Sunday, February 1, 2015
THE COMEDY OF COVERING SUPER BOWL XXXIX
I was there covering the New England Patriots when they beat the Philadelphia Eagles to
capture their third Super Bowl title in four years. It was Febuary 6, 2005 in Jacksonville,
Florida. It's hard to believe it's been 12 years already, but for me it still seems just like
I imagine it will be like that every year the Super Bowl is played, not because I can
say it was a thrill to be at one, but for the monumental clusterbuck it turned out to be
in terms of covering it.
Working for NESN at the time, I was the Patriots beat reporter for the network and
to this day it was the greatest assignment I've had in sports television. I was there
from the first day of training camp through Super Bowl Sunday covering every practice
and every game. Every day was like Christmas--I mean, really, to get paid to cover a
franchise like the Patriots? It really doesn't get much better than that.
It was a privilege and an honor to work for NESN and be in Jacksonville to see if
the Patriots could win back-to-back Super Bowls and third in a four-year period. I
thought it was going to be one of the highlights of my career, instead it turned into
a night of comedy.
When I arrived with the rest of the NESN crew to check in for the game, I discovered
I didn't have the bib required to get on the field after the game was over. All the
photographers had one and so did Tom Caron, who was sent to cover the Philadelphia
Eagles for NESN. I had covered every practice and every game at home and on the road,
and now I'm not going to be on the field after the game? Great.
Our assignment editor got a post-game field credential for everyone except me.
Ooops, hello, McFly! How did you forget to get one for the beat reporter of the
team? The rest of the crew looked at me with sympathy but were saying to themselves,
"Hey, man, that's too bad, I feel for you. But this is the freakin' Super Bowl. I'm not
giving up my pass even though you're the one most deserving to be there after the
game. Good luck."
That wasn't a great way to start the day and it pretty much set the tone for the rest of
the night. Yep, things went from bad to worse--way worse.
I spent so much time on the phone with the crew back in Boston trying to figure out
why I didn't have a post-game pass, I missed a good portion of the first half. Then I
was instructed to leave my seat with about five minutes to go in the game to meet our
analyst, Tim Fox, a former Patriot turned broadcaster.
We were to tape a segment somewhere amongst 80,000 people. Yeah, have you ever
tried to find someone at the end of a Super Bowl game to tape a segment about the
game that wasn't even over yet? It was like trying to dodge cars on the backstretch of the
Daytona 500. Total nightmare.
Because our executive producer, Jeff Schneider, made the decision to pass on going "live"
after the game, we had to do "live-to-tape", which is just a way to saying to our audience,
"This is not live but we are hoping that you believe that it is."
Seriously, every station in not only Boston but in small markets across New England
were "live" on the field after the game. I mean, it was the Super Bowl, after all. Most
executive producers would see it as the biggest event of the year, especially when the
team you've been covering all year is in it. Not exactly rocket-science figuring that out.
After I missed the last five minutes of the game to tape the post-game segment with
Fox, I made the decision to try to find a way to get on the field for the Lombardi Trophy
presentation. Hell, I had come all that way and busted my tail for seven months, there
was no way I was going to be on the outside looking in.
I was asking everybody and anybody if they knew where I could find a bib. One person
told me there was a media trailer in one of the lots outside the stadium. That's all I needed
to hear. I went back outside the stadium and after going through the maze like a mouse
looking for the cheese, I found the cheddar jack.
There was one guy in the media trailer and I told him I needed a bib to get on the field.
I showed him my credentials but he could only see the sweat on my forehead and the
stains on my shirt.
"Yeah, I just happened to have one left," the man said.
I was elated. "Well, can I please have it?", I asked.
He just looked at me and stayed silent.
"Oh, Christ," I said to myself, the guy wants to be greased.
I looked in my wallet and said, "Here's $42, it's all I got."
He gave me the bib and I shot out of the trailer like Usain Bolt on crack. The
Patriots and the entire media world were already on the field celebrating. I needed to
I found my photographer, Chris Del Dotto, amidst the mayhem, and we started
interviewing the players in all their glory. The emotion and elation on the their faces
was priceless. Heck, even Corey Dillon, who didn't smile his entire life before
that night, had a mile-wide grin on his mug.
We had hired a 'runner' to come get the tapes, take them to the truck and feed them
back to NESN in Boston. Because Schneider chose not to go 'live' for the post-game
festivities, this is what we had to do.
