I got the letter from the Green Bay Packers shortly after the playoff win over the Philadelphia Eagles: "You have been selected to receive two tickets to the Super Bowl." Of course, it was contingent on going to Atlanta and beating the Falcons and then going on the road again and beating the winner of the Bears/Seahawks game. All very unlikely at that point in time; I suspect Packer fans would have been happy if the season ended in Atlanta. After all, we won the last two games of the season in dramatic fashion to squeeze into the playoffs and we knocked off the Eagles. We could have called it a good season right there and left it at that, all things considered.
The letter came because the Packers have a lottery for season ticket holders; teams going to the Super Bowl, if they get there, receive an allotment of tickets and distribute a portion to their season ticket holders. Despite not knowing if we would actually go to the Super Bowl, the letter goes out early because of the time involved for processing invoices. Super Bowl tickets, face value, were priced at $800, $900, and $1200, depending on location. My letter required remittance for $1600, meaning I had two of the "cheap" seats.
This wasn't the first time I came up in the lottery, and I've come close to going to the Super Bowl in the past, but close doesn't count. I sent in the $1600 because there isn't much of a choice; beating the Falcons looked to be a longshot but what if the Packers did make it to the Super Bowl and I didn't send in the check? You get the check back if the team fails to advance, but that's not the point; it's just frustrating to be teased like this.
Well, the Packers beat the Atlanta Falcons, the best team in the conference. A fluke? Anybody can beat anybody on any given day; football is a game where the better team sometimes comes up short but you don't get a second chance to prove it. Could it be the Packers are starting to peak and are emerging as a contender?
Either way, I was one game away from going to the Super Bowl.
The last hurdle required the Packers going to Chicago as the Bears had easily dispatched the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers beat the Bears at Lambeau Field in the last regular season game, but the final score was 10-7. That isn't exactly making a statement, especially too when the Bears had an opportunity to win the game. Thank goodness we won but it wasn't exactly a convincing win.
For those who know football, to have the Packers and Bears playing for the conference championship and the right to go to the Super Bowl, that in itself was one of the great stories in sports in the past few decades. For the fans, the game meant bragging rights for years to come. It doesn't matter which sport or team, but there are games where you live or die with your team, and this was one of those games; needless to say, emotions were running high for both players and fans. We all know the result of the game, but to watch it unfold, to be winning but defeat within reach, and with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, it was just too much, at least for me.
I spent the fourth quarter walking around the neighborhood. If we win, we win, but I couldn't stand to watch if we lost. That's how worked up I was over this game.
The Packers won the day and the dream became a reality. I was going to Dallas, Texas, to see the Green bay Packers play in the Super Bowl!
So... if you please, I would be honored for you to join me in a literary version of my journey to Dallas, Texas, for Super XLV. Here are the details of my adventure:
TRIP TO THE SUPER BOWL
Let's get the boring details out of the way: First, it was decided I would go to the game with my brother. I live in Wisconsin and he lives in Washington DC. After looking at various travel options, the most economical scenario was cashing in my airline frequent flyer miles. Minutes after the Bears game we were booked, the two of us arriving in Dallas on Friday, February 4, and returning Tuesday, February 8. A Motel 6 was reserved near DFW airport for four nights at a rate of $500. With tickets, fees, and motel, the cost was about $1100 each. We knew we were going to be dinged for transportation, but a rental car was going to run over $500. Still, estimated costs of $1500 each for everything was cheap compared to a typical package. In fact, that's cheaper than what diehards without tickets were paying to go down just to be there.
The Tuesday before Super Bowl weekend, that was the day of "Snowmagedden." Milwaukee was hit with a blizzard, getting dumped on with 18 inches of snow with over 20 inches falling in southeast Wisconsin and northern Illinois. Everything was shut down on Wednesday and it caused many headaches for Packer fans heading down early to take in the various events during Super Bowl week in Dallas. Problem is, the storm system was 2,000 miles long, and Dallas was covered with ice and five inches of snow. Needless to say, Dallas was closed for business.
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4
Finally, Friday came, and I arrived at the airport at 4:00 AM for a 6:00 AM flight. The airlines were still recovering from Snowmagedden; this caused my flight to be delayed and was rescheduled to depart at 10:00. D'oh! You mean I would have to sit in the airport for six hours?! Forty five minutes into the wait, it was announced that the flight was canceled.
About an hour later we passengers were on a bus to Chicago for a flight out of O'Hare. In the end I arrived in Dallas about three hours later than originally planned which isn't bad for a canceled flight. I meet up with Brother and we're on our way!
