Hello again, everyone!
I am fully aware that I have gotten to do, and continue to do, some really cool things during my time on this planet. I’ve stood on numerous Major League fields, I’ve been on the 50-yard line at the Superdome in New Orleans, I’ve held a sideline parabolic microphone for the San Francisco 49ers radio team, and I’ve walked the streets of Havana, London, Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Florence, Rome, and four of the Hawaiian islands. But I’ve never been involved with the NCAA Football National Championship.
Elon Werner has, and just did it again a few days ago. It was a very different experience this time around, with all the Covid protocols, but it’s still the biggest game in any college football season. And Elon is here today to give us an exclusive “behind the scenes” story of his time in Miami, at Hard Rock Stadium
Quick note: If you remember Joe Robbie Stadium, the home of the Dolphins for many years, as well as the Marlins, this is the same place. But man-oh-man did they ever transform it into something that looks like an entirely new stadium.
The biggest drawback to Joe Robbie Stadium (and it’s various other names) was the fact it had no roof at all. Every seat in the stadium was exposed to the elements, which in Miami can mean everything from scorching heat to pouring rain. Rather than build a new stadium, they renovated it with a partial roof that protects the fans. The playing surface is still exposed to Mother Nature, but the fans no longer have to melt or be swamped. It’s an engineering marvel.
I’ve been there once, when I accompanied Barbara to help her support her alma mater Penn State in the Orange Bowl. That was pre-renovation, but fortunately for us it was a night game and it didn’t rain. I don’t think I’d even recognize the place now.
Here’s Elon’s story. As always, let him feel the love by clicking on the “Like” button at the bottom if you enjoyed what he wrote.
I just got home from the College Football Playoff national championship game held at the impressive Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida and I wanted to share some observations and thoughts. It was a great trip but felt bittersweet with everything going on in the world. Crowning a new college football champion was an endeavor that took a concerted effort by schools, conferences, the NCAA, television networks, bowl organizations, and the host committee, not to mention the sacrifices and dedication by the players.
I have worked five of the past six CFP national championship games and this game was the weirdest one of the bunch for obvious reasons. COVID loomed large over the entire event and its impact began even before I got to Miami. Everyone working in an official capacity had to get a negative COVID test before they could even leave to fly to the game. That was one of many advance precautions taken.
Every large public event had been canceled for this year’s game which meant no Playoff Fan Central, no concert series, no 5K and no Extra Yard for Teachers’ Summit. There were a number of virtual events created to replace many of these events and the CFP did a tremendous job of working with the local Miami area schools to promote the educational impact the game would leave behind for the community. We were also able to host a small group of state teachers of the year to highlight the program and celebrate their determination and successes.
On Friday afternoon, shortly after I arrived in Miami, I was back at the airport to coordinate photos of the Alabama Crimson Tide team arriving for the game. It was quite a production and a super-cool experience to be on the tarmac at a major international airport. We were getting minute by minute updates from the TSA reps on the ground with us, and they were very specific about where we could and couldn’t go. As the charter plane pulled up it was showered by three fire trucks which is a celebratory tradition in the aviation world. I had usually seen it done for championship winning teams upon their return to their home airports or for pilots who were retiring. I was able to let some of the media know that there was nothing wrong with the plane and there was no cause for panic.
Once the plane came to a stop and as the Alabama football team exited, led by head coach Nick Saban, you could tell they were on a business trip. There were minimal smiles and they all headed directly to their assigned buses. Some players were taking videos on their phones but for the most part they just wanted to get on the bus and get to the hotel. It was a loud and interesting new experience and a great way to get my weekend started.
My role changed, since I would not be riding herd over Playoff Fan Central. I would instead be in charge of the Beauty Shot platforms at Hard Rock Stadium. There were actually two Beauty Shot locations for this game which is unusual, but when you have South Beach as a visual element you want to take advantage of that location as well. The Beauty Shot is a location that has the stadium in the background and TV media outlets will set up for live shots for their newscasts, hence the moniker Beauty Shot.
This location is usually only busy on the morning of the national championship game, as reporters are hyping up the game with the “live from XYZ stadium where tonight’s game will be contested.” This year, without the satellite events, the Beauty Shot locations were hopping throughout the weekend. The stadium location got started at 4:30 a.m. and had media people filing stories until well after midnight following Alabama’s decisive win over Ohio State.
It was pretty much nonstop action, on those platforms.
