By Robert Kunz
While I have been collecting autographs and have attended a wide variety of events over the past 23 years, I have to admit that I have never been to a Super Bowl week nor have I done many events in New York City. With this year’s Super Bowl events being only a 3-1/2-hour drive for me, I had to try spending a couple of days in New York City.
A few friends and I headed out at 3 a.m. on Friday to make sure we were parked and able to attend the Super Bowl Breakfast right off of Times Square. The Super Bowl Breakfast is an NFL-sanctioned event hosted by Athletes in Action, and tickets could be purchased for $250-$300. This event has been held in each Super Bowl host city since 1988.
The highlight of the breakfast each year is the presentation of the Bart Starr Award, which honors an NFL player who shows exemplary commitment to family, teammates and community. This year’s winner was Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. As a lifelong Packer fan, it was great to hear Starr and Rogers give their speeches at the event, and I was able to get within a few feet of them for a few photos. However, unless you were one of approximately 150 VIP guests who attended a small ceremony after the main event, there were no autograph opportunities at the breakfast for Starr or Rodgers.
These main guests, as well as guests Joe Gibbs and Drew Brees, entered and exited from behind the stage – well separated from the crowd. New York Giants players Justin Tuck and Amani Toomer were the only guests who mingled among the 800 patrons of the breakfast.
By the time this event ended, I was already running late for the Hall of Fame Lunch being held about 12 blocks away right off Central Park. This luncheon is also an annual event held on the Friday leading up to the Super Bowl. Tickets were priced at $850 and sold out quickly. A Hall of Famer was seated at each table. Many Hall of Famers did sign for a group of about a dozen autograph collectors as they entered and exited the event.
Eric Dickerson, Frank Gifford, Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Floyd Little, Willie Lanier, Willie Roaf, Steve Largent, David Robinson, Harry Carson and Rod Woodson were among those who signed. Lynn Swann and Emmitt Smith were two who did not sign, as expected, but there were also a number of surprising non-signers that included Jan Stenerud, Randle McDaniel and Joe DeLamielleure. In the short time I waited outside the lunch, there was a lot of celebrity traffic at a hotel a couple of buildings away. Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles, former running back Shaun Alexander, former WNBA star Lisa Leslie and actor Russell Brand came and went during the course of an hour.
Again, we were running late to try to get in line for the Super Bowl Boulevard autograph session for Marshall Faulk that was to run from 4-5 p.m., and we had to still check in to our hotel and get our luggage from our car (which is not a small feat in New York City). By the time we got to the signing session and saw the 600 or so people in line, it was clear that we were not going to get anywhere near the front of the line for Faulk. (Faulk also arrived a half-hour late and only signed for 30 minutes, which did not help our quest.) Since Faulk is a notorious bad signer for free, this would have been a great opportunity. But, like the entire two days we spent in New York City, there were so many events, you had to make choices all the time. Emmitt Smith was also signing at Macy’s at 3 p.m. that same afternoon. For this Macy’s signing, you needed to be in line by 1 p.m. or earlier, and while the autograph was free, you would have needed to purchase at least $50 of merchandise at Macy’s. It was also limited to 100 people, and you could not get your item signed, but they did have a nice photo they provided.
So while we did not have good timing with Faulk, we had another event on our schedule to hustle to. Michael Kay, announcer for the New York Yankees, was doing some interviews from Bryant Park, and Joe Namath was scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. interview. When we got to the park, we were surprised to see Hall of Famer Steve Young up in the booth doing an interview. When his interview was over, Young did stop and signed six or seven autographs for the small crowd waiting outside. The crowd grew to about 20-30 people for Namath, but a sizable contingency of guards and police whisked Namath in and out of the event, and he did not stop for any of the waiting adults or kids.
So we were on the run again to what was supposed to be the NFL Commissioner’s Gala at the Waldorf Astoria at 7 p.m. We waited for a short time, but it seemed clear that no events were going on at the Waldorf. We did see Paris Hilton walk through the hotel, but that was all. We wish we would have tried the red carpet for Howard Stern’s 60th birthday bash instead, and now getting up at 3 a.m., all the walking and the cold weather caught up with us, and we called it an early night.
On the run Saturday, too
There were so many overlapping events on Saturday, it was hard to select what to do. There were the signings at Super Boulevard, a celebrity bowling tournament featuring Hall of Famers Jim Taylor, Carl Eller, Harry Carson, Tom Mack, Ted Hendricks and Rickey Jackson, as well as many past NFL greats like Ed “Too Tall” Jones. A DirecTV Flag Football celebrity game featuring Joe Montana, Warren Moon, Deion Sanders, tennis superstar Serena Williams, Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad, musician John Legend and many more celebrity guests was also going on at the same time. Spots were first come, first serve. There was also a signing for Packers rookie Eddie Lacy at an Under Armor store going on at 11 a.m.
And maybe the biggest event of the morning was David Beckham signing for the first 200 fans that same morning at the H&M store at Times Square. I might have selected that event had I known in advance. I did see the long line as I walked past the store at 8:30 a.m. It looked like a few near the front of the line might have spent the night.