The plan was to take a shuttle to the Centreport train station near DFW. According to information on the internet, the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) had a four day Super Bowl pass for the rail system and Centrepoint was the only place where they could be purchased. With great efficiency we arrive at Centreport and we were immediately disappointed.
Centreport was a train stop for the rail system, but there was nothing there except for a few electronic vending machines for tickets. The special passes were not available so we called the TRE, and after being on hold for a good 30 minutes, we were able to ask our questions. Passes would be available for Super Bowl Sunday only but the information from the internet contradicted the reality. The person we talked to didn't seem to know about the special passes and we were out of luck.
In other words, our transportation plans for getting to the game wasn't available.
Brother and I waited for a shuttle bus back to the airport and we grabbed a taxi to the motel.
Dinner was a Chinese buffet next to the motel and that was pretty much our day. We had been up early in order to get to our respective airports. Dallas was still covered with ice and snow and cold so it didn't seem to be a good idea to go out and find an establishment filled with Super Bowl fans. Brother was still running a fever too from a bad cold. And he had a bad knee sprain, he wasn't in any shape to be running with the dogs.
We channel flip the local news, soaking up the Super Bowl hype, and call it a night.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 5
It's a $30 taxi ride to go 5 miles to the West Irving train station. From there we paid $7 each for a day pass to ride the rail; the destination was the NFL Experience in downtown Dallas, which was located at the Dallas Convention Center.
It's sunny but it's still cold and everything is still covered with ice and snow.
We arrive at the convention center right about 10:00 AM which is when the NFL Experience opens up for the day. Lots of people are around but we get in right away after parting with $20 each.
Inside is Football Fan Heaven. Autograph signings, videos, displays, vendors, interactive activities, history, and football, football, football. We watch young men and women play flag football and the quarterbacks are Randall Cunningham and Rich Gannon. Imagine pulling in a pass from a real NFL quarterback! The game ends and new activities begin for a different age group of younger kids.
The NFL Pro Shop takes up a huge hall, offering a mind-boggling amount of merchandise for sale.
While most of the fans were wearing gear from the Packers and Steelers, there were still many dressed showing they were fans for virtually every other team in the NFL. The NFL Experience is essentially a presentation for all fans, it's not a focal point for the two teams playing in the Super Bowl. Everyone everywhere is enthralled, interested, and excited for the multitude of displays and activities available to see and do.
As the day progresses the crowd continues to build; you could see outside the sun working hard on the ice and snow and turning Dallas back into what Dallas is supposed to look like. I had left the Frozen Tundra only to arrive at the Frozen Tundra but it was now starting to look more like Texas.
After many hours we decide it's time to head back. As we leave, there's a huge line of fans waiting to enter the convention center in the late afternoon; when we watch the local Super Bowl hype on the evening news we learn the line stretched way out around the block and people waited up to three hours to get in. Arriving early turned out to be a good thing for us.
Back at the train station we asked the driver of a bus who was on break about catching a bus back to the motel and it turned out we could get there from here. Their buses don't run often but we timed it perfect; within 20 minutes we were on our way back and saved ourselves another hit on the wallet from the taxi.
Local evening news continued their coverage of the hype, much of it being exclusive invite-only parties or parties where tickets might run well over $1000. Yesterday ice on the stadium had fallen off and injured some workers, Prince was a no-show at his party, and Fans were staying out late and consuming beverages of all types. Super Bowl weekend was in full swing and soon to climax the next day.
For whatever reason, the exclusive parties for the rich, hip, famous, and "in" crowds somehow overlooked inviting us, so we called it a night.
SUNDAY FEBRUARY 6
The plan was to take the taxi to the train station and then pay $20 for a game-day pass to shuttle down to the stadium. Instead, we ended up paying $60 to taxi directly to Cowboys Stadium. I'll spare all the boring math, but it seemed to be a better idea at the time. In retrospect, this was a more expensive option, but it actually worked out for the better. We'll get to that later, but at this point in time, it was past 10:30 AM and we were on our way to the game!
Being relatively early made it a quick ride to the stadium area; if traffic was going to be an issue, it wasn't an issue now.
Because of security, the stadium was like a fortress; completely fenced off, and anything of interest was on the other side of the barrier. There was nothing to see or do on the outside, at least for the side of the stadium we were on, so we found a way in through the maze of exterior barriers and got in line at the first checkpoint. It's going on 11:30 AM when they open the gate, but it's only the next step for getting in.
We enter an area with railings that form a line and weaved back and forth, the typical crowd control for queuing up a line like they do at an amusement park ride. There are multiple sections and each section ends at a security gate where you will be screened and searched before entering the area by the stadium.
