John McGrath: A seamless Super Bowl requires a little time in Tacoma

Staff writerJanuary 27, 2014 

Brad Mayne trusts the next football game played in a stadium under his purview, Super Bowl XLVIII, begins with fewer hitches than the first one did.

Mayne, the CEO and president of MetLife Stadium, oversaw Cheney Stadium and the Tacoma Dome during his 1987-1989 stint as deputy director of the city's Department of Public Assembly Facilities. Among the events Mayne recalls was an 80-play scrimmage, between the 1988 Seattle Seahawks and Houston Oilers, at the Tacoma Dome.

The scrimmage preceding the exhibition season that came before the real season ended 0-0, thanks to John L. Williams' fumble at the Houston 1-yard line. The offenses weren't the only things to start slowly: For the 8,518 fans who showed up, action was delayed more than a half hour because trucks containing the Oilers' equipment got stuck in a traffic jam south of SeaTac Airport.

If the kickoff at MetLife Stadium is delayed Sunday, it's almost certain a traffic jam won't be the culprit. But then, you never know. During last year's Super Bowl game between San Francisco and Baltimore, power at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome was lost for 34 minutes.

Between measures to safeguard the crowd of 80,000 – Super Bowl XLVIII has been classified as a "Level I" national security event – and its status as the first outdoor, cold weather Super Bowl, Mayne has been readying MetLife Stadium for Feb. 2, 2014 since he accepted the job as the stadium's chief caretaker on Aug. 15, 2012.

"Preparations for this have been going on for years and we're still having specific meetings with the NFL,” Mayne said Monday. “You can't be surprised by anything."

To wit: A double chain-length fence, nearly four miles long, has been constructed around the Meadowlands complex. It encircles the football stadium's power plant, minimizing the potential for human (or animal) interference.

An unscripted dress rehearsal, on Dec. 14 – 12 hours before the visiting Seahawks faced the Giants for a 1 p.m. game – gave Mayne a sneak preview of the response required to clear the field. At kickoff, there was no trace of the six-inch snowfall and subsequent sheet of freezing rain.

Mayne, a University of Utah graduate whose introduction to stadium-event operations came as a 14-year old selling hot dogs during Utes football games, considered a career as a plumber after college.

The job paid well, and as he once told the Los Angeles Times, "the opportunity to work outside and work with your hands, you get instant gratification by seeing the fruits of your labor."

But he aspired to return to the arena, and when the opportunity arose to coordinate events at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Mayne took an annual salary pay cut of $10,000.

In 1987, the City of Tacoma called with an offer to serve as deputy for Public Assembly Facilities director Jay Green. Because Green was a financial expert who spent much of time on budgets and bottom lines, Mayne's responsibilities were Tacoma's iconic gathering places: Not only Cheney Stadium and the Tacoma Dome but the Pantages Theatre and the Bicentennial Pavilion.

Mayne's stay in Tacoma was brief but productive enough to draw notice. While he admits that his hands-on presence at Cheney Stadium was minimal ("I don't know that I did much, because the groundskeeper did such a great job," he said in 2012, referring to Bob Christofferson, who now tends Safeco Field), the late 1980s were something of a golden era for the Tacoma Dome.

"My wife and I didn't leave because we were unhappy with Tacoma," Mayne said. "We very much enjoyed our time there. But I had a chance to work with a private management firm."

Mayne relocated to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and then was transferred to Anaheim, Calif., where he managed Arrowhead Pond – known now as the Honda Center – home of the NHL's Ducks. Before his appointment as president and CEO at MetLife Stadium, Mayne held the same title during his 15 years at American Airlines Arena in Dallas.

The primary tenants of American Airlines Arena, the NBA's Mavericks and NHL's Stars, are major-sports teams. But there is a difference between a house for two major sports teams in Dallas and a house for two NFL teams representing New York City, the Giants and the Jets.

"He's done a very good job, and it's a big job," Giants' president and CEO John Mara said of Mayne after a Monday morning news conference. "We have two teams there. We have more events than any stadium in the country."

At 2.1-million square feet, the East Rutherford, N.J. venue is twice the size of its predecessor, Giants Stadium. In addition to 16 regular-season football games played there each year, MetLife Stadium's itinerary stays busy with college football and pop concerts and the occasional pro wrestling, uh, competition.

"Looking back," said Mayne, "I think of when the Seahawks were in the Tacoma Dome during the preseason. That was my introduction, from a stadium-management perspective, to pro football."

He can hold these truths to be self-evident: the final score won't be 0-0 Sunday, and the Houston Oilers will be nowhere to be found.

Otherwise, let the game begin.

The world's most watched single-day sporting event has landed in America's largest metropolis, where traffic jams won't be an issue outside a stadium that's put a premium on security. Inside the stadium, 80,000 spectators will be made to feel as if they're home, even though most of them will be far away from home.

For any Tacoma fans able to recall the 1988 scrimmage between the Seahawks and the Oilers, the scariest prospect about Super Bowl XLVIII might be the shape of the ball. It's oblong, which means it can be fumbled and take a crazy bounce, this way and that way, at the 1-yard line.

Brad Mayne is familiar with every disaster-contingency plan imaginable, but if the Hawks are victims of a fumble that takes a crazy bounce?

They're on their own.

john.mcgrath@thenewstribune.com

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