We selected the Super Boulevard signings, because two in our group wanted Jim Brown, who was scheduled to sign at 1 p.m., and two others who wanted Cam Newton, who would be signing at 2 p.m. It was rumored people started lining up at 10 a.m. on Friday, so we checked it out around 8:30 a.m. on Saturday and found about 50 people in line already. There was just a single line for all of the Saturday guests. Jaguar running back Maurice Jones-Drew was scheduled to start signing at noon. The majority of those in line, some who had been in line since 6 a.m., were there for either Brown or Newton. Those early birds had a five-to-six-hour wait. By 11 a.m., the crowd had swelled to an estimated 3,000 people – all of whom were in line for just five signing guests. After some people waited in line 3-1/2 hours on Friday and didn’t get an autograph, many in line were going to have a similar fate on Saturday.
Right before noon, they announced that Derrick Brooks would replace Jones-Drew, and they also announced that the line needed to keep moving. Even though there was just one line, if you were in line, you had to move with the line. For the first half-hour, it was a battle of wills between security and the people who got up early to get either Brown or Newton; most people who were there early were told to get out of line or go up to the stage for an autograph. Some people were removed from the line for not moving. I wanted Brown, and had now waited four hours for his signature, but I was forced to take the Brooks signature or be removed from the line. Not that I didn’t want Brooks, because I figured he would make the Hall of Fame class of 2014 later that day, but I got in line very early specifically for Brown.
When Brown signed at 1 p.m., he would not sign personal items, only a small 3-by-4-inch Super Bowl Boulevard-provided index card. The event promoted “all fans are permitted to have one personal item signed.” That was not the case for Brown, Foles and a few others during the week. When Newton was five minutes away from signing, the same policy was posted on the giant screen above the autograph stage – and that he would only sign the Boulevard cards. Chants from the crowd of “Sign our stuff, sign our stuff” reversed that decision and at least those who timed it right walked away with a Newton signature on their item.
Seeing the crowds at this event, I decided to get an early spot at the red carpet for the NFL Honors Awards show. I arrived a little before 1:30 p.m., and was the first one there, but I had another three to four hours to wait. I wanted to be in the front row hoping that some guests would sign prior to going onto the red carpet. I had in my mind that 10 or more would stop and sign, especially with the cameras rolling. However, I came away without an autograph during the red carpet event, because only Curtis Martin and Michael Irving signed a handful of items combined for a large crowd. Actor Hugh Jackman was the only other person signing for the crowd waiting outside.
Many of the guests I hoped to see did not come through the red carpet area. I did see Adrian Peterson, Drew Brees, Colin Kaepernick, Luke Kuechly, Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Franco Harris and Mitt Romney. But, I did not see Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning, any of the new Pro Football Class of 2014 members, actor Jamie Foxx or other notable guests who were in attendance.
My last event of the day on Saturday was the MVP party celebrating the four Super Bowl MVPs from the New York Area: Ottis Anderson, Phil Simms, Eli Manning and Joe Namath. Namath arrived first and took many photos with the crowd, but I don’t think he signed any autographs. Simms was a gracious guest, taking pictures and signing autographs for the crowd. Eli Manning was the last to arrive and was brought in through a back door just in time for the presentations.
This event also honored four wounded warriors in support of Operation Warrior Call. The four MVPs took the stage for a Q&A, and also for a ceremony honoring the wounded warriors. After the ceremony, Manning and Namath went to a VIP area and left shortly after. I did see one gentleman carrying a signed Eli Manning jersey, so Eli did sign somewhere at the event (I assume in the VIP area). Although I didn’t get an autograph, I did enjoy the Doobie Brothers concert that kicked off at 10:30 p.m.
There were many other events on Saturday night. One other top party was the DirecTV party that hosted Ukrainian heavyweight boxer Wladimir Klitschko, Lynn Swann, Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn, Jamie Foxx, Spike Lee and many others.
A little advice
I’m not sure if I’ll ever have the luxury of attending another Super Bowl weekend, so I’ll throw out some suggestions to others. I would be interested in someone holding onto to this article and writing to me after the next Super Bowl.
So here is my advice. Do locate the Super Bowl Friday Hall of Fame Luncheon. Do track ESPN radio shows, especially the “Mike and Mike” show. I know people were lucky with Adrian Peterson, Steve Young and others as they came and went from the ESPN booth. But get up early – some of those guests start at 7 a.m. or earlier.
Do look for other live broadcasts. While I was at the Bart Starr breakfast, the friends I was traveling with found Joe Montana during an early morning interview, and he stopped and signed about 10 autographs.
Do seek out the host media hotel on the Thursday and Friday leading up to the Super Bowl. This year there was a ballroom that was called “Radio Row” where more than 80 live radio broadcasts were going on during the day. Many present and past NFL greats were seen coming and going from that location.
Do bring items for Super Bowl MVPs. I really didn’t think about it too much, but in the end there were many former Super Bowl MVPs in New York.
It’s hard to make recommendations regarding Super Bowl Boulevard vs. the normal NFL Experience. Looking back at the 2013 NFL Experience as part of the Super Bowl in New Orleans last year, I found they had 107 slots for autographs guests spread out over many stages. This year in New York, there were only 20 slots. So, if this event is free next year and has limited autograph slots, I would skip it. If there is a $ 25-$30 charge as in the past, and they have 25 or so guests per day, I would recommend it.
You also might be better off looking for a secondary entrance to the NFL honors. Too few stopped and signed at the red carpet entrance, and many of the bigger names skipped the red carpet.
Anyone attending next year’s events – good luck. And give me a shout afterward; I would love to hear from you.
Robert Kunz is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.