Printed on the tickets is verbiage that says the security gates will open at noon and the stadium will open at 1:00 PM. There are about 100 people in front of us for our section, making us virtually the first ones in line. Regardless, noon comes and goes, and the gates remain closed.
We wait. And we keep waiting. Then it's 1:00, and we're still waiting to get in.
Various staff come and go and the rumor is they're still working on the temporary seats. One person says they're still welding them together.
It's past 2:00 when they open up the security gates. After being screened, we're in!
Having been in line so long, the first thing I noticed was the lack of porta-potties. I finally spot a pair a ways down located mainly for the security people. Brother is in bad shape with his knee, we're tired from standing, so we opt to skip exploring and walking around. There really isn't much to see, anyway. GMC has a display for selling vehicles and Desmond Howard (MVP of Super Bowl XXXI) is in there; you could have your picture taken with him if you were willing to stand in line.
We see a stage where a live singer is performing, FOX Sports has a live stage and the crowd jumps and yells every time they're on TV, but we make our way to the stadium doors; going inside and sitting down is starting to sound good. However, the stadium is not open. A line begins to form and those wanting to go inside stand and wait.
I don't quite remember when, but I think it was past 2:30 when the doors to the stadium were finally opened.
Cowboys Stadium, the House that Jerry Built, the largest domed stadium in the world. How do I describe it? It can impress you and it can also disappoint. Our seats are in the upper end zone so we climb our way to the top and it turns out we're in an add-on section, one of those temporary sections installed just for the Super Bowl. We would hear later about the people whose seats weren't ready and essentially were screwed, but we were fortunate to not be in that group.
Brother sits down in our seats to rest his knee and I walk around just to check things out and to take some photographs.
That giant video scoreboard, it is truly impressive. And it's also stupid. Pre-game they were running an in-house show, a man and woman anchoring the entertainment, and all kinds of information about the game and football from the past season was being aired. It was quite entertaining and fantastic to watch on that screen. During the game, it was a distraction; you don't come to watch a live football game on TV. When looking directly at the field, you can see all 22 players, you can see how the play develops, and you can see the strategies involved and the interaction from coaches and personnel on the sidelines. What you see on TV is very limited, and it's pretty much worthless no matter how many pixels per inch you have or how big the screen is. The screen was just about the dumbest thing you could ever have in that respect.
The stadium itself, well, it was big. If that's the criteria for a great venue, then it was a great venue. Otherwise, it's a bunch of chairs around a playing field. No different than any other stadium. Regardless, there are people drawn to shiny objects and blinking lights; there are those who go to a game to say they were there, there are others who go to SEE the game. The upper 30,000 seats at Cowboys Stadium, I suppose they're good for those on a budget, but they fail in delivering a quality game day experience. In the end, when I compare Lambeau Field to Cowboys Stadium or any other venue, the honest truth is the worst seats at Lambeau are many times closer to the field and the action than the supposedly "good" seats at other stadiums. If you want to SEE a football game, then see it at Lambeau Field. Sitting on the 50 yard line at Cowboys Stadium, you're not there to see the game, you're there to be seen and to impress those around you that you can afford those seats.
I buy a beer, a soda, a hot dog, and a chili dog for me and Brother, the meal costing $29.
Then, finally, it's time for the game!
This is what it's all about. 32 teams begin the season with high hopes and work their way through the drama, the disappointments, the heartaches, the triumphs, the glory. The season ends early for some teams, some encounter disaster late, some squeeze it out at the very end. The Packers experienced it all, watching their season crash with gut-wrenching emotion, only to find themselves still in it thanks to the help of other teams failing to clinch their own spot in the playoffs. By reaching deep inside and finding something within themselves, a something that cannot be put into words, the Green Bay Packers found a way to overcome disaster. Making the playoffs was a great story in itself, but to continue the charge straight into the Super Bowl, the story became one of inspiration.
You saw the game on TV, you've seen the highlights, we all know the score, but the experience of seeing the Super Bowl live...
The Super Bowl is not the winning of a single game but the final step of those 32 teams you had to get past to be here. Greatness can be defined in what you had to overcome to be here and even then, one team here today will have their season end badly.
For the fans, it's being able to watch the best of the best, and more. The Super Bowl is a week-long series of events, parties, and hype. It's estimated that up to 40,000 people come here without a ticket just so they can say they were here despite being on the outside of the stadium. The allure of the Super Bowl and what it means, it is up to the individual to define what that is. No one statement of what the Super Bowl is all about can speak for all.
