Where do you start in describing one of the most fantastic weekends in your life? Traveling to Houston to participate in all the festivities surrounding Super Bowl LI, in addition to attending the game itself, was truly a highlight of my life thus far. None of it would have been possible if not for Bill’s daughter, Sarah Moll, who was responsible for the amazing Lady Gaga halftime show as well as NFL Honors, the professional football awards show that aired Saturday night, prior to Super Bowl Sunday.
If you read “Part One” of my Super Bowl blog, you know we spent the night in Atlanta on Thursday, February 2, and caught a very early flight to Houston. As you can imagine, our plane was filled with Atlanta Falcon fans, bedecked in red and ready to “Rise Up!” In fact, a local TV station came onboard and filmed the enthusiastic travelers as they cheered for their Falcons! The upbeat spirit continued all the way to Houston and it was only 8:00a.m. when we landed! We were staying at the Hyatt Regency downtown, which is quite a way from the airport, but Uber was ready and the ride seemed to take no time at all. Fortunately, we were able to check in right away and then we were ready for the NFL Experience!
I must take a moment to talk about a new friend we made at the Hyatt Regency because anyone who is, or has ever been, in a position of providing customer service must take a lesson from Eugene Mardell, Director of Operations. Actually he works at the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio but had come to Houston for the weekend to help out with the big event. He met us at the door upon our arrival, greeted us again as we left the hotel for a walk and then 4 or 5 hours later, asked how our walk was when we returned! This genuine concern and ongoing friendliness continued all weekend. If you’ve ever seen Pretty Woman (and who hasn’t), Eugene reminded me of the hotel manager, Barney, played by Hector Elizondo, in that he also took a special interest in one of his guests! Worth the visit to the Grand Hyatt in San Antonio to meet Eugene!
The NFL Experience is actually a nine-day event that was located in the Convention Center, which was within walking distance from our hotel. The entire Center was consumed with exhibits, activities, autograph signing and more – displays and information about all NFL teams and all aspects of football. It was wonderful to see so many families enjoying all of the festivities together! Perhaps our favorite stop was a presentation by Wilson – the company that produces the official football of the NFL. Many employees from the factory in Ohio were there to explain and demonstrate exactly how a football is made – from sewing the leather to inflation and from lacing to personalization. Some of the presenters had worked for Wilson for over thirty years!
After hours spent at the NFL Experience we grabbed a late lunch and met Sarah briefly before she was off to NRG Stadium for the final halftime rehearsal before the big day. For my fitness friends, although we didn’t have an official workout, by the day’s end we had clocked over seven miles!
Saturday dawned and brought us together for breakfast with Sarah. Today her focus was on the evening’s NFL Honors show, as she was in on the ground floor of the production when it began six years ago and has been there every year since. We had the day to relax and then the red carpet began at 3:30 p.m. at the Wortham Theater, followed by cocktails and hors d’oeuvres before the show. We had a blast hobnobbing with the rich and famous as we stationed ourselves close to the escalator everyone had to ascend – what a view! I took pictures when I could as we sighted celebrities including Eli Manning and his father Archie, Don Shula (He stopped to shake hands with Bill), and Joe Namath!
Once inside the theater, we continued to watch the dignitaries flow in – Jon Hamm, Sterling K. Brown (Randall on This is Us), Odell Beckam, Jr., and Jason Garrett – just to name a few, and the show was extremely entertaining! Keegan-Michael Key was the host, and he was hysterical. The house band was Spencer Ludwig and I have become a fan! In fact, I saw them the following morning in the hotel lobby and had to tell them how much I had enjoyed them. It was truly a top-shelf award show, complete with red carpet, gorgeous fashion and even seat-fillers! We enjoyed a wonderful dinner following NFL Honors at La Fisheria, located in the Arts District.
And finally…Super Bowl Sunday was here! After sleeping in a bit we met Sarah at noon to head to the stadium for the ultimate Tailgate party prior to the game. This was also a ticketed event, so with thousands of our new best friends, we spent three hours eating and drinking and enjoying the Zac Brown Band! The food stations, as you can imagine, featured primarily Texas cuisine and ranged from brisket to ribs to pecan pie; from crab cakes to shrimp cocktail to goat cheese crostini; and from mac n’ cheese to potato salad and coleslaw! In the outer portion of the Tailgate venue were a group of Texans line dancing, along with some gigantic longhorn steer, and several cowboys wielding their lassos! Needless to say, a good time was had by all!
Around 4:30 p.m. central time, we made our way into NRG Stadium and went in search of our seats. We were on the Club Level on the 25-yard line which was amazing! Not being a real fan of either team playing, we tried to remain as neutral as possible and I just enjoyed watching everyone around us – and the game of course!. Our section was filled with both Patriot and Falcon fans so we blended right in! I must admit I was excited as the game progressed and the Falcons were winning, but then again we all know how that turned out. I certainly can’t take anything away from the Patriots as they came back to win the game, and it will truly go down in the books as one of the best Super Bowl games ever played and the only Super Bowl game ever to go into overtime! I was thrilled to be part of that history!
I was also thrilled to be witness to perhaps the all-time best halftime show ever! Although the home TV viewer may have gotten a better view of Lady Gaga’s overall performance, I was in awe of the organization and teamwork that resulted in an amazing show. We, of course, are so proud of Sarah for her extensive involvement and it’s always interesting to me to hear her behind-the-scenes tales, some of which have now become public. Did you know…
- It took only 8 minutes to set up the complex stage and then only 6 minutes to get it off the field.
- That left 13 minutes for Lady Gaga’s performance and wow did she make the most of those 13 minutes!
- There were 400 people on the field during the halftime show and they had been practicing for a month prior.
- While in Houston, Lady Gaga rented a house and a Ferrari! Her parents and sister were with her all week as she prepared, but of course she had been rehearsing for months in Los Angeles as well.
- The patriotic roof scene, including 300 drones, was filmed Monday night, and then in the darkened stadium, Lady Gaga was hoisted up toward the open stadium roof and then came flying down as her performance began. She truly has no fear!
- Insiders confirm that Lady Gaga is a truly genuine woman and her biggest fear all week was not catching the football at the end!
Again, this Super Bowl experience was one of the most unique and enjoyable events ever! Although we were exhausted when it was all over, I wouldn’t have changed anything and I am so very grateful for the opportunity to have lived it!
But…the last leg of our ultimate adventure began the day after the Super Bowl, so be sure to tune in for Part Three!