Behind the Scenes at Super Bowl XLIX

The Play 60 Kid Zone at NFL Experience.

The Play 60 Kid Zone at NFL Experience.

From the time I graduated college I’ve had the privilege of working with professional athletes in several different capacities. As an athlete, guys who will one day be in the Hall of Fame mentored me and taught me about the game. As an employee and someone now on the other side of the business, professional players still teach me about the game. It’s not about the playbook anymore though – it’s about the game of life and what it means to be a pro.

I have been incredibly blessed to have opportunities both as an athlete and in business. I’ve been on five Super Bowl trips with my company since coming to work for dairy farmers, and have had the chance to speak to thousands of kids over the years about our Fuel Up to Play 60 program. I’m realizing the days of being recognized as an athlete are passing me by, however every once in a while, a kid waiting for one of our Fuel Up to Play 60 ambassadors to sign his football will ask me if I played, and let me sign his football. It’s not going to fetch much on Ebay, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it still feels good.

nflx autograph

Are you sure kid?

We have the greatest ambassadors and spokespersons in the entire NFL working with Fuel Up to Play 60 to spread the word about youth health and wellness. On Friday night before the Super Bowl, we invited some of them to join us for dinner and we had the privilege of getting to know them outside of work.

dinner panel

Alfred Morris, Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald, Phil Simms, Herm Edwards

Larry Fitzgerald and I were seated at the same table that evening and after dinner he was gracious enough to pose for a picture with me. During dinner, my boss who was also at our table, indulged me by telling Larry that I too played a little ball and from that point on through dinner, Larry invited me to answer several of the football related questions that came up at the table. It was incredibly humbling and my respect for Fitzgerald, went from a 99 to a 100. They really do not come any better in the NFL than this gentleman. He even asked me before leaving how I was adjusting to, as he referred to it, “real America.” Well, I told him, “It’s not the NFL, but it’s not all bad either. The thing I learned pretty quickly,” I told him, “you will miss your teammates and the locker room, so finding the right team and culture to be in business with is important.” He extended his hand, looked me in the eye and said, “that’s good stuff.”

Larry Fitzgerald is a Pro's Pro.

Larry Fitzgerald is a Pro’s Pro.

My favorite story he told was about being a ball boy and a friend of the Minnesota Vikings as a teenager, growing up in the twin cities. His father was a sports journalist there and over the years became good friends with the Vikings coach, Denny Green. Through that friendship, Larry was invited to be around the team and became friends with many of the players. Two of those players, were Ohio State Buckeyes. Cris Carter became and still is a mentor to Larry, and the late Korey Stringer was the best tipper on the team. Larry would wash the cars of the players during training camp and they would take care of him handsomely. Once Randy Moss even let Fitzgerald drive his brand new Bentley to his Senior Prom! Can you imagine!?

tebow and inkrott

God Bless

At the Taste of the NFL, I spent a few minutes talking with Tim Tebow. I seriously do not know how anyone cannot like this guy! No matter what you are passionate about in this world, if you commit to it, chances are you will find success. Commitment is a rarity in many areas of society today and to hear people criticize this guy because of his commitment to his values and beliefs… Well, Godspeed to you. I happen to love what Tim stands for and have always been a fan of his. And I told him that this weekend.

Me: “Thank you for doing what you do, man. It’s refreshing to talk with someone who gets it like you do.”

Tim: “It’s what I do, Mark. It’s just who I am. Thank you for saying that.”

Me: “You’re a pro in my book, man. Good luck with everything. God Bless.”

Tim: “Thank you, Mark. God Bless.”

Me: (out-loud but to myself as I walked away) “That was awesome. Hell yea!”

On Saturday at the NFL Experience, we officially announced a formal relationship with the NFL Alumni Association. We have always worked with former players because they are fantastic leaders in their communities. This year, the organization made a donation to our initiative. Below is a pic of our chairman, Paul Rovey and President of NFL Alumni, Joe Pisarcik. Joe was a NFL Quarterback for nine years with the Giants, Eagles and Dolphins. Here he is seated in the center of our group. Joe and I have become pretty good friends over the past few years and I am both excited to be working with him as well as inspired by him. He is doing some great work for former players and he is a selfless man.

Joe actually drove himself to my hotel Saturday morning to pick me up, just so we could hang out and talk. Most everyone is being driven around by private drivers in limousines and black SUV’s. Not Joe. That’s just the kind of man he is. He said that he was sorry he was so busy and didn’t have more time; that he had just come from the Valor and Victor 5K, an event that was raising money for the Pat Tillman Foundation. An organization that invests in military veterans and their spouses.

President & CEO of NFL Alumni Association with Paul Rovey, Chairman of DMI.

President & CEO of NFL Alumni Association with Paul Rovey, Chairman of DMI.

Some other familiar faces in this picture too. Seated next to Mr. Pisarcik is one of my favorites, Jason Witten. And seated next to Mr. Rovey is Alex Smith. Alex and Jason have been some of our best ambassadors and have been with the Fuel Up to Play 60 program for several years. They truly understand what it means to be a professional and we are incredibly thankful to have them on our team.

