Trip of a Lifetime
Well the 49ers only went and did it and got themselves into Super Bowl LIV, didn’t they? It was then a case of, apropos The Clash, “Should I stay or should I go?”
In the early 1980s when (American) Football first appeared on British TV, I was a fan from the start. Back then, there was a weekly hour-long round-up of the week’s games. The only live game shown at the time was the Super Bowl. This was broadcast at 11.30 pm local time and finished around 3 am UK time. In those days I used to stay up and watch all the game, irrespective of who was playing, just to be able to watch a live game.
Over the years the NFL’s presence on UK TV screens gradually increased. Nowadays there’s a dedicated NFL channel on the Sky satellite service. Sky shows live games and NFL RedZone and there are shows on other channels as well. Both the Sunday and Monday Night Football games are broadcast live every week. Not that I watch them live, given the programmes start at 1.15 am… 🙂
My support for the 49ers started when I worked regularly in Silicon Valley in the early ’90s. I travelled from the UK to work at my USA HQ for a week or so at a time, often many times a year. Of course it didn’t hurt that at this time it was the height of the Niner’s Super Bowl winning era. 😉
As we know, things cooled off for the 49ers from the late-90s onwards. But I continued to follow the team and by then I considered myself one of the Faithful. I’d bought a 49ers baseball cap and polo shirt in 1992. The former is still in use today and the latter was only retired in late 2019. In 2002 I bought my son, 3 years old at the time, a genuine No. 80 Jerry Rice NFL football jersey. He did wear it a lot at the time but sadly he now supports the Saints…
The timing of my business trips never coincided with a 49ers home game, so I never saw them at Candlestick Park during that period of my life^. However one thing I never thought I’d ever do was go to a Super Bowl. It was a definite bucket list item, but one I never thought I’d achieve. Not sure why. It always seemed to be something out of reach, for some reason. A somehow exclusive and expensive event that was difficult to attend in person.
It was regularly mentioned on TV broadcasts how difficult it was to get tickets. Also how tickets used to sell on the black market for $1000s above face value. I also never figured someone from the UK would be able to get tickets.
The 49ers eventually made it back to a Super Bowl, XLVII in January 2013. But it never crossed my mind to try and go, for some reason. That game was lost and coach Jim Harbaugh was fired a year later. The 49ers were soon down in the dumps again, until the ShanaLynch regime got our mojo back.
And here we are now, back at the Biggest Show On Earth, as some bill it. The words of the guy at Casino M8trix echoed in my ears: “You’d better go to that game…”
“I said I’m going back to Miami” *
And so I did decide to go. I’d passed through Miami back in 1992, staying just one night (on my honeymoon, actually – long story, but it was not in the original plans which got changed due to Hurricane Andrew). So now I was going back to Miami. That is, if I could find a travel package, with game tickets, to get me there. It was quite stressful, having decided to go, not to be able to then book something. The flight out was the biggest problem. But to cut a long story short, I did book a package about a week before the game.
I flew out of Heathrow on Thursday 30th January 2020, destination Miami. For peace on earth, I thought I’d better take my wife with me… 😉
We stayed at the Beacon South Beach Hotel, right on Ocean Drive in the heart of the Art Deco district of South Beach. After arrival on our first night in town, I decided to try and break the jet lag by hitting the Drive. My wife went to bed to crash out…
And what a night she missed! What a zoo! A buzzing atmosphere to die for, everywhere. It was complete madness. Great fun though. The hotel was also right in front of the Fox Sports NFL Experience on the shoreline.
I ended up in Ocean’s Ten just a couple of blocks up the street from the hotel. The service was a bit slow sitting at the bar and the lady servers were all a bit “off-ish” all night. But I started talking to a couple of guys in town for the game and we had a good chat for a couple of hours. They even bought me a beer or two, which considering the beers were over $10 a pop, I was most grateful for… 🙂 By the time I thought I should return the favour, they’d decided to head off to bed!
Whilst sitting at the bar earlier there were many guys walking past holding signs up saying “Tickets Wanted” or saying out loud, “Anyone selling tickets?” I was quite surprised by this. I’d assumed that all Super Bowl tickets were like gold dust by now and the chances of buying one 3 days before the game would be somewhat remote, if not impossible.
One of the guys I got talking to then stopped two such ‘ticket seekers’. Both happened to be 49er fans. We all got talking and one of the ‘seekers’ told us he’d been to every Super Bowl for the past 25 years, whether 49ers or not. He just turned up in the host city a few days before and bought a ticket. Simple as that. Somehow. He then produced a very thick wad of high denomination dollar bills, and said, “Money talks!” I never saw him again so I’ve no idea whether he made it 26 in a row.
Seeing the Sights
On Friday we went sightseeing in the city. This included visiting the Super Bowl Experience at the Convention Centre, which was good. I even got to see Joe Montana and Jerry Rice ‘live’ in the flesh as they undertook a Q&A session for about 45 minutes.
To get around town we took a Big Bus Tour and it was very good, as these tours usually are. The route initially took us to the south and middle of Miami Beach. From there it was onto the Florida mainland, passing through many of the districts of Downtown Miami. So we got to see the main city, but to be honest, apart from the Wynwood district, there wasn’t anything particularly impressive or spectacular about the place. There’s lots of shiny glass and steel skyscrapers downtown, and it’s a pleasant ride around the city, especially with all the islands and water. Miami Beach is great but there’s also lots of central city areas in need of renovation and overall I didn’t get a ‘wow’ factor.
