out in uniform are the Carolina punter and kicker. I have forgotten how much I enjoy the pre-game warmups. Todd Sauerbrun, the Carolina punter, is absolutely amazing. His punts are extremely high and very tight spirals. The effect is incredible; you can't get this on TV. He sends several practice punts at least 70 yards in the air (about a 60-yard punt). Our punter, Ken Walter, is not a distance guy, and because I'm expecting a field-position battle, I get nervous.
At 4:00 I decide I had better eat again.
Reliant stadium is very nice, and it looks as if there might be more to choose from than just dogs and burgers. But as I'm prowling around, I see on the inside televisions that Adam Vinatieri is out kicking now. So I just grab a pizza and head back to the field.
By the time I get back, both teams are on their way out for warmups. Matt Light needs a haircut. Most of the guys look calm, relaxed, and happy. Tom Brady looks excited and happy—and on the way out, he starts head-butting his offensive linemen. Luckily, all parties are wearing helmets.
By the time warmups begin in earnest, our guys are far away in the background. I have a pretty good view of the Carolina players, but I know hardly any of them. This means it's time to stop staring and take a picture :-)
At the bottom of the photo you can see a long line of cowgirls wearing sheriff's stars, white hats, and black see-through blouses. This is how the West was won. No seriously, it's part of the pregame show. The players have to be off the field in 15 minutes (at 4:30) so that we can be subjected to very loud noise from the likes of Willie Nelson, Aerosmith, and many others I haven't heard of. The cowgirls are just part of the show. I think of them as the "Up With People" girls, although I'm sure they are no such thing.
In the Bad Old Days before anyone cared about the Super Bowl, the
halftime show had marching bands.
Marching bands are not quite as good as being able to get food and
talk about the game, but at least they have tradition going for them.
Then suddenly, at Super Bowl X, it was no longer enough to have a
No, the Super Bowl had become an Event.
And at halftime, we were subjected to Up With People:
an impossibly large group of impossibly perfect young people gyrating
in impossibly perfect synchronization.
Moved perhaps by the ecstasy of it all.
The halftime show became an extravaganza, to the point that we have
just had the most exciting Super Bowl ever, and all America can talk about
is? The halftime show.
I blame it all on Up With People, who tortured us with clocklike
regularity throughout the 70s and 80s.
And even though Up With People have become impossibly uncool and
unhip, we still have the army of impossibly perfect young people
Thanks to Janet Jackson, maybe we will get the
Thanks to Janet Jackson, maybe we will get thereal Up With People next year.)
I endure 45 minutes of loud noise. The cowgirls do their thing. I kind of enjoy the parachute jumpers, although it seems kind of strange to have them jump out of the rafters. (The roof has been closed, although it doesn't actually rain until a couple of hours after the game is over.)
Oh, say can you see...
Finally, they trot out Beyoncé (a Houston native) to sing the National Anthem. She comes out on the arm of a very stiff, very high-ranking Air Force officer. Surprisingly enough, she is wearing a perfectly reasonable women's suit, and they make a lovely couple. By this time I am incredibly keyed up, and before Beyoncé has finished the first verse I am weeping. I am still not sure exactly why, but although I despise my government and am occasionally embarrassed for my countrymen, I love my country. I cry throughout the entire anthem and don't pull myself together until after it is over.
A football game breaks out!
At last, the two-week party is over. Carolina wins the toss, gets the ball, and we can play. I love the first quarter. Our guys are playing great on defense, Carolina is going nowhere, and because I'm at the Carolina end of the field, it all happens right in front of me.
Here we are after one of Ken Walter's punts pins them inside their own 10. It's gotten darker now, so the picture is a little blurry, but the guys are all right there. The big black bar at the bottom of the picture has a camera at the end of it, which the operator uses periodically to scan the crowd. I'd rather he didn't because it blocks my view.
I had thought it would be boring to sit through all the TV timeouts, but actually it's a great chance to rest. When we have the ball, I am trying to see what's going on, and when they have the ball, I am shouting myself silly (along with everyone else in my section). A breather is welcome.
Even though he is a Panthers fan, one of the guys behind me is nice enough to prove I am really at the game.
The TV timeout is over. Our guys are still right there.
Everyone moves to the far end, and it becomes much harder to see what is going on. But it continues to be the same story: Defense! There is lots of punting. Interestingly, although Sauerbrun's kicks are good, not one resembles the skyrockets he was getting off in warmups. His real kicks are lower, shorter, and more wobbly. Thank goodness!
