This is a long story so please be prepared! Seriously.
What led to the trip
It has taken me more than a month to write this story. I’m not sure why but I imagine that if the results were different on the evening of February 6th, this would have been written hours after I returned home. This is a story about my wild, ridiculous journey to Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers. Just as a re-tread, I have been a Steelers fan since 1977, after receiving Steelers pajamas from my parents for Christmas and I was hooked. The next year they defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII and I immediately became a football junkie. I have been what you would call a die-hard fan every since and, after that, the one event that I always wanted to see would be the Steelers live at a Super Bowl.
Six years ago, Pittsburgh surprised everyone by plowing through the playoffs as the lowest seed in the tournament, all the way to the Super Bowl. The game was in Detroit, a days drive from our home at that point in Indiana. There was little doubt that I was going! Until I saw the ticket prices. At that point, there was more doubt. Elizabeth had just given birth to our first son six months earlier, we were in the beginning stages of our business and I had a hard time pulling the trigger. And I never did.
We watched the game at home, and even after they had won, I was bummed that I wasn’t there. After covering nearly a hundred of NFL games in my career on top of all the games as a fan, I am one of those that feels that being there is a better experience that being in front of even the greatest high-def tv.
So I missed my chance.
Super Bowl XLIII
Fortunately, three years later they were there again. This time, I was on a mission. After the Steelers defeated the San Diego Chargers in the Division Round of the playoffs, I was online searching for tickets. Elizabeth came downstairs and looked at me glaring at my laptop screen. I was ready for her to tell me to come upstairs when she said simply “Buy the ticket.” My head must have spun around twice as I gave her the most confused look. This ticket was not cheap. I would be leaving her with two boys for four days during an ice storm while I was in Tampa, soaking in he rays. She then explained, “I don’t want you to miss out on this again, and I don’t want to hear you asking me if you can buy the ticket everyday until the Super Bowl!”
So I went! And it was awesome! Here was the story from that journey. http://www.elizabethvincentphotography.com/?p=62 I left Raymond James Stadium and I said to myself that if I would have known how awesome that was going to be, I would have paid twice as much. I was satisfied. I didn’t need to do that again.
Fast forward two years. It’s late December. The Steelers are making another improbable run toward glory and I hadn’t muttered a word about going, but I had certainly thought about it. I was getting ready for a meeting when out of the blue Elizabeth looked me in the eye and said “You are not going to the Super Bowl this year. We’ve got too much going on. Right?” I agreed right away. She was right, and the odds of them winning on the road against the Patriots, which seemed inevitable, would be slim. I’m picking my battles, and this wasn’t worth the fight. In the division round, the Steelers rebounded from an early 21-7 hole to come back to beat the Ravens. The next day, the Patriots were stunned by the Jets. I didn’t expect that. How these things fall into place for this team, I’ll never know. Hosting the Jets in the AFC Championship Game, they made me fight the inevitable battle by taking out the Jets, 24-19. They were, indeed, going to to Super Bowl.
I told my wife that I wanted to renegotiate our original deal, but her heels were dug in. I wasn’t going to win her over with a few cute jokes and promises of a spending spree for her in the future. This was going to be tough. A great friend of ours had a connection where I might- I stress might- be able to get a ticket for face value. A week went past and no word on the ticket, but scalper prices were skyrocketing. It was now being reported that this is going to be the most expensive ticket in Super bowl history. Wonderful. Great. I told myself to not worry about. After all, I did get to see them win it all just two years ago, right? Let this one go.
It’s now Thursday night, three days out. I’m in Pittsburgh, not Dallas, and there is not a ticket in sight. I officially gave up. Elizabeth and I returned from the gym and I gave her my concession speech. I told her to invite some friends over, we’ll get some Primanti’s sandwiches, a Steelers cake and we’ll be good to go. Amazingly, I was happy with the decision. It was over.
The phone rang minutes later, almost like we were in a sitcom. it was my friend with the possible connection, and she was absolutely giddy. I answered the phone, as Elizabeth looked on. She was right next to me and heard what I did.
The plans had just changed. Elizabeth gave me her blessing and I was off to Texas.
Being that I was never really planning on going, how I got to Texas was never a big priority. I got confirmation of the coveted strip of cardboard Friday and now I needed to get there. Flights were absolutely insane and with snow all over the south, many flights were being canceled anyway. So I uttered the words that no man or woman ever should.
“I’m taking the Greyhound.”
The Trip: Buses, Trains and Automobiles
I kissed my wife and the boys as I left the house with one small backpack. The kids were singing “Here we go Steelers, here we go!” as I left the house, so it all seemed right. I made the 5:50 p.m. train to Pittsburgh, on my way to the Greyhound station. I grabbed a sandwich at Arby’s and walked through the frigid air to the surprisingly clean and bright bus station. That will be the last time you’ll hear that in this story. The bus departed at 7:30, only a few minutes late, and it was almost filled to capacity. It was an eccentric group on that first bus as we quietly departed Pittsburgh. The city went by into the night and I attempted to get some sleep. I shut my eyes and relaxed but I had a hard time falling asleep. Not a problem, I thought. After we re-board in Columbus after midnight. I’ll get my sleep.
