Super Bowl called 'total disaster'

Updated: February 10, 2011, 8:08 PM ET
By Calvin Watkins | ESPNDallas.com

An NFL executive doesn't blame fans for being angry over losing their seats at Super Bowl XLV.

NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman, in an interview with ESPN 970-AM in Pittsburgh on Thursday, summed up the situation as "awful."

"We made the best of it. We screwed it up. I can't change that," Grubman said. "I'm a football fan and before I worked at the Super Bowl I took my young sons and my father ... to see the New York Giants and if that would have happened to me, I would be furious."

Temporary seats at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, weren't ready in time, forcing some fans to move and others to watch from standing-room spots. The league has come up with a number of different ways to compensate displaced fans, but the situation has already spawned at least two lawsuits. Two Packers fans filed suit against the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys and the stadium alleging fraud, breach of contract and negligence; and a class-action suit filed against the league, the Cowboys and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones alleges breach of contract, fraud and deceptive sales practices.

Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement Thursday expanding the league's compensation to fans who were inconvenienced at the game. Some 2,000 fans in temporary seating who were delayed in getting to their seats "will receive a choice of either a refund of the face-value amount of their ticket or a free ticket to a future Super Bowl game of their choice."

In the days after the Packers' 31-25 Super Bowl win over the Steelers, the league has given the displaced fans two options: $2,400 -- triple the face value of the ticket -- and a ticket to next year's Super Bowl, or a ticket to any future Super Bowl, with round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations included.

The plan Goodell announced Thursday is separate from the original package.

One of the angry fans is a granddaughter of the first president of the Green Bay Packers. She says she was among the 400 ticket holders forced to watch the Packers play the Pittsburgh Steelers from standing-room spots because their seats weren't safe.

In a letter sent to the NFL, which she provided to The Associated Press, Peggy Beisel-McIlwaine says Jones should never be allowed to host another Super Bowl. She called her experience a "total disaster."

Beisel-McIlwaine wrote that it took several hours -- and miles of walking -- before stadium and league officials finally led her and other displaced fans from their upper-deck seats to a field-level bar area behind the Pittsburgh Steelers bench -- with no view of the field.

The 55-year-old woman from Michigan told the AP she received a call Wednesday from the NFL, and will be going to the league office Friday in New York to meet with a person who is handling her situation.

"I hope we can get this remedied quickly," she wrote.

Beisel-McIlwaine's grandfather was Andrew Blair Turnbull, the Packers' first president and a member of the team's Hall of Fame. Her father was Daniel C. Beisel, a Packers board member from 1968 until his death in 2009.

The NFL knew about the seating problem days before kickoff but still couldn't solve the problem of fixing the seats. Grubman said it's nearly impossible to get the temporary seats inspected until they're completed. Still, 400 fans didn't get to see the Super Bowl the way they wanted and that's a problem.

"It's a construction project when you put up these stands, these temporary stands," Grubman said. "You put up the outside of the building and then you've got to finish it and there's a lot of detail work and you can't get the inspections until you do the finished detail work. And we just didn't get that done. Literally, an hour before the game, we thought we were going to have all the seats and we just didn't get it done."

The big question concerning all this regards North Texas and whether the region will get another chance to host a Super Bowl. The next three Super Bowl sites have been decided and North Texas would like to host Super Bowl L.

"It was a regional approach to the Super Bowl and they did a great job and they were great hosts," Grubman said. "I tell you, I would go back there again. ... I don't think they took themselves out of the running. Do we plan it better next time? You betcha."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Thursday that 40 employees have been assigned to help identify and assist fans who were left without seats. He said 260 of the ticket holders have either been located or have called the league. Some have shown up at the league's New York office.

A Packers season-ticket holder, Beisel-McIlwaine bought two tickets for the Super Bowl at face value, $800 apiece. When she arrived with her son at their seats -- "in the nose bleed section, 425A seats 4 and 5" -- about three hours before the game, stadium officials said they weren't ready. Eventually, they were told the seats weren't going to be available at all and, like many others in the same predicament, they ended up without a view at field level, forced to watch the game on television.

During her ordeal, Beisel-McIlwaine wrote that she was sent from one ticket office to another and back again, then back to her seats, which by then were covered with a black tarp.

"We were getting nowhere," she wrote in her letter to the NFL. "Everyone was passing it off to someone else and no one seemed to know what was going on. It was truly a run around."

Beisel-McIlwaine wrote that she "grabbed one of the few tables and two chairs and we were joined shortly by two other Packer fans. There were many folks in this bar now, many of which had to sit on the floor."

Free food and drink was available, but even watching on TV was a problem: The picture was supplied by the NFL feed, and the audio was from the Fox telecast.

"They were not in sync with each other and it was very difficult to determine what down or how many yards there were to go unless we listened very closely," Beisel-McIlwaine wrote.

There was a benefit: After the Packers won and the Lombardi Trophy was presented, "they did lead us out onto the field so we could get a look and actually were able to thank many of the Packer players and coaches."

Beisel-McIlwaine said she wore a pedometer on Super Bowl Sunday, and clocked 21,823 steps. Using the commonly accepted average of about 2,000 steps per mile, that translates to more than 10 miles, up and down steps and through crowded concourses.

"I'm 55 and fortunately in good shape and health, but I saw many in wheel chairs and one person on crutches," she wrote.

In another interview with Pro Football Talk, Grubman noted the firm the Cowboys hired to install the temporary seating, Seating Solutions from Commack, N.Y., walked off the job for an unspecified reason.

Officials from Seating Solutions declined comment.

The Cowboys hired Manhattan Construction to finish the job but it failed to do so by kickoff.

"We thought we were going to get them all," Grubman said to Pro Football Talk. "We had some challenges, the Cowboys bought another contractor in, and we just thought that we were going to get it done. We didn't spend a lot of time talking about whether we were going to let people know earlier in the week because of that, but as I think about it now, I'm not sure that would have done any good. Imagine the chaos, if we would have announced that we're not sure what seats we have, but we might have all of them."

Seating Solutions installed temporary seating for the NBA All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium last year and has done so at Yankee Stadium and various other events.

Normally the NFL takes over stadiums to begin Super Bowl preparations, and in this case it was Jan. 8 when the league took over. Grubman said the Cowboys remained in the process.

"Well, it's accurate to say in this instance," he said to Pro Football Talk, "I won't deal with what happened in the other 44 Super Bowls because I am sure there is a lot of particulars in any one Super Bowl, but the fact that the Cowboys were involved in hiring the contractor to install the seats and that is just the specifics of how we and the Cowboys decided to do it this time around."

Cowboys officials have declined comment other than to say they apologized for what happened with the seating problems.

Calvin Watkins covers the Cowboys for ESPNDallas.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Calvin Watkins joined ESPNDallas.com in September 2009. He's covered the Cowboys since 2006 and also has covered colleges, boxing and high school sports.

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