We anticipated it being busy but we were surprised by how long the stations stayed at our location. We should have known they would spend more time on the platforms since they could not go “live” from the field prior to kick-off. Another COVID change was very limited on-field access for everyone. There was no live TV before the game, when usually there are 20-30 stations doing updates. Only 15 still photographers, down from a group of 40-50 shooters from newspapers, photo services and school representatives in the past. No non-essential people on the field at all. Without that access the TV stations did what they do, which is adapt, so they stayed up top at the Beauty Shot. It made for a long day but I knew that when I signed up for the gig. It is always funny to see people work in close quarters when they are doing live TV or taping segments. There is friendly ribbing when reporters stumble over their words and there is also sincere appreciation when a reporter wraps up a shot with a nice turn of phrase or witty salutation. All these media people are trying to be informative and entertaining usually under some pretty tough and stressful situations.
My role was to make sure things went as smoothly as possible. I helped get them set up which involved helping carry equipment up three flights of stairs to get to the platform and then assisting them with set up or trouble-shooting. We don’t provide power so I am sometimes charged with finding a location for them to keep their batteries fresh or even help them swap out batteries. I also help with stats and/or items of interest. They usually have a handful of questions about other topics of importance, like what food is being served in the press box at half-time. This year it was hamburgers, hot dogs and key lime pie for dessert. Everything was packaged individually and there were a variety of outdoor dining locations to spread people out.
Prior to kick-off we spotted a person painted green from head to toe, riding a bike with a huge Michigan State flag. He was just riding around the parking lot. This was strange for a variety of reasons, most notably was the fact that Michigan State was not represented in the national championship game. He captured everyone’s attention so I was able to get them some intel on what was going on, which they appreciated. He was a guy named Johnny Spirit who attends sporting events all over the country and he loves Michigan State. That’s the deal. He patrolled the outside of the stadium for over an hour and then I never saw him again.
I was able to head into the stadium for some of the game. The state of Florida approved a capacity of 12,500 fans for the game and the majority of the seats in Hard Rock Stadium were covered to keep people from moving or congregating too close. Even with a dramatic reduction in fans, you could still hear the passion from the Alabama and Ohio State backers. Alabama had a audible advantage but the sounds of the game were a sense of normalcy. That was about the only thing that was normal. There were no lines anywhere. An hour before kick-off, when usually thousands of people would have been milling around outside the stadium, you could walk right up to any entrance. At half-time I went out onto the concourse and there were no lines for food or the bathrooms. There were people around but not nearly enough to inconvenience anyone.
Fan creativity did show through in the wide variety of masks on display. Instead of the seven guys with A-L-A-B-A-M-A painted on their chests I saw a number of people walking in groups with R-O-L-L or T-I-D-E lettered on individual masks. I saw my share of O-H and I-O masks as well. There were Bear Bryant hounds tooth masks and masks covered in Buckeyes similar to the team’s helmets for standout players. Spirits were high even though you could tell the passion level was not at peak championship level. I think people were glad they were getting a championship game and knew that this was a season like no other.
The day after the game the host committee did a hand-off press conference to the host committee of the next year’s championship game. This is usually a physical handoff but this year we changed it up to fit the situation. We hosted a live press conference on South Beach as well as a Zoom press conference beamed back live to Indianapolis, site of the 2022 national championship game in Lucas Oil Stadium. We didn’t do a hand off but rather a Hail Mary bomb from Florida to Indiana. The folks from the Miami host committee thanked everyone for their help and much like the buckeye sticker of achievement each year the host committee ads their logo to the CFP traveling helmet. Following that ceremonial touch one of the leaders of the Miami committee threw a pass to the Indy host committee. This was an amazing feat of timing and technological coordination. It looked great on the Zoom press conference but to those in-person attendees on South Beach it just looked like a guy throwing a pass straight up into the air, which I had to chase down and catch.
It was an odd ending to an odd event. My hope for 2021 is we continue to move towards normalcy with the distribution of the COVID vaccine, continued mask wearing, and doing our best to minimize unnecessary social gatherings. I know many people might not think sporting events are necessary social gatherings but sports are a major fabric of our society. College football is a part of society that crosses generations and is filled with tradition and passion. Its historical impact on our country cannot be minimized. Presidents have played college football and looked back at those experiences as instrumental in molding them into great leaders. Watching college football on Saturday afternoons is a part of so many people’s DNA that starting and finishing this season’s college football schedule, even one that was full of uncertainty and change, was a huge deal. Congratulations to all the teams that played this year and I am already looking forward to a great event in Indy in 2022.
Thanks for reading!