It should have occurred to me that taking the elevator in a Super Bowl stadium an hour before the start of the Super Bowl was a bad idea.
At the time, it felt like there was no choice. Canadians and all other foreign wretches who come to cover the game get the worst seats in the house. At Super Bowl 46, they put us up in the stands at the upper lip of Lucas Oil Stadium, roughly four kilometres from the field.
The temporary desks they’d installed were angled so that if you sat back, you could not see the field. More important, the WiFi didn’t work. What’s the worst place to watch a Super Bowl? That year, at the Super Bowl.
There was tell of a magical room in the bowels of the stadium, where any accredited journalist could go, where the WiFi worked and the coffee was free. One of my colleagues from the Toronto Sun and I decided to set off for this promised land.
They don’t do stairs in the United States, and all the escalators were turned to “up” in order to shuttle 70,000 fans to their seats. The only way down was the elevator. And roughly 10,000 of those 70,000 people were already trying to get down.
I don’t know how many tries it took to get on that single freight elevator, which made no sense because we were on the top floor. Were these people joy-riding at the Super Bowl? Twenty minutes we waited.
We eventually gave up on politeness and fought our way in, quite literally. The enormous car was full to bursting. We got down one floor. The doors opened. A sea of people were waiting. So many of them that you could see the crowd rolling up and down, like the tides. There was not one hair of spare room in the car.
Someone shouted, “Mr. Commissioner!”
There he was – former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Once the most powerful man in U.S. sport, now he couldn’t catch a lift on an elevator he’d helped pay for.
Tagliabue had the forlorn look of someone who’d already given up. How long had he been standing there? Days? It seemed possible. And it was about to get worse for him. Some Samaritan reached out of the elevator, grabbed Tagliabue by the lapels, and dragged him inside. People tried to make room for him, but that was not possible.
Poor Tagliabue was now wedged up against the closed doors like he was getting frisked. Upon eventual disembarkation, the former boss of the NFL would look like he’d spent the night before the Super Bowl sleeping in his car.
Another 20 minutes. That’s how long that elevator took to get to the basement. At every floor – two or three hundred of them – the car would stop, the doors would open, no one would get off, a throng would try to get on, someone would pointlessly stick a leg into the car, futzing up the automatic doors, an alarm would go off, a cross word would be uttered, an argument would start. By the time the gap had been cleared, it was full-on shouting and pointing. At every single floor.
By the time we got to the bottom, I was in a frenzy. I had been sent, at considerable expense to my employer, to a Super Bowl that I was now going to miss despite being a hundred or so yards from the field on which it was played.
The tunnels underneath any modern stadium look exactly the same. It’s all beige cinderblock and ducting. We asked someone which way the room was. No one had heard of the room, but they had seen people headed that way. No, no, the next guy said, back that way. You see where this is headed.
We were now speed walking hither and thither like a couple of maniacs. Because this was a post-9/11 Super Bowl, it was only a matter of time before someone noticed and Tasered us.
When I heard the dull roar of the crowd – the teams were taking the field – I began to run. In my mind, I was going to do a complete reconnaissance lap of the stadium.
What I ended up doing was turning a sudden sharp corner and running into the middle of the New York Giants as they waited to take the field.
You know how football players look big on TV? They are a lot bigger than that. Gigantically huge. Wedged into a crowd of them, none of whom took any notice of me, that was becoming clear. They were bouncing side to side and war whooping. I was being rattled around amid them, several times catching the sharp edge of a shoulder pad in the head. Whenever I turned one way, I’d be knocked back the other. I gave up and prepared to die.
Then I heard a security guard yelling: “You’re not supposed to be here now!”
Really? Thanks, man. Great info.
But he did do me the favour of reaching into the undulating pile of players and dragging me out.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m just trying to get to the media room.”
I wondered if crying might help. Because I really wanted to.
“Oh. It’s here.”
He pointed to the doorway he’d been sitting in front of.
We went into the room. I felt as though I’d been beaten with a sack of oranges. By the next morning, I would be black and blue. But there was an empty seat, a TV and coffee, and that was Nirvana.
The U.S. national anthem began. Everyone else stayed in their seats. I was already standing and it seemed much less painful to remain so.
When the song ended, a man rushed over to me, holding out a card. It was his U.S. Marine Corps ID.
“Sir,” he said, so loudly people turned. “I want to thank you for being THE ONLY PATRIOT IN THIS ROOM.”
“You’re welcome,” I said. “God bless America.”