I have a special appreciation for Jason Witten, being that he is a tight end, and all around great human being. He, along with Joe Thomas and Larry Fitzgerald are among my favorite players in the league right now, so yea, this year was a pretty great year.

Jason is now being coached by Mike Pope in Dallas; the tight ends coach who coached the Giants when I was with them in 2003-04 (Jason Garrett, the Cowboys head coach, was the 3rd string quarterback for the Giants which is how Pope ended up in Dallas). Jason and I were telling Alex about the crazy drills Pope would have us do after practice; and it felt good to be one of the guys again.

Talking tight end play with Jason Witten & Alex Smith

Talking tight end play and sharing a few laughs with Jason Witten & Alex Smith

The NFL Experience is definitely a sight for football fans to see. If you ever get a chance to experience it, it’s worth the price of admission, especially if you have kids! One kid whom I’ve developed a bit of a friendship with over the years is Jane from Wilson Football. Jane has been working in the Wilson factory for 48 years, hand making NFL footballs in Ada, Ohio – about 30 miles from where I grew up.

I met Aunt Jane in Phoenix in 2007 at Super Bowl XLII. We talked about the weather back home and the college kids at Ohio Northern University and the Regal Beagle. And Jane loved that I caught footballs that her hands made.

Every Super Bowl that I have been to since 2007, I’ve gone to visit her at the NFL Experience. This was her last NFL Experience, her last Super Bowl and her final season on the Wilson team so I was especially grateful that I could wish her a happy retirement. As we talked a bit, she said you know, “I think we’ve had some people from your town work in the factory over the years.”

“Is that right” I said. She said, yea, I think they were laborers in the factory like myself.”

Me: “Jane” I said: “Can I have my picture taken with you?”

Jane: “Oh my heavens, why would you want to do that?”

Me: “Well, the way I see it, of all these pro football players and fans in here, not one of ’em knows more about it than you. And since you are retiring, I may never see you again.”

Jane: “Oh well, in that case, are we going to take a selfie?”

Me: “Yep, Let’s take a selfie, Jane.”

Aunt Jane has been sewing footballs for 48 NFL seasons

Aunt Jane has been sewing footballs for 48 NFL seasons.

Tebow’s Super Stance

You either love him or you hate him… Sorry Columbus, Ohio but I love him – well, I love what he stands for anyhow. Tim Tebow was in the news again today, but it had nothing to do with his draft status. Tebow made the ESPN show, Pardon the Interruption for his Right-to-Life support stance in an advertisement for the upcoming SuperBowl. The Focus on the Family campaign features Tebow and his mother in an ad supporting Mrs. Tebow’s decision to not follow Doctor’s advice and keep her son despite medical risks. This is a sports marketing discussion so I’m choosing not to get into that topic, but maybe we can learn a thing or two about building a brand from Tim Tebow. Everyone in my industry seems to have an opinion regarding how to build a brand; and everyone coincidentally wants to tell others how to do it and why their particular way is superior. As I watched and listened to Wilbon and Kornheiser discuss Tebow’s controversial stance, I was leaving the locker room at my gym and realized that Tim Tebow didn’t care one way or the other what ESPN, the general public, or any political party thought of his stance. Tebow is a man of veracity. His integrity and character speak for itself and what you see is what you get from him.

In sports it is natural to pick popular athletes and like them or dislike them for various reasons. When I was a kid, I liked Walter Payton from the Chicago Bears because he played the game the way I thought it should have been played. Walter never ran out of bounds when the defense was coming after him; he faced his attackers head-on and worked to get every possible yard for his team. As I got older and became a team member, my pet peave was guys avoiding contact and going out of bounds instead of trying for that extra yard. I think the core reason I respect Tim as much as I do is because he is a tough guy. He plays the game the way it is meant to be played and he leaves everything on the field for his team. That’s a teammate.

You know what you are getting from Tim Tebow and as a consumer you want that same trust in a brand. Consumers have options when it comes to choosing a product, and as marketers, its our responsibility to evangelize consumers to choose our brand over our competition. One way to ensure consumers will choose your brand is to create a sense of trust between your brand and your consumer. The same way Tim Tebow’s teammates are confident that he is going to be the leader of their football team, consumers not only need but deserve that same sense of confidence in your brand or service to meet their expectations. Without consumer trust, your brand is susceptible to scrutiny and negative buzz. The negativity that surrounds a brand or an athlete are equal in the sense that their actions create the same type of person to person conversational buzz. Whether that buzz is negative or positive is in the positioning of each. Tim Tebow positions himself with the moral fiber of Christianty and personal devotion to his religion. It’s authentic, it’s definable, and it’s believable. Is your brand sending the same loud and clear message?

Ordinarily I don’t recall SuperBowl ads after a few days, and they have never convinced me to purchase a product, but all the buzz around this year’s Tim Tebow ad just might prove me wrong. Good for you Tim Tebow. I’m buying your brand.