For me, it may be a combination of things. Being able to say I was there is perhaps one element for being here. But I've been to many games at Lambeau Field; I've experienced the highs and lows, seen seasons come and go, and to have the opportunity to see your team take it all, it is nothing short of exhilarating. This season was about overcoming all the injuries, clawing into the playoffs, and then beating the Bears in Chicago for the conference championship for the right to be here.
How can one not want to be a part of that?
For all the lines I stood in this weekend and places I visited, it seemed there were more Steeler fans than Packer fans in town for the game. The Steeler fans were certainly well represented at the game itself. Cheering with the other Packer fans during the game, suffering in the pending defeat as the Steelers rallied, being on the edge of your seat towards the end of the game, it made the game seem like it was a mere 10 minutes long. Time somehow changed and sped at a horrific pace as the Packers failed to put the game away though they found a way to prevail.
When the game ended, you finally knew why you were here, why the Super Bowl is the Super Bowl. The old statement of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat concisely says it all.
As with most Packer fans, Brother and I linger after the post-game celebration. Everywhere people ask strangers to take a picture of them and their partner with the field as a backdrop.
This is a moment many want to preserve.
Upon leaving the stadium, we get conflicting information on how and where to get a taxi. We end up at the spot where the shuttle buses go back to the train station and it turns out the shuttle is free. While riding the shuttle we talk to other Packer fans and manage to bum a ride to the motel from a cheesehead who is a transplant now living in Texas.
Life is good.
MONDAY FEBRUARY 7
The motel is located next to a small strip mall which included a car rental store. We inquire and yes, they have a car available for normal rates instead of the inflated costs because of the Super Bowl being over. The best part is, we can drop the car off at the airport without extra fees. Our flights leave early Tuesday morning so we grab the car and drive to downtown Dallas.
We visit the Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President Kennedy. A conspiracy theorist sets up shop on the grassy knoll and enthralls tourists with his version of the shooting, but Brother and I ignore the show. Whatever the truth may be, no one really knows it and Kennedy is still dead.
We hit a shopping mall to while away the time and in the evening we go eat at a small joint where they have Texas BBQ. I lived in Texas for nine years though that was decades ago and I've been dying to eat some Texas BBQ. Bad Texas BBQ in Texas is better than good Texas BBQ in Wisconsin. I don't know why you can't get decent BBQ outside of Texas, the recipe isn't exactly a secret. Then, again, I wouldn't eat a bratwurst outside of Wisconsin. Regardless, it was a dinner I will savor for a long time.
Tuesday morning Brother heads off to Washington DC and I to Wisconsin. The BBQ was but a memory but the taste of victory only made me hungry for more.
Now that I've "done" a Super Bowl, I think I can say that it's an exercise in logistics. Besides the challenge of getting tickets, the mad rush of fans going to the game drives up the costs of virtually everything. Finding transportation and lodging at reasonable prices are issues to overcome.
Many fault Dallas for not taking care of the snow and ice. I will never understand people who think the government has the power to overcome significant acts of nature. With that logic, we should have a coast guard station on duty in Death Valley so we're ready for the next 500 year flood.
I will fault Dallas for their public transportation system, but not because I expected it to be more robust. I was extremely annoyed for the information that was available. The web sites for the train system were lacking or incorrect and phone numbers for information had 30 minute waits. People who answered the phone weren't very helpful.
As for the seating issues where people with tickets didn't get seats, that was outright disgusting. The only problem is whose head should be rolling. The Super Bowl is an NFL event and therefore Jerry Jones was not responsible for the stadium, at least not completely. The NFL had over a year to plan for this, it shouldn't have been an issue. But it could very well be the contractor outright lied in what it could do. It's a situation that happens quite often in business; promises for product delivery many times does not meet a hard deadline. However, in business, it usually is recognized in advance a deadline cannot be met and you work to find an alternative solution. The stagecoach may be heading for the cliff but you don't wait until it falls off before doing something about it.
And finally, winning the Super Bowl itself...
32 teams start the season, 12 teams make the playoffs, and only 1 claims the Lombardi Trophy. Why do we bother if a fan has to endure, in some cases, a lifetime of disappointment for one short moment of glory? Perhaps it's because during the season on game day it's just one game where we can watch and experience the competition of brain and brawn. That single game gives us a reason to cheer, teaches us humility, and we learn to be proud of who we are no matter the outcome. Football is a lesson in life; We endure, we persevere, we have hope, we overcome. String all the games together and you have a season, and again, like life, a season or period of time can drag on dismally or speed along with excitement. Real victories are rare; what it takes to graduate from school, to raise a child, or to be the one who gets the job, these events come only after many trials and tribulations. To endure difficult times but to eventually claim the ultimate goal, that is what makes it all worthwhile.
Yeah. Football is life.
Super Bowl XLV Collection