NFL players and teams can spend years working hard to earn a trip to the Super Bowl. But they aren't the only folks who want to be part of the "big game" — it's a dream they share with people like IUPUI graduates Sheila Bradley and Casey Springer.
Bradley and Springer — and a host of other IUPUI graduates, students, faculty members and staffers — culminated their dream Feb. 5 when the New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in Lucas Oil Stadium during Super Bowl XLVI.
For two weeks, Indianapolis was the mecca of the sporting world, flooded with visitors both famous and unknown, players and spectators alike, all wanting to be part of the world’s biggest one- day sporting event. And, thanks to people like Bradley and Springer and those other volunteers, Indianapolis now occupies a special place in the memory banks for those thousands of people who swept into downtown Indy and the Super Bowl Village to share the experience of a lifetime.
In many respects, Bradley and Springer are very different. Bradley works full time at the Indiana Sports Corporation (ISC) as the director of volunteer services; she’s worked dozens of high-profile sporting events in the city, and was part of the Super Bowl host committee’s preparations from the time Indy learned in 2008 that it would host Super Bowl XLVI. Springer, on the other hand, had to walk away from her first post-college, full-time job, accept an unpaid internship with the host committee, and work hard enough to earn a full time job during the crucial months leading up to the game.
But there are similarities. Both hold events management degrees (Bradley in 2003, Springer in 2010) from the IU School of Physical Education and Tourism Management (PETM), and earned separate degrees at IUPUI: Bradley an associate’s degree in general studies in 2002, Springer a BS in business from IU Kelley Indianapolis in 2007. And both are passionate about sports, particularly about the extraordinary experiences they and other IUPUI-connected folks shared during the run-up to Super Bowl XLVI.
Bradley coordinated volunteer registration, assignments and communication for the Super Bowl, and her experience with such major events as the NCAA Final Four men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, the FIBA World Basketball Championships and many, many more helped her realize early on what the host committee would face.
The host committee “knew the Super Bowl would be like the Final Four on steroids,” Bradley laughs. Constant changes and updates by the NFL, plus other factors like the potential 2011 lockout that could have delayed the city’s Super Bowl, meant the committee had to be nimble in handling surprises.
What didn’t surprise Bradley was the local offer to help. “We knew once people heard, they’d want to volunteer,” Bradley says. “That’s just the way it is in this community — people love to pitch in, love to do their part. There is a lot to that old phrase ‘Hoosier hospitality.’”
Springer, on the other hand, “left a great job at Cummins to take the internship. But I wanted to be part of this so much,” she says. And though she “blew through my entire savings” in just six months before landing the full time gig, the risk was worth it. “We became a family almost immediately, because we were all working toward the same goal,” she adds. “When you spend 20 hours a day with one another, it’s hard not to feel that way. I’ll love these people forever.”
As head of the Super Service volunteer program, Springer worked closely with Amanda Cecil of PETM, who helped devise the effort that drew rave reviews from visitors and media around the world for the simple catch phrase “Have a Super Day!” But Springer knows that the phrase would have been just a slogan if it hadn’t been backed by hard work from volunteers determined to make each person’s visit special.
Springer believes that “Super Service” mentality will roll on in the city’s future. “Any business convention, NCAA Final Four or other major events will tap into that same service-oriented mindset,” Springer says. “It’s part of who we are, and it was really cool to help make that part of our culture.”
Cecil believes Springer’s skills and knowledge were a big part of the “Super Service” success story. “Casey has such a great personality and confidence that we (the host committee) just let her make things happen,” Cecil says. “The way she was proactive and handled the day-to-day details allowed the rest of us to focus our time on the content of the program. She far exceeded any expectations we had for the role she had!”
The PETM faculty member also was amazed at Bradley’s ability to “manage the chaos” that goes with any event that spans many days and sites. “It takes a special kind of person to do that and make it look so effortless,” Cecil says. “But Sheila has done it all before, just never on such a big stage. It was a little like going from piloting a small boat on a medium-sized pond to captaining a big ship in a raging hurricane! And she pulled it off!”
Springer and Bradley credit technology that played a pivotal role in the Super Bowl success, including the use of social media. “From the very beginning, our marketing committee wanted to be the most connected Super Bowl ever, and I think we achieved that,” Springer says. “Our Twitter feed was huge, even though most of us had never tweeted before.”
Technology enabled the volunteer street teams to provide visitors with up-to-the-minute instructions, directions and guidance, or a “database of truth,” as Springer refers to it. The committee oversaw 555 street team members in 13 locations scattered throughout the Super Bowl Village and downtown Indy. “Our control center operated most of them, and that’s where I wound up spending most of my time,” she says, providing everything from directions to wait times for restaurant seating to alerts about overflowing trash cans.
Both women credit their time at IUPUI with developing the type of “can-do” mentality that permeated the committee’s Super Bowl efforts. In fact, Bradley says, the campus, the city and the Sports Corporation share that passion. “We constantly look for ways to move forward, to improve, to do things better,” she says. “The key is to build strong relationships, and that’s at the heart of everything we do.”
For Bradley, the immediate future has already begun, with the Big Ten men’s and women’s basketball tournaments behind the ISC, and dozens of other events in the next few months and years. “I found my niche,” she says. “This is what I look forward to every day. It’s never stale!” Her husband Anthony and her three children — a daughter already in the working world, one son at Purdue and the other at Hamilton Southeastern High School — enjoy her work, even when she makes them pitch in, especially her sons. “I’d make the boys come in and help out. In our house, you have to volunteer!” she laughs.
Springer has her own personal “Super Bowl” moment coming: she is marrying fiancé Spencer Dell in September. Springer, like Dell, is a Columbus native, and, like him, is ready for the world to slow down a bit, even though she admits she’s not sure what job comes next. “I really didn’t prepare myself for the ‘after,’” she chuckles. “We were going so hard for so long, then suddenly, it was over! It’s not a normal job. You have to be a certain kind of person.”
Still, the long hours and hard work were worth it all, especially since the committee tried to make sure that the volunteers — and the committee members themselves — set aside time just to be part of the fun, whether going to parties, special events or even down the now-renowned zip line.
Both women got to attend the event they wanted most. Springer got to see the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show, while Bradley attended the Patty LaBelle concert in Super Bowl Village. And each came away thrilled.
Bradley still smiles at her LaBelle experience. “I was surrounded by a sea of people at the show’s climax. Fireworks were going off, music was all around us, people were so excited, and I found myself crying like a baby,” she says softly. “That moment was exactly what we’d worked so hard to create.”