Super Bowl Hot Dog
“Hey Lou, let’s go to the Super Bowl!” I remember uttering those words into my clunky cell phone early in the 4th Quarter of the 2004-05 AFC Championship game as the Patriots took a 3 touchdown lead over the Steelers. Lou Rettman operated a baseball facility that was home to the New England Navigators AAU baseball program where I had been coaching for several years. We’d become friends through our baseball interactions, but my call and declaration was more of a rhetorical one, borne out of exuberance, so I was shocked when Lou quickly responded with a definitive yes. We had no tickets, no air or hotel reservations and I wasn’t in a position to fork over $3,000, which was the going rate for scalped tickets. But somehow, we quickly put together a plan and sure enough, we were headed to Jacksonville for Super Bowl XXXIX at Alltel Stadium (Now EverBank Stadium). Awesome…except for one thing, we didn’t have tickets.
Fast forward to game day. We were up early and headed to Alltel Stadium. We parked near the stadium and began our hunt for tickets. I only had a total of $1,000 to spend for food, drink and tickets over the 3 days, so I had been eating like a bird in order to maximize my bankroll for tickets. We strolled around the streets and parking lots around the stadium, soaking in the atmosphere. Eagle’s fans seemingly outnumbered Patriot’s fans by a 10-1 margin. We were harassed, pelted with insults, beer, half eaten egg sandwiches and even hard candy. Even Yankee fans know better…(EDITORS NOTE: We threw batteries at Ken Griffey Jr… No we don’t!) you don’t waste beer on a Boston fan!!!! As we wandered around the lots we found plenty of ticket scalpers, but the cheapest price we came across that morning was $3,600! Yikes!
At one point we walked by a bar called the Tailgate Bar, just outside of the north end zone that was swarming with Eagles fans. There was a group of Eagles fans, perched up on the upper deck with a bunch of those palm-sized footballs. A couple of them were having a good ole time trying to pick off unsuspecting Patriot fans by firing the little footballs at their heads as they passed by. Of course just had to taunt them, hoping they’d fire some at me. I dodged a few and caught one or two as I laughed at them. They were getting more & more pissed as they fired and missed. They finally laid off me when I cockily made a one-handed catch behind my back, followed by a disrespectful reverse spike. It’s not that I am really that cocky, but after watching them prey on innocent passerby’s, I just had to try to get the best of them! Mission accomplished!
By noon, Lou and his friends were disappointed with the lack of ticket success and decided to go back to hole up at the Tailgate Bar for a drink or 10. As we walked in, we were surprised that, despite how crowded it was, there was an open table right in front of their largest TV so we grabbed it. Over the next several hours, I made several “runs” to search for tickets. Still no luck. The average price per ticket was still over $3,000 and way out of our range. But I was determined. Finally, about an hour before kickoff, I got up from the table and asked them if they wanted to come look for tickets with me. Lou shook his head and laughed, “I’ve got a big screen TV right in front of me & I have waitress service, I’m not moving!” They’d given up, but I was not willing give up after coming all that way. One of Lou’s friends shook his head in amazement and asked, “Boy, you are really determined to get in, aren’t you?” Of course I was & my response was quick, confident and incredibly ironic, “EVEN IF I HAVE TO SELL HOTDOGS TO GET IN, I AM GETTING INTO THIS GAME!” With that, I turned and headed out for one last try.
I made one last sweep, heading along the east side of the stadium towards the south endzone. Still no luck as my $700 plus sat lonely in my pocket. I heard a roar from the crowd and then I heard the muffled echo of Alicia Keyes singing “America the Beautiful” followed by a (military) choir singing the National Anthem. I had turned the corner near the southern endzone, as the booming roar of military flyover sent sonic shockwaves through the air, the earth and my heart. Reality was setting in. It was nearly game time and my chances were dwindling fast, but, as an eternal optimist I still held out hope that I could find a reasonable ticket, once the game began.
That road behind that endzone was divided by ‘jersey barriers to accommodate the flow of fans on the inside and flow of vehicles to the outside. I found a spot where I could see the top two-thirds of the jumbotron when I stood on one of the jersey barriers. I watched the kickoff from my perch as hopes continued to fade. A few plays later, as Donovan McNabb fumbled the ball, (later overturned), I felt a tug on my pant leg. ‘Damn,’ I thought, it’s probably a policeman who wants me to step off the barrier. I looked down and saw a young guy, early to mid 20’s instead. “How much ya looking to pay for tickets?” he asked. Hopes rose! I thought carefully (for once) and responded, “Well, the game has started, so a few hundred bucks maybe,” I said, almost in the form of a question. The guy proceeded to tell me that he had been working as a vendor inside the stadium, but was also a bartender at a bar at “The Landing” which was Jacksonville’s festival-like marketplace and a “hopping” place to be if you weren’t at the game. He explained that expected to make over $1,000 bartending that night and that he’d ‘sell me’ his vendor shirt and credentials for a couple hundred dollars. SCORE!!!!
I was a little skeptical about getting through security, after all, it was post 9/11, so I handed him $100 and told him I would ‘palm ‘ him the rest if I felt like I was going to waltz through the first security gate. I had pulled on the polo shirt, 2 sizes too small by the way, and pulled my windbreaker over it, leaving it unzipped enough to showcase my flashy new teal vendor shirt. As we got to the gate, I saw several vendors in line ahead of me. My heart raced as I watched them flash their credentials and swiftly passed through security. I stealthily palmed the ‘bartender’ the rest of his money and got into line. Five minutes later, I was in the stadium watching the Super Bowl in a damn hotdog vendor uniform! Even I could NOT believe my own prophetic freakin’ irony!
Notice the guy on far right just after slinging a mini-football
The game was tense and ultimately went the Patriot’s way as they held on to with their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, 24-21. I soaked it all in, staying through the post-game ceremony before my attention turned to my friends back at the Tailgate Bar, who I ‘d hoped had not left me stranded. I picked up my pace as I bounded out of the stadium, eager to tell Lou and his buddies my incredible story. I thought to myself, “damn, they will NEVER believe this!” As I strolled into the Tailgate Bar, Lou and his friends looked up and just stared at me. “You got into the game, didn’t you?” Lou asked in disbelief. I was bursting at the seams, smiling from ear to ear as I ripped open my jacket to reveal my vendor uniform and credentials hanging from a lanyard around my neck that read “STADIUM OPERATIONS” with “Concessions” underneath. Lou nearly fell off of his chair, literally.
“Hey getcha hotdawgs heyah!”
All 3 sat there, mouths wide open, not believing what they were seeing. “Noooo!” exclaimed Lou in a loud booming voice, “Tell me you didn’t; If you sold #%&<@# hotdogs to get into that game, I will dance naked on this table right #^$%*$# now!”(Luckily, we never had to see that). As Lou boomed in amazement, people curiously started coming over to see what the commotion was all about and soon the story quickly got around the bar. Random people began coming over, excitedly patting me on the back & asking to hear the details, some offering to buy me a beer. I think I had to retell that story 6 or 7 times as people kept calling over their friends so they could hear the story, too.
Hard at work!
As we were heading out, Lou must have remembered that we had decided to spend the following day at Disney World because stopped in his tracks and asked, “Hey, you aren’t going to dress as a Mickey Mouse character to get into Disney are you?” “Don’t tempt me Lou, don’t tempt me…”
Tell Jimmy Derochea what you think:
Jim also went to Super Bowl XX without tickets and ended up sitting in the upper tier, 50-yard line…for free!