I have been to one Super Bowl in my life: Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego. John Elway's first title and the scene of his career-defining "helicopter" gain.
I got to the game as an employee of the NFL. (Not sure how many of you know I worked for the league itself, about a half-dozen jobs ago.) I worked in the division that managed NFL.com (at the time managed by Starwave, which also managed ESPN.com, where I worked before the NFL and which facilitated the role at the NFL).
For the most part, I was a low-level lackey. The culture wasn't particularly entrepreneurial and the atmosphere wasn't particularly welcoming to its nascent online division.
I did have the opportunity to do two interesting things:
(1) I got to conceive and manage SuperBowl.com that year, which would become the most widely visited single-event Web site in the young history of the consumer Web.
(2) They flew me out to San Diego for a long week of lead-up to the game. Here's where I have to tip my cap to the generosity of the league: They also provided for a companion to fly out to San Diego – and, because I was working at the game, they gave me two game tickets, along with a host of passes to all of the biggest and best parties.
I gave the tickets to my father and brother. My dad took advantage of the free flight; my brother used miles to get out to San Diego. They stayed with me in my hotel room for free and ate from the plates of food I brought from the employee dining tent. They got special access to the NFL Experience and front-row seats to MTV Rock-n-Jock and attended all those parties with me. It was one of their greatest memories ever. Mine, too.
For that, I can't thank the NFL enough, even if the experience of working for the league for those 8 months wasn't particularly fun – and, actually, kind of ruined any passion I had for the NFL.
I watched the game from an NFL.com press box, and two things stand out:
(1) Jim Fassel is a genius. He did the equivalent of a "live-blog" for SuperBowl.com, providing constant chatter and answering user questions throughout the game. I don't think I truly understood how smart the REALLY smart NFL minds are until I heard him talk about the game: He knew everything – his analysis skills were jaw-dropping. He was calling plays before they happened. He might not be a fit for TV as an analyst, but the NFL should allow guys like him to call games from a special live feed you get if you care about the actual game being played. And he was a truly nice guy and treated all the lowly NFL.com workers really well.
(2) I had a special league-approved locker-room pass, as part of NFL.com, ostensibly to cover the game. When the game was over, I could either go to the Broncos locker room – a once-in-a-lifetime experience – or sit in the box and work on a postgame column to lead SuperBowl.com, tinker with the SB.com site and otherwise avoid a scene in the bowels of the stadium that, in all honesty, I was horrifying intimidated by. (I will never be a reporter.) Instead, I gave the pass to a co-worker and she went to the locker room. As expected, she said it was one of the coolest scenes she has ever experienced. Of course it was. In hindsight, I regret my insecurity – it is one of my greatest regrets of my professional life, if only to have experienced a Super Bowl locker-room.
I can't believe it is 10 years later. My stint at the NFL wasn't particularly memorable. But this week 10 years ago, it elevated itself to one of the most enjoyable weeks and experiences of my life. (Oh, and I have never sniffed a return to the Super Bowl.)
Commenters: What is the greatest sporting event you have ever been to live? (I know we bring this up somewhat regularly. I can't get enough of your stories. This isn't my most meaningful sporting event I have ever attended, but it is the biggest, from an "objective" standpoint.)