By Sterling Pingree
There are things that you just never think that you’ll ever get to do in life. Things that you never think that you’ll ever have the good fortune (or the fortune to spend) on getting to experience something that is so far out of your own understanding that it’s unfathomable. We put these things on our bucket lists and life time ambitions as things that we’ll do someday. As a lifelong sports fanatic there is truly nothing more momentous than the Super Bowl and for someone who goes to 3-4 Patriots games a year and travels for road games, the Super Bowl is holiest of holy grails. This year, I lived a dream, I attended Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on Sunday and for the last week I’ve been asked 1,000 times what it was like being there in person. I think I have the answers.
The entire weekend of the Super Bowl is a monstrous celebration of the game, and not just the game on Sunday but the sport of football itself. You can hardly walk down the street (or watch an Imagine Dragons concert) without running into a hall of famer. There are parties everywhere, celebrations and rallies, if you see someone you think you recognize then the answer is probably “Yes, that is definitely Adam Schefter walking through that hotel lobby.” Because of course it is. It’s all like a commercial NFL Network would do, except this was real life, or as real life as you can get during Super Bowl week.
Atlanta was a tremendous host city, from the welcoming committees at the airport to the people in matching jackets traveling in packs to help people all over the city, the hospitality of Atlanta was top notch. You could feel a sense of pride in the city and that this was a third chance for Atlanta to get it right. ATL hosted Super Bowl 28 and things went fine, but in 2000 they hosted Super Bowl 34 between the Titans and Rams. There were two ice storms and Ray Lewis might’ve killed someone and the NFL has been trying to get rid of that taste in their mouth ever since. With the sparkling new Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta has gotten another chance and from the Super Bowl veterans that I spoke with, they knocked it out of the park. Everything was within walking distance, which is the biggest plus. (The temperatures also weren’t -20 like they were last year in Minneapolis.)
The game is the definition of a surreal experience, you’re right up close to the action and it does truly feel different. The crowd has a different energy, atleast this one did because for the first time ever, there was a home team in the Super Bowl. No team has ever played in their home stadium for the big game, but on Sunday night that dome in Atlanta, much like everything in Patriot place, belonged to Robert Kraft’s Patriots. Estimates said before the game that due to secondary market ticket sales, experts believed that the crowd would be about 80% Patriots fans and that was probably a conservative estimate. Darren Rovell tweeted that this had the feel of how the Chicago Bulls’ fans stopped traveling during the middle of Jordan’s run but showed up big during his final title in Utah. There was a feeling surrounding the weekend was like a Rolling Stones song:
Well this could be the last time
This could be the last time
Maybe the last time
I don’t know
An analogy I used many times this week to describe what it’s like to go to the Super Bowl is this. It’s like abandoning your traditions at Christmas and going to the Bahamas on Christmas morning. You do your shopping, watch Diehard, decorate your house, hang the stockings and then when it’s time to open your presents and gather around the tree, you hop on a plane and soon you’re sitting on the most beautiful beach in the world instead. This isn’t to say there is anything wrong at all with sitting on the beach, it’s just a switch in traditions because of how we condition ourselves that at certain times of the year we are accustomed to doing things that we always do. The anticipation and preparation is the same, but the payoff is so much greater than you can ever imagine. (Though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder what my buddy Sam’s wife, Kara, had cooked up for the big game. Kara has won almost as many Super Bowl MVPs as Tom Brady.)
The trip was expensive, I took two days off of work. I didn’t sleep at all after the game as I traveled back to Maine and went directly to the Greenway Equipment Studios to chat with the fellas on The Drive. And I don’t regret anything. I was there. For Gronk’s catch, I was there. For Gilmore’s pick, I was there. For Julian Edelman’s MVP, I was there. For Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s 6th Super Bowl, I was there. No matter what happens in the personal history of Sterling Pingree, attended Super Bowl LIII will be one of my top accomplishments. I’ve attended a lot of games, concerts and shows but this is the first event I feel was an accomplishment.
You know the old saying, the one that declares something to be “the icing on the cake”? Well, going to the Super Bowl was like the most beautiful cake you’ve ever seen. The Patriots playing in that game was the sweetest (but not too sweet) icing you’ve ever tasted. The Patriots WINNING the Super Bowl in my presence is the greatest ice cream you’ve ever had and it’s never melts and it never runs out. (I’m not talking about Dippin’ Dots either.)
There will be a big ceremony in September when the new banner is raised at Gillette Stadium. And I’ll always be able to look up on that façade and say “That one, 53, that’s mine. I was there.”
A very special thanks to John Beaupre, Mike Runser and his entire clan: Erica, Alex and Bridget. I can never thank you enough.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.