At the end of the second quarter, Mike Vrabel strips the ball from Jake Delhomme, and somehow this opens the floodgates. I see very little: The Pats are at the far end of the field, and Jake's touchdown pass to Steve Smith takes place very quickly, on the far sideline. I barely have time to notice that Tyrone Poole is beaten and it is over.
What I do see, just before halftime, is the big run by Stephen Davis, which followed Vinatieri's poor squib kick. I think this is the only time all game that Davis really breaks loose, and because it leads to a last-second field goal, it is a deep disappointment. We have pushed these guys around all half, and they have to be very happy being down only 14–10.
The scoreboard shows our lead. Meanwhile, it is time to eat again. My hamburger would have been OK, except the lower bun turns out to be soggy. I eat doggedly, trying to tune out the noise. I think to myself that I would have paid extra to have no halftime show. My Dad, had he been able to come, would have paid double.
Some of the guys come out early for very brief warmups. This time our guys are closer. I try several times to catch Tom Brady in the act of throwing. This is as close as I get. You can see the ball in the air just to the right of two white-shirted functionaries (water boys?).
The second half starts
No wait—it doesn't. Suddenly, as John Kasay is waiting to kick off, there is a naked man dancing on the field. I see black-and-white clothes on the ground next to him, and it becomes clear he slipped on dressed as an official. The security people are watching the stands, not the field, and it takes them forever to catch on. Then, when they do converge on the streaker, he takes off down the field, and the security guys race after him, like Keystone Kops. The security guys are surprisingly bad chasers, and the effect is hilarious.
Finally, a player takes pity on the hapless security force. Matt Chatham steps to one side, gives the streaker what looks like a little nudge, and suddenly the guy is pancaked on the ground. Matt makes his living chasing guys and knocking them down :-)
Once their quarry is surrounded, it takes the security force almost no time to cuff his hands behind his back and carry him off, face down, by his arms and legs. Looks uncomfortable.
Third quarter, away from the action
The game resumes, and as in the first quarter, we win the field-position battle, but sides are reversed. Here's what the game looks like when it's played at the other end of the field. If you look hard, you may be able to make out Ty Law (24) and Tedy Bruschi (54). All of our second-quarter scoring and much of the third quarter is pretty much like this, and I wonder if I might have been better off in the nosebleed seats.
With around five minutes left in the quarter, we get the ball in good field position, and we start moving. I hope for a nice long drive, so that the quarter will run out and the action will move to our end of the field. But Tom Brady moves them faster than I expected! Will our guys score?
End of the third quarter
Not yet! At the end of the third quarter, our guys are threatening. In the break between quarters, I take this picture to show our view of things to come. I'm trying to show the scoreboard too, not realizing that my camera is unhappy with the low light.
Television reigns supreme
They set up for the fourth quarter, and our guys are close enough that CBS wants a camera right on the goal line. CBS can see the ball, but we can't. I am not amused, but CBS paid even more than I did.
Start of the fourth quarter
This wider shot shows that, TV camera aside, we have a great view of the action. You can also see some ponytailed fans and another fan sporting a Flying Elvis hard hat.
This is more like it. The Panthers are about to get a strong dose of Antowain Smith, and the action is almost in our laps.
Antowain rumbles in for the score. To the right side, so again, right in front of us. Tragically, I am too busy enjoying the action to take a photo.
In the aftermath, the fans go wild, but the players remain relatively calm. We are now up 21–10.
We have just ten minutes real time (two minutes of game time) to enjoy our lead. Suddenly, for reasons I still have not figured out, Jake Delhomme is cutting us to pieces. Then, inexplicably, we get an incredible break: With 12:39 left in the game, John Fox decides to go for two. At the time, I think this is absolutely crazy—and it shows a great, un-Fox-like lack of confidence in his offense. Later, when the game is over, I figure I will read about this in the paper. But thanks to Janet Jackson, curious fans will never know what Fox was thinking.
Of course I am relieved when the attempt fails and it is 21–16.
Tom Brady to the rescue
Our guys come roaring back. First down at the ten-yard line! I am ready for Tom Brady to put this game away.
Wait a minute...
Not this time. Tom throws the ball straight to Reggie Howard, who was not even covering anybody but was just sitting in the end zone waiting for the ball. OK, this is not so bad—we have them stuffed in their own end, just like the first quarter. They get five yards, but pretty soon it's third down.
