February 2, 2004
Gone in a Flash
by Keith Weiland
Despite figuring out a way to grant media access to roughly 3,000 people, the league somehow found a way to turn down my simple request to bring Texan fans closer to the Super Bowl.
Me: Hey NFL, I need a press credential.
NFL: We all have needs, Keith.
Me: Oh. Um, I have thousands of adoring readers that might like a fan’s eye view of your wonderful game.
NFL: Fans? Here’s a paperclip.
Me: Should I give this league office a shellackin’?
Willie doll: Bring it on!
Easy, Willie. Thanks to the mystical majesty of the friend-of-a-friend network that led right up to an NFL owner’s box – not to mention my extremely generous father and stepmother – the NFL could keep me out of the big game no more.
Am I lucky or what?
In my hand on Sunday was a ticket to Super Bowl XXXVIII. A great seat, too. Lower level, 30-yard line behind the Panther bench. I don’t mean to gloat, but I paid exactly bubkis for it, too.
Me: Do you smell barbecue?
Willie doll: Bring it on!
Yeah, it was that kind of day for me on Sunday. Entry into the cash parking lots? Not a problem. Dry weather? Also looking good.
Despite my preconceived notions that elite events such as the Super Bowl were teeming with corporate executives who generally couldn’t care less about the game, I was pleasantly surprised to see an overwhelming number of dedicated football fans of the Panthers and Patriots at the game.
Yes, I’ve considered that a significant portion of them were really bandwagonning Cowboy fans hopping to the next biggest thing before the Lakers playoffs, but after talking to a few of them, those Boston and Carolina accents are unmistakable.
And speaking of, I’m not normally a fan of other team’s fans, but I must say the combination of the Southern kindness of the Panther fans mixed with the gregarious and loquacious nature of Patriot fans was a splendid combination. Being there in my Texans jersey made it even easier to relate to both teams’ fans too, since each made previous trips to Reliant Stadium to play the Texans in the regular season.
And rare was the complaint about the city. The out-of-town media’s knee-jerk reaction to the city’s weather all week was most frustrating. I’m sorry, but was nobody checking out the Boston forecast this week? Does North Carolina just fart sunshine?
From the just wait ‘til halftime file: In discussing her visit to Houston this week, a Panthers fan I met outside the stadium commented how she saw her first “flash” from a partygoer outside a Main Street establishment. Evidently underwhelming, it took the female exhibitionist three flashes before someone threw her a few beads. Somehow, this fan’s story reminded me of the Panthers’ 2003 season.
Security was really the only obstacle of the day. Given the potential for an international disaster, it was a welcome nuisance. There was a 100-yard perimeter of concrete barricades surrounding the stadium (which I assume was to possibly minimize either the threat of an unwanted car bomb near the facility or the threat of unwanted celebrities angling for one more shot at face time this week…probably both, though somehow Pauly Shore made it inside). After a 30-minute wait in line, where whenever other fans asked me who I was rooting for (my response: overtime), I was patted down, scanned, x-rayed, and generally leered upon by security. All for bubkis!
Inside Reliant Stadium, Rich Eisen continually pleaded with fans from his NFL Network studio to visit the “historic” Astrodome, probably in hopes to keep Eddie Money from feeling so lonely over there by himself. When Money later belted out “Take Me Home Tonight” to close his set, I had a feeling he ended on that number for a very good reason.
No trip to the Super Bowl would be complete without an appropriate level of souvenir consumption. While the other concessions and amenities throughout the stadium concourses were priced almost identical to what they had been during the regular season, the “Stadium Exclusive” merchandise was outrageously priced. Rightfully so, I suppose, since by halftime nearly everything had been wiped from the shelves.
Back in my seat – which did I mention was freaking awesome? – I was next to a pair of corporate types (albeit avid football fans) on probably their sixth beer before pre-game. I can only aspire to one day be on a company-sponsored boondoggle such as this.
Once the pre-game festivities were underway, the Super Bowl experience became the fastest five hours of my life. In prior years from my couch on Super Sunday, it had been easy to take for granted the show that the NFL puts on for the game, but the execution of this event is nothing short of amazing.
From my bewilderment to Willie playing second fiddle to Toby Keith (Me: Did Willie take his own career advice? Willie doll: Correctamundo!), to Aerosmith’s recycled set as astronauts (why do I think when Steven Tyler’s looking for “the right stuff” he isn’t talking about an outer space movie?), to the touching space shuttle tribute, and finally, to Beyonce’s lip synched National Anthem, the NFL has proven that it’s a lot more than just about the football these days.
