That time in Atlanta at the Super Bowl
As a Boston video production company with ties in the sports world, I've been fortunate enough to have some great memories working in connection with the NFL's "big game" (by the way isn't it great how you can always tell who is an official NFL sponsor and who isn't? If they're calling it the "big game", they didn't pay the NFL piper). Here is one of my favorite Super Bowl related stories from 25 (25!) years ago.
January 30, 1994. It was the first Super Bowl ever in Atlanta, at the one year old Georgia Dome. It is amazing to me that a building that cost almost 250 million dollars lasted less than 25 years from opening to demolition, but that's another story. The game was a rematch between the Dallas Cowboys and the Buffalo Bills, who Dallas had destroyed the year before. I was working as a video producer for Reebok, and the two biggest stars in the game, Thurman Thomas of the Bills and Emmitt Smith of the Cowboys, were both running backs and both Reebok endorsers. Reebok decided to create buzz in a way that at the time had never been done before. They decided to create a "live" commercial using footage shot during the game, edited while the game was being played, and aired in the game's closing moments. It was a high risk situation. Would they have the right footage? Would the stars play well? Could they compile all the footage in time? Keep in mind that back then, non-linear editing was in its infancy. Editing was still painstakingly done shot by shot, tape to tape. To pull it off, they would need the best football videographers on the planet, so they called on the team from NFL Films. My job would be to shadow the NFL film teams to capture the "making of" the commercial. Weeks before the game, they recorded identical voiceovers of Thurman Thomas and Emmitt Smith. They would continuously run footage back to the editing trucks as the game went on, and had two commercials being edited at the same time. In order to make the deadline, they would need to make a call as to which star they would feature sometime early in the fourth quarter. With a lot on the line and a 30 second spot bought and paid for, the mood was tense.
I showed up at the venue early that morning and got my credential. At the Super Bowl, credentials are given out depending on where you need to be-sidelines, press box, photographers row, etc. But since I was working with the NFL Films crew, when I got my pass, it said two words -ALL ACCESS. I made my way to the sideline with my Canon XL1. It was a crazy scene. Was I really on the sidelines at the Super Bowl? Is that really MC Hammer? Is that really Rush Limbaugh? Sideline reporter OJ Simpson ? (fyi his last game as a sideline reporter. He'd be riding in a white Bronco in June). After the initial shock, you begin to realize something. When you strip it all down and take away all the hype, you are just at a regular old football game, just like the ones played at high schools all over the country. It's just 100 yards, two end zones, and a bunch of really big dudes trying to march up and down the field with a ball. You might think the opposite, but when you're that close to the action, all the Super Bowl hype kind of goes away. It was a strange sensation- I was too close to the Super Bowl sun.
Finally it was time for kickoff. The Cowboys and Bills traded early field goals. Late in the first, Buffalo was driving, but Thomas fumbled, which led to another Dallas field goal. Thomas would make up for his mistake with a touchdown early in the 2nd. Buffalo would go in at halftime with a 13-6 lead.
At that moment, the call was in- the final commercial would feature Thurman Thomas. But then things got interesting. 45 seconds into the third quarter, Thomas fumbled. Again. This time Cowboys defender James Washington picked up the loose ball and ran it 46 yards to tie the score. For our crew and the commercial, this was leading to a potential worst case scenario. If the Bills won, how could Reebok feature Thomas, who had basically handed the Cowboys 10 points with his two fumbles? Everyone involved with the Reebok spot immediately became Emmitt Smith fans. Luckily, he did not disappoint. Emmitt finished the game with 132 yards and 2 Td's and was named the Super Bowl MVP. Dallas cruised to victory 31-13. The final call was made- "It's Emmitt, it's Emmitt, go. Go!' I ran out the tunnel to the editing trucks. I had one more job that I didn't really know I would have. The door opened and they handed me the final commercial. I personally ran it over to the NBC master truck. I remember saying to myself, dude, DO. NOT. TRIP. I opened the door to the NBC truck and handed over the tape. 5 minutes later, someone pressed play. That very tape I had in my hand, aired to a worldwide audience of over a billion. Super.