One play later, Muhsin Muhammad beats Eugene Wilson and it's 22–21. To add injury to insult, Wilson tries to tackle Muhammad high and is hurt on the play. The Panthers now must go for two, but—good for our guys—they are denied again.
At this point I am now mentally rehearsing how I am going to explain to Cory that our guys did not blow the game but rather the Panthers won it fair and square. But our defense is not the only one that is tired.
Is Vrabel God?
Don't like the score? Wait 14 minutes. Mike Vrabel is not God, even though a Boston fan thinks so. But he does catch a nice touchdown ball, which he then gives Richard Seymour to spike. Everyone in my section is going wild. We're up 27–22, so now we have to go for two. The stupid camera guy is there again, so I don't see the direct snap to Kevin Faulk; I see Tom Brady waving his empty hands up high. By the time I realize Brady doesn't have the ball, Kevin Faulk is in the end zone. The play is over, but for at least another sixty seconds I am screaming at the top of my lungs. At maximum volume, I explain to everyone in my section that Kevin Faulk has just scored two points on "the old direct snap." (My sudden fondness for the direct snap is doubly amusing because normally I hate the direct snap. We use it a lot, and it almost never does much for us. But when you need only two yards, I guess it's a great call.)
After all the excitement is over, I am calm enough to use my camera, and I photograph the scoreboard. With 2:51 left to play, we are up 29–22, but this is no cause for premature celebration. It is clear that both defenses have had it, and this is going to be one of those games where the last team to have the ball wins.
If you've read this far, you probably know how this story goes. Jake Delhomme cuts us to pieces again, going 5 for 6 in under 2 minutes. We are tied again for the first time since the game started, and there is only 1:08 left. Our last drive took 4 minutes, but we have some time outs. During the time out, I try to figure out how nervous I should be. Then play resumes, John Kasay kicks the ball out of bounds. Suddenly I am much less nervous.
The Tom and Adam show
Now it's Tom Brady's turn to go 5 for 6 (though one is called back because Troy Brown pushed off). On the sixth, Tom calls time out with 9 seconds left. I am a little surprised he does not let the clock tick down lower before calling time out. I guess even Tom can get a little excited at the end of a game like this.
We set up to kick, Carolina calls time out, as usual it makes no difference whatever, and Adam kicks the winning field goal. Unlike the first one he missed, this one is low enough that I get to see it go through the uprights. Judging by the number of flashbulbs going off, as many people would like to photograph the game-winner as would like to see it. I am not one of them.
Adam has to kick off with four seconds left, but He Hate Me is not going to break one. Fittingly enough, Matt Chatham takes him down, just as he did the streaker at the start of the half. The clock runs out, and for the second time in three years, we are Super Bowl champions!!
Immediately, yellow-jacketed rope holders surround the fields, and a huge army of Super Bowl ninjas rolls out all kinds of equipment. Here you see the row of confetti-blasting machines. I learn later that this is not just any confetti being blasted—it is confetti in Patriots colors. Presumably the Panthers' confetti will be given to charity.
The final score
More ninja work. Fences, sound system, presentation stand, and of course a large, inflatable Lombardi Trophy. All of this goes up incredibly quickly.
I am mystified by the sign in the middle left for "White Vests". Do the players go here to collect vests? Are people wearing vests meant to assemble at this spot? Who wears the vests? Maybe Paul Tagliabue knows.
The fans are happy, but even more than that, we are exhausted. Most of us have been on the site for seven hours and in our seats for five hours.
Me at the game
Here I am while the guys celebrate their victory. Many people are starting to leave, but I hang around for a while longer. Number 54 behind me is the only fan in our section who seemed really into it. By this time, he and I have exchanged many high fives.
The homeward journey is much like the outward journey, only with less security at the stadium. (I am actually pretty impressed at how quickly and smoothly 75,000 fans can walk out of that stadium.) The fans on my bus are happy, of course, but very quiet. We have all had a long day and a draining game. In a harbinger of what is to come, one of the young women asks if we saw "Janet Jackson's boob". Nobody wants to talk about Fox's decision to go for two, without which we might still be playing—or have lost. So sadly, our fans are no better than the press.