After giving the 'runner' the first batch of interviews, he went M.I.A. I called him
on his cell phone, but it always went straight to voicemail. It was another 'WTF?
this can't be happening', moment.
Here we are at the biggest event in the country and I can't find the guy
who is supposed to feed all the interviews back to the station.
So, I had to go into a full-out 800 yard sprint to the satellite truck where the guy
was supposed to be feeding the interviews back to Boston. I was 40 years old at
the time and in decent shape, but sprinting nearly 800 yards up and back couldn't
be good for the heart. But that's what I did. Our 'runner', who was supposed to feed
the tapes back raw, decided to edit the interviews individually and send them back.
I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs.
Editing the interviews slows down the process by at least 30 minutes, and because
we weren't actually live, time was certainly a factor. So, I had to run back to the field,
get more interviews, then haul ass back to the satellite truck. Insane. I thought for
sure I was going to have a heart attack right there on field. I could see the headlines:
NESN REPORTER DIES WHILE DOING 800-YARD SPRINTS AT SUPER BOWL.
I know what you're thinking: "Paul, it can't get much worse than that." Wrong. It got
I had tracked down Dillon just as he was walking into the locker room. I had developed
a solid working relationship with the malcontent running back and he agreed to do a
one-on-one interview. It was a pretty big 'get' because Dillon rarely did interviews. He
was Marshawn Lynch before his time. Instead of saying, "I'm here so I won't get fined,"
Dillon would just give reporters a dirty look and say, "get the f%k out of here," and
most reporters would scatter away.
After getting the Dillon interview, I went into the Patriots locker room and was shocked
to see nobody was popping champagne and showering everybody with it. They do it in
baseball, basketball, and hockey, but not football. I came upon Dan Koppen, Lonnie
Paxton, and Matt Light, three lineman on the team, who I was close with, and they were
just exhausted and too spent to celebrate. The party came after at the team's hotel.
I had to make one last run to the satellite truck to feed the tapes. I was as spent as the
players so that sprint turned into a slow jog. I made my way past all the stations from
New England who were still on the air "live". I said to myself, "Something about this
picture just ain't right. I'm sprinting to a truck sweating my inflated balls off and
they're all sitting comfortably in chairs."
I got back to the satellite truck to feed the rest of my interviews, including the one
with the mercurial Cory Dillon, back to Boston. I thought we had done a pretty good
job covering the Patriots celebration despite not being 'live'. I paid $42 out of my
own pocket to get a bib, soiled my shirt with sweat, and got a great work out in
at the same time.
I loved my job and if that was the price to pay, so be it. I love the fight, the struggle,
and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. But I didn't expect what came next.
While I was talking to the producer about the material I was sending back, the rest
of the crew told me they were catching the last bus back to the hotel. I told them
to go on ahead as I had more material to send down. It was no big deal to me even
though it was past 1:30 a.m. at the time. I didn't work by a clock and I'd find a ride
back to the hotel somehow, someway.
While I was talking to the producer, Schneider got on the phone and started screaming
at the top of his lungs, "Where is my f*$king side-baaaaaaaaaaahr?!" He was originally
from Queens and had that deep New York accent. "Where is my f#%king side-baaaaaahr?!!!",
he screamed again.
I had been in the business a long time and have never heard anything like this. Total
maniac. The show had already ended, all the tapes were in and used, and he's screaming
at me for a sidebar package.
"Shirley, you can't be serious", I said to myself. "Jeff, the show is over, the rest of
the crew left. How am I to shoot a stand-up by myself and with no camera? Did you
tell me you wanted a sidebar? Nope. You had two weeks to tell me and nothing."
He continued to go rant, "Where is my side-baaaaaaaahr? Where is my side-baaaahr?"
and then he hung up.
And then I walked back to the hotel. Three miles. Pitch black. In Jacksonville, Florida.
Anywhere in Florida is not exactly safe at 3:30 a.m. which is the time I made it back
to the hotel.
Yep, that was the extent of covering the Super Bowl. As bad as it turned out, I still
loved every minute of it. I chalk it down to a great and challenging experience and, at
the very least, I got a great story out of it.
As for Schneider, I never saw him again.
When I returned to work, he was gone. He got that big 'ole pink slip after that night. I
never heard from him again.