Sneak Peek into Big Game Bigger Impact

The Preface from Big Game Bigger Impact provides you with a fly-on-the-wall view of what it's like inside an NFL bid presentation


May 21, 2013. Boston Long Wharf Marriott.

Months of planning and preparing had all come down to this moment, and no one had any idea what was going to happen next.

Together, we sat in a windowless conference room that served as our holding pen while the big show went on in the Grand Ballroom. Twenty-four hours of practice and pulling it together—both the presentation and our nerves—were now over, and all we could do was wait for a signal from NFL officials. Who was going to win the opportunity to host the 50th or 51st Super Bowl was anyone’s guess.

Our on-the-ground team included San Francisco Bid Committee Chair Daniel Lurie and bid coordinator Danielle DeLancey, Steve Van Dorn of the Santa Clara Convention & Visitor’s Bureau, Michael Crain and Luke Dillon from ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, SF Travel head honcho Joe D’Alessandro and me. My role was to secure the corporate backing that would show our region’s commitment to hosting a Super Bowl. Thanks to a few of our region’s business leaders and an assist from legendary Silicon Valley advisor, coach and my good friend Bill Campbell, we were coming to the table with about $30 million in pledges.

Our group—the San Francisco Bid Committee—had the hope of bringing the 50th Super Bowl home, but truthfully, we would have been happy with either game. The Super Bowl hadn’t been in the Bay Area since the “dark ages” of 1985 when it was held at the old Stanford Stadium. It’s been said that legendary NFL owner Lamar Hunt—the man who coined the term “Super Bowl”—got splinters in his backside from the stadium’s wooden bench seats and muttered to his wife: “we are never coming back here!” And never back had the Super Bowl come.

Hours earlier, we were shown to our war room, which was sandwiched in between our two more experienced competitors, South Florida and Houston. We were up against South Florida for Super Bowl L, and the loser of the first round would go up against Houston for Super Bowl LI. We had the opportunity to win one, or none.

The experience and confidence of the Houston and South Florida bid teams were obvious from the onset. In the hallway outside our war rooms was extensive catering for both cities, both of which had hosted Super Bowls in the past decade. We had a tray of water and soft drinks. We didn’t have the money to afford much more and, frankly, we were too nervous to eat.

We set up our room with a few tourism posters and our bid logo that featured the Golden Gate Bridge as football goal posts. We also had a 49ers helmet for decoration, which provided us with some comic relief as the waiting dragged on. Fortunately, the photos of me with that helmet on haven’t made the light of day yet.

To our mild horror, there was one consistent feature in all the rooms: NFL Network cameras and sound equipment, set up to capture each group’s reaction to who had won and who had lost. Looking at the cameras, I thought to myself: “How cool is this?” It was a reminder that what we were doing was important enough to be on live television. But it was also a reminder that if we screwed this up, it would be there for the world to see. This moment really meant something to the many people back home who helped us get to this point. We tried not to think about it as we tweaked and practiced our final pitch. The NFL production team assured us that there was a few seconds’ delay, and content would be sanitized of any expletives before going on the air.   

Earlier in the day, we got the opportunity to practice in the actual ballroom where we would do our final presentation. The room was set with two long tables running perpendicular to the presentation stage. These tables were really long because we were presenting to not only the 32 club owners, but also their representatives and League officials; several hundred high-backed black leather swivel chairs lined each side. Commissioner Roger Goodell and senior NFL officials would be seated at a long dais at the front of the room. The two massive video screens above the stage and assorted monitors scattered throughout the room provided the only light, while dozens of cameras were strategically placed to capture absolutely everything.

About 30 minutes prior to our presentation, we were led into a staging area just outside the ballroom. The South Florida delegation was up first, and we could hear the high points of their presentation punctuated with music and deep bass through the walls. Suddenly, the doors opened and five of us—Daniel, Joe, Steve, Danielle and I—were ushered into the room.

It was an intimidating scene to say the least. Pitch-black except for the monitors, you could sense the weightiness of the moment in the room. Several hundred of the wealthiest people in the world were staring back at us, in complete silence. I felt like we were about to elect a new Pope.

All we could do now was watch and listen as Daniel and Joe made our case for a San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl. Months of preparation had come down to a 15-minute pitch. As the guys finished, we stared across the giant room that was now deafeningly silent; our presentation didn’t receive a single reaction. Were we any good? Did we blow it? We had no way to know as NFL officials led us back to our war room.

Once inside, we hugged each other, and then just sat and waited. Finally, we got word that Houston had finished their presentation, a moment that triggered the monitors in our room to come alive and show us the view from the ballroom. As our phones buzzed with well wishes, we sat and watched the voting unfold right before our eyes.  

After a very short time, we were notified the owners had reached a decision. There was no more time left to wait, so we just stared at the monitors in the room and watched as a League official passed a slip of paper to the Commissioner on the dais. Commissioner Goodell cleared his throat and began to read into the microphone. “It gives me great pleasure to announce that the 50th Super Bowl, Super Bowl L, is awarded to…San Francisco.” 

We burst into cheers and leapt in the air, hugging and high-fiving, completely forgetting that all our movements were being broadcast on live television. Our mobile phones literally exploded with texts, tweets, emails and calls. Next door, the NFL Network broadcasted the silence in the South Florida war room. The thrill of victory and agony of defeat, side by side, in real-time.

The door suddenly swung open, and Commissioner Goodell and 49ers CEO Jed York strode in with NFL vice president of special events Frank Supovitz, all smiles, handshakes and hugs. Somebody opened a bottle of champagne. Don Lockerbie, a member of the South Florida delegation and a friend from my days with the San Francisco Giants, walked in with two bottles of wine for us to toast our victory. It was a classy move. They still had hopes of being awarded the 51st Super Bowl, so we wished them well.

We were then asked to meet with members of the press who were waiting down the hall to report the verdict. It was fun to share the excitement of the moment with the national and Bay Area reporters in attendance as celebrations were already happening back home.

Soon we learned Houston had been awarded the 51st game, so we made our way next door to hug and congratulate them as well. The South Florida green room was now empty except for the catering set-up in the hall; they were already making their way home after being shut out.

The next morning, waiting for our Virgin America flight back to San Francisco, the reality began to sink in. We had just been awarded a Super Bowl, and not just any Super Bowl. The 50th Super Bowl. The National Football League’s Golden Anniversary. The biggest Super Bowl the NFL has ever celebrated. Now, we actually had to make it happen.

Holy shit.