As for the game itself, it stayed noisy throughout. Having been at all of the Texans home games, I am confident in my ability to judge the noisiest games of all time. While Super Bowl XXXVIII could in no way crack the top five (the list, by the way, is still headed by the first-ever win over the Cowboys), the fans present on Sunday did not save their voices for the ride home. Not bad for an otherwise partisan crowd.
Despite going nearly two full quarters before a single score, the game was still quite entertaining. I found myself thinking that as long as overtime was still in question, then things were good. Even when the teams put 24 points on the board in the closing minutes of the second quarter, we still had a four-point game.
Then came the now infamous halftime show. Like the pregame show, I have considerably more respect for what it takes to pull something like this off (the show itself, not Janet Jackson’s breastplate). A lot of people were moving around like the flight of the bumblebee, yet all were ready to go when the commercials ended. Impressive.
As for Janet’s peep show, it was much abreast about nothing. Did I say abreast? Sorry, I meant that it was much ado about nipple. Okay, maybe not. Just look at that thing. Painful.
While Janet’s eye candy might have been the talk of the game from the parties outside the stadium, the game’s biggest non-football buzz was yet to come. Just before the second half kickoff, an odd-shaped referee ambled to kicking tee and proceeded to whip off his stripes to dance like a fool.
The stadium was stunned silent for what seemed like five minutes. Not knowing whether this was part of the show, an on-field Nike commercial, or perhaps something more sinister, everyone was laughing later at what he really was: an English buffoon who danced like those Peanuts kids in the Christmas special.
It took about three or four plays for the streaker chatter to die down, but when it did, the focus never wavered from the game. One thing that was quite evident while watching these two defenses play is this: no team is successful in this league without a pass rush. Either the Texans need to find a guy who can get to the quarterback this offseason, or draft a guy like the Pats’ nose, Ted Washington, to free up someone here who already can. (Hint, hint. He’s #2 on the list below.)
The fourth quarter was simply amazing. 37 points. Unbelievable. And unlike some past Super Bowls, not all of them scored by the same team!
Then with Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal to give the Pats a 32-29 victory, the game, much like my wish for overtime, was gone in a flash.
Me: I can’t wait until I go again.
Willie doll: Bring it on!
Me: For bubkis, of course.
Willie doll: Of course.
View Keith’s Super Bowl XXXVIII photo log here.
Top Ten List
(* indicates underclassman)
1. Robert Gallery, LT, Iowa. 6’7″ 317. Gallery is the real deal as a left tackle prospect. If he’s somehow available when the Texans pick, they should waste no time getting this card up to Tags.
2. Vince Wilfork*, DT, Miami. 6’2″ 345. A double-team waiting to happen in the NFL. Nice quickness for a big man. Maybe too big? Nah, just wait until he gets into an NFL weight training program.
3. Sean Taylor*, FS, Miami. 6’3″ 225. Arguably the best athlete in the entire draft, assuming he declares. Taylor is the type who has enough athletic ability to make an immediate impact, too.
4. Randy Starks*, DT (DE), Maryland. 6’4″ 312. Plays smaller than he’s listed, but that’s a back-handed compliment to his pass rush ability. Another athletic freak, he can stuff the run and tackle too.
5. Tommie Harris*, DT (DE), Oklahoma. 6’3″ 287. Harris would make for a fearsome end in a 3-4 system. Plenty strong to take multiple blockers, he has the necessary quickness to rush the passer.
6. Kenechi Udeze, DE, USC. 6’4″ 285. Udeze has parlayed a strong senior season on a co-champ team into a skyrocket up the charts. A big guy with pass rush abilities is just what the doctor ordered.
7. Shawn Andrews*, RT, Arkansas. 6’5″ 371. A punishing run blocker who would be the long-term answer at right tackle for the Texans. Weight is a minor concern, but he’s light on his feet.
8. DeAngelo Hall*, CB, Virginia Tech. 5’11” 201. Speed kills, and Hall has plenty of it. If allowed, he could be a back-breaker on returns as well. Hall may shoot up boards when timed at the Combine.
9. Chris Gamble*, CB, Ohio State. 6’2″ 180. An instinctive player who could just as easily be a big-time star as he could be a big-time bust. Raw and easily fooled, Gamble’s still worth the, um, gamble.
10. Will Smith, DE (OLB), Ohio State. 6’3″ 265. A great pass rusher who should be able to make the switch to OLB in the 3-4. Can take the best angles, stand up the runner, and drop into coverage.
Fresh off his success of landing a Super Bowl ticket, Keith Weiland is now looking for a ticket to the 2004 MLB All-Star Game. For bubkis, of course.