TAMPA, Fla. — One thing I have enjoyed during my career in newspapers is helping out the sports staff on a Friday night or weekends.
Right out of college, I was thrown into a sports editor position for two years before making the move across the room into “city side.” The amount of work they produce in a week during a high school season is staggering.
The hours are late, which is why each November the sports guys chuckle when the newsroom orders pizza because we have to work into the early morning on Election Day.
But the reward is the countless letters, handwritten and emailed from parents, grandparents and, later in life, the athletes. Or the amount of times you are stopped in a store and thanked. The opposite happens to city side reporters!
During my early years, I was able to cover the Super Bowl, and it just didn’t feel like a game. First the trick was getting there. I was covering the Buffalo Bills, and they were playing the Dallas Cowboys in Atlanta in 1994. My publisher, Oak Duke, handed me $97 from his wallet as the now-defunct corporation did not provide money to send anyone to the game.
My father, who passed away a few years later of cancer, showed up at my door and said he was driving me to Atlanta from Buffalo. He had my brother in tow. They both worked at Xerox, and this would be their weekend. He also didn’t want me to miss out on the opportunity.
The newspaper in 1994 only had larger word processors, so I borrowed an IBS laptop from a local school that felt like it weighed 40 pounds. I was able to hook it up to a printer in the media room and then fax my stories back to the paper. Other papers were actually dictating from a notepad to hit deadlines.
I remember being impressed with the credentials in 1994. Instead of the normal construction paper with the logo of the NFL and the team, there was a holographic sticker. When you moved it, you could see the colors of the rainbow. This was high-tech stuff in the early 1990s!
When I arrived in Tampa this week, I had to pull up in my car, turn it off and an FBI agent and a bomb-sniffing dog went around it. There were five other FBI and local deputies there. A metal gate then folded down to a long speed bump, and I could proceed into the parking garage.
To get into the convention center, I had to digitally fill out a health screening, get my temperature checked and then go through an airport security-type terminal where bags were scanned and you go through a body screening.
Finally, when you get the credential, you have to scan it, and your face comes up. This allowed me to get into a media workroom to type this column with a bottle of water.
I remember back to that Super Bowl in Atlanta. Unless my father was mowing the lawn, fixing a car or appliance or watching NASCAR, he wore the same thing ... slacks and the same work shirt he wore to Xerox.
While fans were dressed up in Atlanta, he looked like your friendly neighborhood IT guy. As a result, doormen let him into every single event, including the NFL Players Association Party, where he impressed Marcus Allen with his tips on how to bypass the button on a copy machine and make multiple copies at once.
When he came to pick me up after the game, he somehow got into the media workroom. I asked how. The security guard assumed he was there to service the copy machine.
As you have probably witnessed in the past, there is also the circus called media day. It’s held during the week, and most of the media who attend are not the same media members who cover a game — a lot of entertainment sites and a lot of wild questions.
It takes a lot of time, but for players in their first Super Bowl, it’s an amazing sightto see. Kids ask questions and different people dress up and become part of the show. This year, it was done over the computer. But a few kids did get to ask questions, which is always cute.
I feel bad for the host city, Tampa, as a Super Bowl is usually a revenue boost to the city, but with 24,000 fans and no major events, it’s a quiet city. Then again, I feel bad for every city and business in America — we are all in this together.
It’s so peaceful working, but I must admit, I miss the spectacle. And I miss making memories with my father.
John Anderson is the regional editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph and Longview News-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.