THB, Banditos, Wayward and more confirmed for Cosmic Cocktail!

Full tilt for football Exhibition organizers pull the details together

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Is this even mathematically possible? How do you squeeze 79 legendary Colts players (including seven Hall of Famers), 150 band members, 20 cheerleaders, 55 superfans, 35 Pop Warner League players and 16 singers into 30 minutes of pre-game festivities and 12 minutes of half-time?

Or what about this dilemma: What do you say to a Washington TV station that calls on the day of a game that already would be scrutinized by more than 200 members of the media, and wonders if it can be squeezed in somewhere? Or, when New York writer Jimmy Breslin calls and asks for four tickets to a game that sold out in 2 1/2 hours seven months ago?

These were just the tip of the logistical iceberg that was yesterday's New Orleans Saints vs. Miami Dolphins football game at Memorial Stadium, an exhibition game -- New Orleans won it -- as tryout for the real thing, a mere game except that it could help or hurt Baltimore's chances for getting an NFL franchise.

Long before kickoff, the organizers behind this event were at work, a job that was part diplomacy (deciding who gets to sit where, who gets to speak for how long), part protocol (can both coaches use the same elevator?), but mostly organizational wizardry.

For Dale Kaetzel, managing director of marketing for Centre Management, the company hired to carry off the event, it meant a year's worth of organizing culminating with a day that began at 5:30 a.m., since WMIX radio and WJZ-TV were broadcasting live from the stadium. But despite the furrows in his brow that deepened as the day wore on, and snafus that would ultimately have him pounding his head, albeit lightly, against the wall, it was still a labor of love.

"I did the 1984 All-Star Game. This reminds me a lot of that, in the scope as well as the passion that people have for a single game," said Mr. Kaetzel, who used to work in baseball marketing. "There's such a unique passion to bring football back to Baltimore. So it's been worth it."

He and some 30 other staffers from Centre Management spent much of yesterday spread throughout the stadium connected by scratchy radios and telephones they couldn't remember the numbers to -- and often, one on each ear. Problems that ranged from too much or too little air conditioning here or there to missing press credentials to blocked entrances all crackled through the radios during the day.

Edie Brown, public relations director for the Centre-managed Baltimore Arena, must have walked up, down and around the stadium a dozen times -- through the press area to show the

Dolphins' and Saints' representatives where their owners, coaches and media would be sitting, and onto the field to link up journalists with subjects: Dolphins Coach Don Shula (6 p.m. on the field), "Diner" guys-turned-would-be-football-team-owners Boogie Weinglass and Barry Levinson (noon on the old third base line).

"Let's test this route before they get here," was Ms. Brown's frequent refrain throughout the day, doing everything but drop bread crumbs to make sure she knew how to get interviewees from their cars to where the cameras were. "Nothing's more embarrassing than to lead someone to a locked door or a dead end."

Amid all the to-the-second planning, however, there was the kind of wondrous serendipity that no amount of advance work could have produced.

"Barry, come here! I want to show you something," Mr. Weinglass, surely the world's hippest millionaire, called out to his friend Mr. Levinson after they finished their live shot with Marty Bass on Channel 13's noon show.

Mr. Weinglass had sought shade in the old Orioles dugout and happened to wander down a tunnel and discover the teams' locker rooms. And soon, the two of them were like kids let loose in a candy store, bouncing between the two locker rooms. Mr. Weinglass got his picture taken with Miami quarterback Dan Marino's jersey and Mr. Levinson talked equipment with Dolphins staffers who were prepping the room.

They each remembered less celebrated visits to the stadium.

"I'm not used to coming in this way. I'm used to climbing over the left field fence," Mr. Weinglass joked upon entering the stadium.

"I was here in '53 for the first game. I was at every game," recalled Mr. Levinson.

For Ms. Brown, squiring Mr. Levinson around the stadium was a trip even further back down memory lane: She was Mr.Levinson's eighth-grade English teacher at Garrison Junior High School.

"The thing that I learned was if you didn't know the answer, get your hand up as quickly as possible and make a lot of noise, and you usually wouldn't get called on," Mr. Levinson said.

If Ms. Brown was as accommodating as a teacher as she is a p.r. woman, Mr. Levinson probably passed with flying colors. "If there's a question, I'd rather lean toward being nice than being mean," she instructed a volunteer posted to make sure only the properly credentialed were allowed into the Hit and Run Club for one of several parties going on in the stadium.

The Hit and Run Club also served as Bob Rubenkonig's command central in the late afternoon. There, in a room that had the musty, mildewy smell of a summer house opened for the first time since last season (which is just about the case for the Hit and Run since the Orioles moved to their new digs at Camden Yards), the Rouse Company's director of corporate marketing marshaled his 12-person staff in a final run-through for the pre-game and half-time festivities that they were responsible for.

Ever see anyone synchronize their watches? This group actually did, the better to follow game books that, by seconds in some cases, outlined who was to do what when and where. As in, "9:31:15, Players line up to run on field."

Each employee was responsible for one person (Johnny Unitas, Chuck Thompson and the like) or one group (the band, the cheerleaders). Mr. Rubenkonig had tips for all of them: Make sure the Colts Corrals and Quarterback clubs didn't try to sneak their "dancing horse" into the stadium; keep the former Colts players filing apace into the stadium even if you had to nudge them in the rear, don't let the kid football players wear helmets onto the field or else no one will get to see their faces.

Still, the Rousians -- identifiable by their matching long-sleeved, mock-turtlenecked black jerseys, khaki shorts or pants and just as uniformly cheerful attitudes -- were reminded by their leader that this indeed was a game and not just an exercise of military precision.

"Despite all the craziness, let's all have fun. I want the kids to have a good time, I want the old players to have a good time," Mr. Rubenkonig said. "But be sure to know the schedule, so if I drop over, you can keep the show going."

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
32°