That was when the fun started. While waiting to get back on the bus in Ohio, I began making small talk with a former Air Force veteran on his was to visit his son in Kansas City and he began telling me of his past experiences taking the bus and questioning why he did it again. I mentioned that everything had been smooth for me so far and I was hoping for the best. Again, with sitcom timing, a greyhound employee walked over to announce that our driver had called in sick and it would be between one and two hours before they could get a replacement. Groans were heard everywhere and as the wait turned into three hours, many passengers began worrying about their connecting buses. Fortunately for me, I had a ton of leeway with my layovers and I was in decent shape. A large Amish family sat with us in the terminal as they huddled together sleeping on the small contingent of chairs as well as the floor. Mercifully, our driver arrived but seemed to proceed slower than any of us were hoping. She was cheerful, though, and that was nice to see.
Not long after leaving Columbus, the snow really started to come down. I had fallen asleep but after a short time I was awoken to some unusual sounds as the driver navigated I-70. It didn’t feel right. I don’t get concerned while traveling often, but there was this strange feeling that the driver wasn’t able to handle the road. More than once, I because concerned that the bus was going to slide off of the road. The thought over overturning in a greyhound bus will do wonders in preventing you from fall back asleep. This was the first time that I started to be concerned that time would be a factor. My original schedule had me getting to Dallas very early Sunday morning but there was no chance of that happening now. As long as things stayed slightly on schedule, I should be fine. We safely arrived in Indianapolis somewhere around 5 a.m. and it was becoming quite obvious that this was going to be an epic trip. Our driver remained the same, as well as some of the passengers. It was clear that a few towards the back of the bus didn’t care much for each other. There were arguments back and forth and as frustrating as it was to not sleep because of it, I couldn’t help but laugh.
After another brief nap, I woke to the unwelcome sound of our bus slowing to a complete stop along I-70 somewhere in Illinois. There was an accident in front of us and we were not moving. It was now morning and were were not making good time. I called Elizabeth to check on the weather and she confirmed my fears. Heavy snow all the way through to Kansas City. As an added bonus, another storm was hitting Texas and Oklahoma and most buses were canceled in that direction. My bus was one of them. My chances of getting to Dallas via the greyhound was now hovering around 0%. Amid the madness on the bus, I asked her to check into a rental car. No dice on that, nothing was available to take to Dallas. This was the first moment where I started to question if I was going to make it to the game. As a last hope, I asked her to check in to Amtrak. It turned out that there was a train leaving St. Louis for Dallas at 8 p.m. arriving there at 1:35 p.m. Sunday, four hours before kickoff.
So that part of the trip was taken care of. Now I just needed to get to St. Louis. After 2 1/2 hours, The accident was finally cleared and we were ready to go. But the bus wouldn’t start. Apparently, the computer that controls the bus wouldn’t allow the bus to start because it seemed to be in an accident! So for another half hour, we were stuck on the highway as the other cars flew by. That is the moment when all hell seemed to break loose. Arguments started all over the bus, and one particular was getting heated. Apparently, one woman was having gas problems and the man next to her didn’t appreciate it. He responded by emptying the contents of her purse all over the bus. She came up to complain to the bus driver, who told her to have a seat or get kicked off of the bus. She was relentless and was advised to have a seat up front or else she would have to get off the bus. She proceeded to badger the driver until our next stop in Effingham, Illinois, where she was promptly removed. Cheers were heard throughout the bus. Someone asked, “Where was she going, anyway?” An answer shot out quickly. “To hell!”
So we are one stop from St. Louis. With all of the mayhem from woman being kicked off, no one noticed that the bus was stuck in the snow. Stuck so much that we couldn’t move. Following protocol for this trip, it took more than an hour for a group of the passengers to find shovels and dig the bus out. Absolutely unreal. It’s now almost 24 hours to kickoff, I haven’t slept or showered, and I’m not sure I will do either if I even get to the game. Mercifully, we arrive in Gateway to the West. Even a six hour stop at the Amtrak/Greyhound station doesn’t seem bad after that trip. Things start turning around as the train departs on time and I finally fall asleep. Awoken by the morning sun deep in Oklahoma and on time, everything is back in place. If I can only take a shower!
The trip though Oklahoma and Texas was scenic and for the first time I realized that I was going to the Super Bowl! I’ll spare the rest of the boring travel details and my ridiculous attempt to clean myself up in the bathroom of a swanky Ft. Worth hotel, but after a few more buses and trains, I entered Cowboys Stadium 45 minutes before kickoff.