Back at the hotel to quickly freshen up and then it was out again for a short walk north. The tour company we travelled with put on a reception in a hotel with free drinks and finger food. Also present were three football analysts from the UK. These guys presented various TV programmes in the UK on (American) Football and they entertained us for about an hour or so with a Q&A about Sunday’s game. That was quite good, and free drinks are always welcome, but the food was disappointing: not enough of it and not enough variety.
On Saturday we did the other half of the bus tour around the city, taking in Little Havana (disappointing) and getting off at Miami Marina. Lunch was taken at the Latin American Bayside Cuban Cafe overlooking the Marina. After lunch we boarded the Millionaire’s Row Boat Cruise around the Port of Miami. This was good although the overcast and distinctly cool weather were not. Following this we visited Super Bowl Live in Bayfront Park, but it was a waste of space and time to be truthful. I’m not quite sure what the point of it was.
The heavens then opened and Miami got very wet. As did my wife after not seeing a couple of massive puddles in the dark. I just about managed to keep reasonably dry. The tour bus stopped running about 5pm and it was now 6 pm but the storm played havoc with both Lyft and Uber. We waited over an hour and a half near Miami Marina to get a ride for the 5 miles back to the hotel!
The weather thankfully cleared up quickly. By the time we’d dried off in the hotel and ventured out for dinner, it was warm and dry again. So we were able sit outside on Ocean Drive for a very nice dinner in The Place, the hotel’s restaurant. After a quick wander around Ocean Drive again, it was off to bed!
Mutiny on the Bus
Sunday was Game Day. A leisurely morning was spent walking around Ocean Drive in the warm sunshine, and then it was time to go find our transport to the game.
The traffic to and from the Hard Rock Stadium was horrendous. The bus pick-up time seemed late to me – and it turned out it was. The traffic congestion on Miami Beach was terrible. By the time we left the Beach after picking everyone up, we were already past the opening time of the pre-match hospitality Touchdown Club that was part of our game package. And by then, everyone on the bus had got really angry at the driver for the delay in getting going to the game. The pick-ups had taken over 90 minutes and we didn’t leave Miami Beach until 3.30 pm!
It then became clear that the driver had made no allowance for the traffic heading to the stadium. I found this astonishing given that it was a local company. We found this out because a couple of guys sitting just behind the driver had been on their phones. They’d discovered loads of social media posts about massive delays on I-95 N and Florida’s Turnpike, with people in cars going to the game complaining they’d been stationary for over an hour! These guys relayed this to the driver, along with a “You’re not seriously thinking of going that route, are you?” message, to which he replied, “Yeah.”
All hell broke loose. Bottom line was a near mutiny with folks shouting – very loudly – at the driver to find another route. Me included. The guys on their phones then used Google Maps to find a route clear of traffic, which they told the driver about and insisted he take it. Thankfully, he listened. So we had the unbelievable scenario of two out-of-towners using Maps to direct a local bus driver to Hard Rock Stadium. Truly bizarre. And guess what? There was no traffic until about half a mile before the stadium, and even then we kept moving, albeit slowly.
Super Bowl LIV
We arrived at the Hard Rock just after 4 pm. The Touchdown Club went on until 5.30 pm so we at least got to get inside that. Thankfully there was still plenty of food and drink available, so all was not lost. We did miss out on most of the music and activities that were part of the Club, but at least we experienced some of it.
We got into our seats, which we reasonably high up, but still with a decent view, around 6 pm. Fans of both sides were mixed up among the seats, as I expected, but there was a great atmosphere all around. Kick-off was at 6.30 pm. A reasonably even first half saw the teams tied at 10-10. I rarely watch the Pepsi Half-Time Show on TV but when in Rome… This year it was Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. Not particularly my musical taste but it was a spectacular show, and it is a marvel how they get it all setup and taken down so quickly, and to put a show on.
Hope sprang eternal in the second half for 49ers fans everywhere and the finishing line was in sight for us for a while. But it was not meant to be.
Attending the Super Bowl was a great experience, it was a dream come true to be there. Yes, the 49ers lost a game we should have won but at least I can say I was there to witness one of the great sporting spectacles of modern times. Post-game, I think the sheer emotion of just being there and achieving a life-long goal of going to a Super Bowl somehow offset some of the pain of losing. But not all of it. It was very sad to lose. We were so close to title #6.
After the game and back outside the stadium in the parking lot, we found the bus, eventually. Getting out of the lot was a nightmare with worse to come on the roads back to Miami Beach. There was terrible traffic congestion almost all the way. From a game that finished around 10pm, we eventually got back to the hotel, just 18 miles away, at 1 am! Hotel management had thought ahead though. They’d kept the bar open, so there was time to drown one’s sorrows over a nightcap or two with some other 49er fans before heading up to bed.
South Beach at Miami Beach: left, the view south – right, the view north
On Monday we had time to wander around South Beach a bit more, including hiring bicycles to explore a bit further up Miami Beach. There was plenty of time as the flight home was not until 9.25 pm. So we had a leisurely day, a nice lunch and relaxed in front of the hotel watching the world go by. Our taxi transfer was for 5.30 pm. An uneventful flight home – always the best one – saw us land back at Heathrow at 10.55 am on Tuesday, after a 5 day trip of a lifetime. I just wish we’d won…
^ To rectify this oversight, in October 2013, a few days before I did the Highway 61 road trip, I flew into San Francisco. I spent the weekend there before going to Candlestick Park to see the 49ers beat the Texans. Why then, after all those years? I think Super Bowl XXLVII re-ignited my desire to go to a 49ers game, something I’d never managed to do all those years before. Also, it was the 49ers last year at Candlestick before the move to Levi’s Stadium and I’d always wanted to go to the “Stick”. So if I didn’t do it then, I never would. So I did it. 🙂
* Going Back To Miami by The Blues Brothers