Keeping Score

A Tale of Two Super Bowls: Suspense and Glory Inside, Tears and Anxiety Outside

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Illinois Packer fan Tom Brady and his son, Chris, 9, anxiously await replacement Super Bowl tickets Sunday night in Texas

Courtesy Sean Gregory

For the Green Bay Packers, who beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-25, in a thrilling Super Bowl that came down to the final drive, the game could not have been sweeter.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP, threaded several clutch passes that brought the Vince Lombardi Trophy home to Titletown. He strutted into the locker room after the game was over – it was an unequivocal, undeniable, well-deserved strut – and let out a guttural “woooooo!” Cornerback Jarrett Bush, who had a key interception in the game, bounced around, chanting “Yes, sir, yes sir, yes sir.”

He then pictured the reaction in Green Bay: “I know they’re going bonkers right now,” he said, his mind returning momentarily to the frozen tundra. “And we’re about to go bonkers too.”

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Unfortunately, hours beforehand another group of people were also going crazy.

For some fans who made the trek to North Texas, some of the NFL’s most loyal customers, the game had elements of a nightmare. “I’m going to be sick,” said a woman from Morgantown, West Virginia, a Steelers fan, before breaking down in tears, again. Her husband and 10-year-old son were among the 1,250 fans who shelled out good money for Super Bowl tickets, only to find out that their seats were, in fact, no good.

The Super Bowl organizers had added temporary seating at Cowboys Stadium to accommodate additional people, but the seats were not ready in time for the game. After the fans had to jump tortuous hoops and wait in confusing lines to find out what was going on – many missed at least a quarter of the game – about 400 were invited to watch the games on monitors from inside the stadiums, and received $2,400 refunds, three times the $800 face value of the tickets. (Though the fans may have paid much higher prices for these seats on the secondary market). Some 850 people were relocated.  The NFL said they got the same, or better seats, though several fans we spoke to, including this woman, who declined to be named, reported that their seats were worse.

She and her husband were dispatched to the top of the stadium. She said she’s afraid of heights, and that her husband suffers from a herniated disc. It was minutes before halftime, and she and her 10-year-old son, who was with her, had seen just a few minutes of the game. She was pleading for a better seat. “I’ve sat up there,” said the ticket taker. “It’s perfectly fine.” He said this, even after she explained her sincere fear of heights.  She cried again, and hugged her devastated son.

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She had already spent four hours in line to rectify the NFL’s embarrassing mishap. As the minutes to kickoff arrived, the scene outside the stadium was surreal. A line, perhaps a hundred deep, formed outside the ticket office. Many of these fans had been bouncing around the stadium for hours, as officials gave them conflicting sets of directions. “I’m missing Christina Aguilera!” cried one fan, as the national anthem came and went. (Of course, given the criticism of Aguilera’s performance, she may have been lucky).

Things got understandably tense as kickoff came closer. Imagine spending thousands of dollars for the Super Bowl, and you’re stuck in a line, knowing the game was passing you by. No one from the NFL or the Cowboys is comforting you. Not enough ticket reps were dispatched to speed things up. No wonder people started cursing each other – and Cowboy owner Jerry Jones. No wonder Chris Brady (above), 9, started crying, as his dad, cheese on his head, tried to comfort him.

The Bradys got their tickets in time, barely, though they were seated in Steelers territory. Others weren’t as fortunate. “They gave us seats two rows from the top,” said Don Divirgi, who was at the game with a group of friends. He missed the first quarter, which had some action, including two Packers touchdowns. “I can’t see that high.”

Boy did Divirgi miss a good one.  The Packers raced out to a 21-10 halftime lead, but Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger started to sizzle. Though Rodgers won the MVP award, wide receiver Jordy Nelson, an unlikely Packer player, was in the discussion for the game’s top award. He caught the game’s first touchdown pass, and a team-leading nine balls on the night. Though Nelson dropped a few easy ones, he managed to bounce back.

The game’s key play might have been Nelson’s 38-yard catch off a slant at the start of the fourth quarter, which set up a touchdown that put Green Bay up 28-17. The play before, he dropped a pass schoolyard kids hold onto. “I’ve played this position long enough to know you’re going to drop the ball,” says Nelson, while clutching his toddler son.  He wasn’t going to drop this one. “You have to move on.”

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Give Green Bay coach Mike McCarty credit too. He stuck to his pass-happy game plan, even when convention football wisdom tells you that running the ball, after getting an early lead, is smart because it eats clock. He also came up with a clever motivational trick. On Saturday night, McCarthy got his team fitted for Super Bowl rings. “It made it feel more real,” Green Bay safety Charlie Peprah said of ring-sizing. “We felt like we can taste it, and take the last step, and go win it.”

Despite the dramatic finish, the logistical errors should overshadow the game a bit. Fans were told that the stadium would open at 1PM. The doors stayed closed until around 2, leaving throngs of people frustrated. Too many of the workers, earnest and polite as they were, didn’t know what they were doing. If you’re going to hold a Super Bowl at a stadium as vast and complex at the spaceship, the workers need to be educated.

One woman wanted to see Keith Urban, who was performing at a pre-game concert outside the stadium. “How does nobody know where the concert is going to be?” she wondered aloud.  This wasn’t an isolated incident.

Green Bay won a thriller. Too bad Dallas didn’t have a better day.

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