Sorry about the delay, but when I got home I had two major work deadlines I was running late for plus twenty plays to read. It’s been over a week and I haven’t unpacked from the trip yet.
Now, the part you’ve been waiting for…
All the finalists and Doritos team met downstairs. “Make sure you have everything you need for the whole day,” they told us, “and don’t bring anything you can’t bring into the stadium with you.” This was really happening. All week I’d been turning on the TV every time I got into the hotel room, soaking up the latest news on ESPN about Gronkowski and Ochocinco and the hype and the coaches’ endless press conferences. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve never been so excited in my life. I was as fidgety as a racehorse in a starting gate. I was patting people on the back, chattering stupidly—I couldn’t shut up about the damned Superbowl. Surely there were other, more important things to do in Indianapolis?
We piled into another bus for the “Pepsi Chalk Talk” and went to the Indianapolis Central Library, a stunning building with classic stone exteriors and huge glassy atria, plus space-pod reading chairs and even some books. Political barbarism aside, we still live in a civilized society.
The main checkout desk had been converted to a bar, a harbinger of brunch to come, and tables everywhere were decorated with Pepsi products and Giants/Patriots mini-helmets and superbowl minifootballs, which quickly disappeared over the next couple of hours. A three-story indoor glass wall had been converted into a massive elimination chart of the playoff teams, with Giants and Patriots alone in the middle.
We were shuttled into the auditorium and placed in the front 2 rows, guests of honor for what was to be a kind of Pepsico corporate-marketing pep rally, where various divisions showed off their upcoming Superbowl commercials and talked about their positioning strategies for the next year, all for the benefit of the marketing bigwigs and a variety of vendors, and to give their teams some much-deserved kudos. It was a fascinating inside look inside the world of a multinational mega-company which, unlike so many you hear about nowadays, not only isn’t evil but has some really nice people in charge. But the highlight of the event was the opening act, a long conversation between an ESPN host (whose name I don’t know but I’m sure is super famous) and… Peyton Manning. Yes, the pictures don’t lie, the dude was actually that close. We totally could have taken a shot at him. Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to say you sacked Peyton Manning?
In case you’re wondering, not all professional athletes are idiots. This guy is as quick on his feet sitting down as he is in cleats. He engaged the audience, gave thoughtful answers, and was funnier than a cat in cardboard. He joked about having his home stadium host the Superbowl, and said it was weird getting kicked out of his office and his own locker, especially since the guy taking his locker was a 350-pound offensive lineman who was probably going to split the walls of the damned thing. “Why couldn’t I have gotten a kicker?” He helped with the lodging arrangements for the visiting teams, and said he “got a better room for Eli than for Brady.” His favorite part about hosting the Superbowl was that he knows the stadium inside and out, and had a hundred secret places to watch the game from without getting spotted by the TV cameras. He pitched us his best idea to avoid it: “I think I’ll just wear my Colts jersey. There’s no way anyone would think I’d be stupid enough to go to the Superbowl wearing my own jersey. Maybe I’ll even sign it. To Frank, from Peyton.”
You better believe he got out of there before I could ask him for an autograph. Last year, one of the Doritos finalists apparently asked Peyton to throw him a pass—and he did.
So then the Pepsico folks did their various presentations, including a sneak peek at the Elton John commercial and the Pepsi Max commercial (both of which all the finalists were enthusiastically critiquing afterwards), and the wonderful Ann Mukherjee did an great bit about Crash the Superbowl and showed all the commercials, to HUGE applause and laughter, which was startling since most of us hadn’t seen our ads before live audiences of strangers before. Oddly enough, I think our spot got the most subdued response, since it didn’t have a big shocking moment like, for example, the ending of Bird of Prey—and I think the biggest roars actually came from when the Sling Baby started flying through the air in slo-mo. The music just makes that moment work.
Anyway, then it was on to a jaw-dropping brunch. There were tables on several levels and in several rooms of the library, all stuffed with beef, turkey, eggs, exotic sauces, and three different puddings. I want to go back. Please, can I go back?
At this point the talk was already shifting away from the game and more towards the commercials. There was a twinge of nervousness in the chatter. But it didn’t last long because we piled back into the bus and found ourselves very quickly back in central downtown Indy, where parking spaces were going for as high as $300, and where the crowds were shouting and hooting and jostling around like champagne bubbles. The ziplines were at full capacity, cameras on robotic cranes zoomed over the central square, and various stages and trailers were set up for news crews to oversee the spectacle like kings at a jousting arena.
C.J. took over as our guide, and we were led to a fenced-off local-news production area, where the finalists did some more interviews, and Brian Williams breezed stiffly by us, flanked by bouncer-like producers, head down against the wave of attention. After an unbearable hour of standing around in a news corral, the interviews were over, and we were told to huddle up. Out came…
Each ticket had a face value of $1200, a street value of $3000+, and a computed value more like $30,000 if you factor in the cost of the luxury box. We began our long, ecstatic walk to the stadium, beset the whole way by people pleading for tickets (with one fellow asking, “Any chance for a miracle?”) We walked right up to the stadium and then had to loop all the way around and away and then back in again to the official entrance; I spent the whole time calling and texting people excitedly and wondering what Lonely Island was going to be wearing and hoping I hadn’t worn the same dress.
Onward through some metal detectors and a frisking that was so fast and efficient, the TSA could learn a thing or two. Onward past gigantic media trucks, big tents, and a massive nearly-deserted plaza at 3:30 in the afternoon, 3 hours before gametime. The biggest game and the best day in the world.
That’s where I’ll pick up in the next entry. Because now, I get to go and take a pretty girl out for Valentines Day for the first time in years, because for the first time in years I can afford dinner.