The flight back leaves at 12:30, so I get to sleep until 8:00, not 2:45. When my alarm goes off, it is gloomy and overcast. I see that the highway traffic is almost stopped. I am thinking that driving back is going to take two hours and is going to be really unpleasant. But a nice hotel lady comes to the rescue: She tells me to go the wrong way on I-45 and then take highway 8 all the way around the city. On the map, this route looks to be almost twice as far as the direct route, but I have nothing to lose, and a miracle occurs: Nobody knows about this road. There is almost no traffic until 5 miles from the airport. As I drive, the sun comes out, and I even see a few trees.
The airport is jammed with people leaving town, and the lines are incredible, but the Houston people have planned pretty well. They have extra people running up and down the security line telling us all firmly what to do. Later everyone comments how much more polite they are than the security people in Boston.
While in one line I fill out a computerized survey about my opinion of the city. My hotel definitely exceeded expectations, but the rest of my responses make it clear I won't be coming back any time soon. I feel sorry for the survey guy—it's his company, and the handheld survey software is his invention.
The charter airline appears to be run almost entirely by teenage girls. All the tickets are hand-written, and there is great consternation when I show up as "Norman Ramsey" on the manifest but on my ticket is written "Ramsey, Y." Three different girls are unable to solve this problem and all stand around with frowns on their pretty little painted faces. Eventually the only grown-up behind the counter wanders over and tells them it is OK just to cross out "Y" and write "Norman".
Unlike the flight out, the flight back has no assigned seats. Having spent 90 minutes in lines, I am too tired to stand in line for seats, so I just plop down in the waiting area. After a half-hour's rest, though, I decide I really don't want to sit in the back of the plane, so I get up and get in line. Who should show up next but my seat companion from the flight down? By this time we are practically old friends, and soon she is telling me how she knew nothing about football until her son taught her how to watch the game. And how very complicated she found it at first. She is evidently into it now, though, since she is wearing Adam Vinatieri's number 4. Because her hair is entirely gray, I have a hard time guessing her age, but I suspect late 40s or early 50s—the son, who has now joined us, has just started college. I am delighted to learn that a woman can come to the game in middle age. There may be hope for Cory :-)
This is the very last line of the trip, and next in line behind us are two new arrivals: half of the family of four who were just in front of me in the very first line of the trip, at Logan. He is some sort of executive with the Celtics, and they are evidently good friends with the owner of the tour company. Soon we are all chatting merrily away about everything from the kids' high-school drama productions to the merits of various seats. The family were split: two seats at field level (at the opposite end from mine) and two in the upper deck (i.e., the nosebleed seats). I learn that the nosebleed seats are close to the field, but extremely high up. Don't worry though, "you get used to it", and you can see everything. It is just as well that I didn't go for nosebleed seats at the 40-yard line; I might have spent half the game cowering in terror.
The missing half of the family arrives with food. I remark that I had hoped to go for food myself but thought I should get in line instead. My friend wearing number 4 very kindly offers to watch my bags while I go buy food. I offer to buy food for everyone, but there are no takers. So I run off and get a box of pizza, which I take with me on the plane, and which turns out to be fairly edible. I am doubly grateful when the in-flight food turns out to be hamburgers that look like hockey pucks. I do not need a hamburger: I have had pizza.
Open seating turns out not to be as insane as I had feared; miraculously, I even find a seat where by shifting only three other bags, I can store my rollaway overhead. The sun is shining, the flight is smooth, and in less than four hours we are on the ground at Logan. Since it is rush hour, I decide against a taxi (I have already spent about fifteen years' worth of taxi fares on my ticket) and take the T. At State Street, the first Orange Line train is too full to hold all the passengers, but on the next one, I get an actual seat! Cory, bless her soul, picks me up at Oak Grove and feeds me real food. My Super Bowl adventure is over.
During the game, I am struck by how many people in my section go wild whenever the camera guy swings his long, black boom by for a look at the crowd. It is as if they are more excited by possibility of being on TV than by the reality of seeing the Super Bowl right in front of them. After the game, although I am still cursing the goal-line camera for making me miss that direct snap, I forget all about the boom camera. Until I get home, when I have email from Matt Welsh, who wanted to know if I was at the game, because he is convinced he saw me on TV. And from my Dad, who knew I was at the game and told me exactly when to see myself on TV. So not only did I get to see the Super Bowl, but as an American, I have had the ultimate validation of my existence: I am on TV.
If you have a recording of the game, you can see me:
I am easier to spot if you first spot my energetic friend wearing number 54, who is two or three rows down and several seats to my left (your right).