TULSA - For the second consecutive year my colleague Johnny Thomason, JT, and I were headed to the Super Bowl.
Grizzled veterans we were. Covering Super Bowl XXVII went well enough, so there shouldn't be any problems this time around.
I would regret feeling overly confident.
It eventually turned out well, but there were some anxious moments leading up to the game. Take this one on for size. We almost went to the game without a camera, thanks to your reporter on this assignment, me.
We were on a roll. We had covered the Dallas Cowboys like a blanket the season before, all the way to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, and the Super Bowl victory for the Cowboys. Boss was happy, made money for the station with sponsorships, the whole nine yards. We were going to knock 'em dead this time around.
The season started out innocently enough, making it through the regular season without a hitch, and the playoffs too! Not much travel involved. Dallas won both playoff games at home, setting us up for a trip to Atlanta, and Super Bowl XXVIII.
Johnny Thomason and I took off for the game on the Monday before. The flight was okay, but we had the hardest time finding the hotel. As it turned out, it was not quite in Atlanta. Oh, just about 48 miles or so out of town.
No GPS back then, so we had to rely on maps and instincts. Three hours later, we found it. It was not a pretty place. Not to complain because the company was paying for the accommodations, but this was not Atlanta's finest. Far from it. But that's okay, we weren't going to spend much time in the rooms, although when we did ask the maid for more towels, she had to spit out her tobacco before she could answer, "I don't have none right now." No more towels it is.
The pregame talk was nothing to write home about. We did get a few rematch stories, and it was good to get more from Thurman Thomas this time around. Still, you could tell the Bills were still a little uptight. Last year's blowout loss to Dallas really hurt, and maybe they were hoping this game wouldn't be the same.
Time to pick up credentials.
After going through last year's anxiety over the press passes , I was more confident this time around that there would be no problem.
On Tuesday, we went to pick them up from NFL headquarters, but they weren't in yet.
Everybody else in line was getting their credentials, but they don't have ours. I'm told since we were with the Dallas contingent, maybe the credentials were still with Cowboys personnel. Ok, we'll come back tomorrow.
Next day, still no credentials, and it's Wednesday. So now I am hyper-ventilating. The representative seemed to feel sorry for me, so he gave us temporary press conference passes, but no game credentials just yet. Still, I am worried.
Lucky me, I ran in to a guy I knew in Tulsa, who was the public relations man for the old Tulsa Roughnecks, who is now in the same capacity with the Miami Dolphins. His name is Chip Namias. We are both big Yankee fans, so we started chatting, and finally I ask him for some help. Could he look into the press credential issue for us. He says okay, but adds, "If you haven't gotten them by now, you may not have been granted credentials." Thanks friend.
Meanwhile, JT and I continued our pre-game stories, working with the NBC News affiliates division for satellite feeds and editing equipment and so on. But I had a very hard time concentrating without the mighty press pass.
So now it's Friday night. The biggest night for Super Bowl parties for NFL folks, and I was on a search for my Roughneck buddy. He said he had forgotten to ask, but will do so first thing Saturday morning. Ouch. No parties for Al and JT.
Saturday morning, at exactly 6:30 a.m., I was at the NFL headquarters in the Atlanta hotel, begging for help. About an hour later officials started to trickle in, a bit hung-over I imagined.
I got the "go to this guy" who sends me to this guy, who sends me to another guy. Finally, a familiar face!
I had worked in Green Bay for four years, and ran into the Packers public relations man, Lee Remmel. Good ol' Lee. He made the necessary phone calls, got the okay from the NFL to give us our credentials, and we were in! I jump for joy - literally. JT is thankful too.
As it turned out, that would be the least of our troubles.
Early Sunday morning, in the parking lot of our towel-depleted hotel, we loaded up our camera and gear to go to the Atlanta dome. I laid the camera down on the hood of the car to grab another case when I heard a crunch. I looked back, and the camera was laying on the asphalt.
The lens on the camera is loose. JT tried to calm me down. He got out his repair kit and tried to engage the lens back on the camera. He tried and tried and tried to make it work, but no dice. It's now 9 a.m. Game time is 4 p.m. and I've just ruined our camera that we need for our Super Bowl coverage!
We called our news director. He was not happy, but put that aside and looked up possible camera lens dealers
Holy Cow! He found one. On the other side of Atlanta, but he found one.
We jumped in the car and took off for the dealer, to rent a lens for the day. How much was the rental? $1,400! This guy knew a good deal when he saw one - Tulsa news crew out of town. Super Bowl to cover. This is going to cost them. $1,400 for a lens rental for one day!
Needless to say, we took the deal, we had our lens, and I was not in a good mood.
Finally, we got to the game, got inside, and unlike the Rose Bowl Super Bowl, only one person per station on the sidelines. So my friend John Walls and I headed up to our Press Box seats.
We followed the directions - up one escalator, and up another, and then the escalator to the upper deck, corner of the end zone, row Q.
A temporary press box. You know you are high when there are mini-binoculars on each seat. Remember, this is row Q of the upper deck in the corner of the end zone. At this point I really don"t care because of what happened with our camera. At least we were still working.
I admit though, John and I were mumbling over our seats, but felt a whole lot better when we saw Chris Berman, Chris Fowler, Chris Mortenson and Andrea Kramer walk past us heading to row U. ESPN sitting behind us. John and I looked at each other, high fived, and smiled the rest of the day. Life isn't so bad after all.
Game over, Dallas wins, post game goes well. This time we do get the one on one with Troy Aikman. Another Super Bowl is in the books. Story for Sunday got back okay. Monday stories got back okay too, a huge sigh of relief.
We got up early Monday morning to return the rented lens, in one piece. The dealer checked and double checked that lens, knowing he had rented his property to some idiot who was stupid enough to put the camera on the hood of a car and let it drop to the asphalt.
When we got back, I went in to our news director with a sheepish feeling, and apologized for my stupidity. Not only did it cost us a fortune to rent the lens, we would have to replace the one for our camera.
i am expecting some sort of suspension, or cut from my paycheck, something.
All my boss said was, "Hey JT good job, hey Al good job. But one thing. Al, let JT carry the camera from now on. In particular, around news cars and asphalt parking lots."
You got it boss, as I hoped for another Super Bowl to cover.