The atmosphere at a Super Bowl is unbelievable. I took in as much as I could before kickoff. Two hours later, the Steelers were being drubbed 21-3. I could not believe it. All of this, being in buses and trains for nearly two days straight and they are going to get blown out? And then the bus ride home? Really? So I tried to think positive. I texted my wife and brother “Greatest comeback in Super Bow History?” And surprisingly, a comeback began. By the end of the 3rd Quarter, the Terrible Towels were out in full force! They were only down by four and driving towards the go ahead score. At that moment, I thought, “This might be an awesome story!” They win this game and I’ll be telling this story to my grandkids! The very next play, Rashard Mendenhall has the ball knocked out and the Packers recovered. The drove down and scored and bleakness reappeared. Again, the Steelers fought back. They scored with a few minutes left, converted the two point conversion, and then held the Packers to a field goal. The got the ball back, down six, two minutes to go. From the look on their faces, the Packer fans around us were very worried. The had seen the Steelers do this before two years ago. Last year, Pittsburgh beat the Packers on a last second pass in a very similar situation.
This time is was not meant to be. The drive went nowhere. After an incomplete pass to Mike Wallace on fourth down, the Packers and their fans were celebrating a Super Bowl championship. And I did not stick around. I barely saw confetti before I said goodbye to the people around me. I forgot to mention earlier that there was a charter bus leaving 90 minutes after the game heading back to Pittsburgh and I was able to secure a ride with them. There was no way I was going to miss that bus and wait until 7 a.m. at the Arlington Greyhound station for another mind-numbing trip. Surprisingly, the bus was split between Steelers fans and Packers fans. The bus would stop in Memphis to drop off the Packers fanned for a connection bus to Wisconsin and we would continue on to Pittsburgh. If your team loses a Super Bowl and have to ride all night with a certain fan base, hopefully they are as gracious as those fans were. Our fans were classy as well, busting out a few bottles of champagne to toast the new world champions. As we departed Memphis the next morning, I gave a hug to Wendy Smatana, who has been a Green Bay Packer season ticket holder since 1957, and congratulated her for finally getting to see her team win the championship.
At 12:30 a.m., Tuesday morning, the bus pulled into the South Hills Village parking lot to end the trip. I made it home a few minutes later, exhausted with my mind spinning thinking about the journey that was just completed. I only had one more think to accomplish, and that was finally take that shower!
The journey began with a train from the South Hills Village. It was exciting having no idea what was in front of me and looking forward to making it to Dallas.
After a smooth first leg of the trip, the first glitch came in Columbus, Ohio as our driver called in sick and we waited three hours for the next driver. As many fell asleep within the Greyhound terminal, we hit the road around 3 a.m.
Saturday morning added it’s share of wackiness, with a jack-knifed tractor trailer holding the trip up for two hours along I-70 in Illinois. The passengers, calm at this point, became restless as arguments towards the back of the bus started.
One stop from St. Louis, our bus became stuck in the snow in Effingham, Illinois. We were stalled for more than an hour until shovels were rounded up and the passengers teamed up to shovel the bus out of the snow.
Our bus driver watches after she removed an unruly passenger from the bus after getting into multiple arguments and not listening to the drivers instructions to take a seat.
The woman who was removed from the bus walks outside of the vehicle to argue with the bus driver one last time before we left for St. Louis. “That woman bothered my religion!”, the bus driver yelled after we departed. Someone from the bus asked, “Where was she going, anyway?” An answer shot out quickly. “To hell!”
A beautiful morning sunrise from the Amtrak somewhere in southern Oklahoma.
The adorable little girl next to me on the bus waking up Sunday morning.
After making it to Forth Worth, Texas Sunday afternoon, Chris Berman from ESPN walked past after I picked up my ticket to the game at the Worthington Renaissance
A Steeler fan counts the number of Pittsburgh fans compared with Packers fans on the shuttle bus over to Cowboys Stadium hours before the Super Bowl. He counted twenty Steelers fans to the five for the Pack as the final total.
Packers fans looking for a miracle. I saw hundreds of fans looking for tickets outside of Dallas Cowboys Stadium, I did not see one person selling.
The Dallas Cowboys mascot, Rowdy, hams it up outside of the stadium before the big game.
The Steelers are introduced before a near record crowd for the Super Bowl. If you look very closely at the top of the frame, above the Steelers logo on the small scoreboard, you will see an empty section. This was one of the sections deemed unsafe for fans. Those fans were either held out of the stadium, given standing room seats or made to watch the game inside of a restaurant inside of the stadium.
Steeler Nation invaded Dallas.
Opening kickoff at Super Bowl XLV. I made it! I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time!!
The Black Eyed Peas, who received negative reviews from their performance on television at the Super Bowl, were actually well received and sounded good inside of the stadium.
Antwaan Randle-El celebrates converting a two-point conversion that brought the Steelers within three late in the game.
Hoping for a victory that never would come.
Monday morning. The long, clod walk to the bus after stopping for breakfast at The Iron Skillet in Memphis, Tennessee.!
Steeler fan Kyra Nipar gives a hug to Packer fan Wendy Smatana after they bonded along their journey to the Super Bowl together. Smatana had been a Green Bay Packer season ticket holder since 1957 and finally was able to see her team capture a Super Bowl championship in person!