Without the Houston Texans playing in the big game, there was little for Houstonians to cheer for other than a great game and a good time. In that regard, the Bayou City came away a big winner. The Houston Super Bowl Committee, the City of Houston and the entire region came together to put on a show unmatched by any single sporting event this side of the Olympics.
From the starting of the countdown clocks and the Touchdown Tours to the numerous events highlighted by Super Bowl Live on Discovery Green and the NFL Experience inside the George R. Brown Convention Center, the city and the region stepped up in a big way to showcase the city and play the role of a gracious host.
As a relative newcomer to the Houston area (I’ve only lived here eight years), I wasn’t around the last time Houston hosted the Super Bowl in 2004 and I’ve never been to a host city during the big game. Coming from the Denver area, I have covered back-to-back Super Bowl celebrations but this was my first experience at ground zero.
When the Houston Super Bowl Committee put out a call for 10,000 volunteers last year, my wife Sandy and I thought it would be fun. She jumped in, filled out the application, interviewed and was accepted. I gave it second thought, realizing that I would be too busy covering events to spend my time as a volunteer. It turns out that was a good call on both our parts.
For Sandy, it was an opportunity to have an insider’s perspective to a major event. She did four shifts over the course of Super Bowl Week. Although she spent most of her time handing out maps and giving directions, she got to interact with a lot of wonderful people and made several new friends from her fellow volunteers. She also got to go places and see things the general public doesn’t normally see. On top of that, the committee treated its volunteers like royalty. They were well fed and received a boatload of swag, including shirts, jackets, backpacks pins and special medallions.
As a member of the credentialed media, I had amazing access to all the “week of” events, but not the game itself. Still, there was a lot to see and experience. I went to press conferences for both the Patriots and the Falcons. The Patriots were crammed into a hotel conference room. The Falcons had the ice rink at Memorial City Mall and had plenty of space and better player access.
I had to limit what activities I covered because I still had a regular job to do at the office and I certainly didn’t have the budget to shell out $30 for parking every time I went somewhere. I did go to the media party at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Admittedly I was more interested in touring the museum than I was the party scene, but it was nice to be wined and dined with several hundred of my colleagues.
The big day for us came on Saturday. Sports writer Bill McCaughey and I went to the annual Celebrity Sweat Flag Football Challenge. The event is a charitable fundraiser held each year near the Super Bowl site. This year it was held at Rhodes Stadium in Katy. Although not a formal part of the Super Bowl activities, the event features many current and former NFL players and other athletes.
The game featured retired quarterback Doug Flutie against Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. Team Flutie won 40-35. There was a friendly scrimmage against military veterans before the game, which the veterans won with the help of celebrity quarterbacks, including Katy’s own Andy Dalton. Houston Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel played for Team Flutie and was a local favorite.
Saturday evening, Sandy and I took our boys Luke and Colton – who are most decidedly not sports fans – to Discovery Green for Super Bowl Live. Sandy was working her last volunteer shift and I was covering the activities for the paper. Just moments after the boys and I got in, they closed access to Super Bowl Live because attendance was at capacity. With the gates closed, Sandy and her crew got moved into the NFL Experience where she spent the evening shagging footballs in one of the passing competitions.
I sent the boys to find food while I shot photos at the NFL Experience. I then went out to join them at Discovery Green. When ZZ Top took the main stage, I shot a few pictures and then left with the boys to explore other parts of the venue. It was much less crowded with the masses gathering around the stage for the concert.
I had originally planned to cover the Taylor Swift concert at the portable Club Nomadic that night, but opted instead to turn down my pass and spend the time with my family. It was a good call. By the time we got home that evening, we were sore, tired but still buzzing from all the fun activity.
On Sunday, we were pretty much vegetables on the couch watching the game. It was interesting seeing players and coaches who I had seen and photographed in person just days before playing in a venue where I had photographed 10 home games for the Houston Texans. It gave me kind of an insider’s feel even though I was way outside the game. As the lopsided game wore on, I had a funny feeling the Falcons 28-9 lead going into the fourth quarter wasn’t a lock. Sure enough, Tom Brady and the Patriots rallied back to tie the game and send it into overtime for the first time in Super Bowl history. They won it on the opening drive of OT 34-28.
It was an exiting end to an exciting game that capped an exiting adventure for Houston. Next up is Minneapolis. It will be interesting to see if the Twin Cities can come close to matching Houston’s super spectacular. The bar was set really high, which is something Houstonians can be really proud of.