By Dave Wischnowsky –
Mike Schlaak and his dad have season tickets at Lambeau Field.
“They’ve been in the family since the stadium was built,” the 27-year-old Chicagoan said Monday night. “They were passed down to my dad about 25 or 30 years ago, and we go to games every year.”
Mike Schlaak and his dad also had tickets to Super Bowl XLV in Dallas.
“And it was the most ridiculous experience of my life,” Schlaak said.
Schlaak and his 53-year-old father, Dave, of Wheeling, were among the 400 people forced to give up their seats for the Green Bay Packers’ 31-25 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night and instead watch the game on monitors inside Cowboys Stadium.
But, if that was all the Schlaaks had to do, that would be annoying, but not so bad. Being forced to stand watch the game on TV, however, was the smallest problem in a five-hour odyssey in frustration and failures to plan, execute and communicate by the NFL that made what the blizzard-bound drivers on Lake Shore Drive went through last Tuesday night look like a clinic in crisis management.
On Monday evening, 24 hours removed from the Debacle in Dallas, I spoke to Mike Schlaak from an airport in Texas.
Where he was delayed.
“Typical,” he said.
Last week, with the intent of setting the record for the largest attendance at a Super Bowl, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and the NFL installed thousands of temporary seats inside Cowboys Stadium. News reports have said that when fans showed up on Sunday to sit in those temporary seats they were notified that the seats weren’t safe and were relocated.
But Schlaak said that was not the case at all. The fans weren’t notified of anything. And, yes, they were relocated – time and time and time again.
“We got in line about 1 p.m.,” Schlaak recalled about Sunday afternoon outside Cowboys Stadium, “and it took about an hour and a half just to get through the initial security line because they had all but two exits closed (due to ice falling off Cowboys Stadium). It was a complete mess. There were people frustrated and jumping over gates. Just a total zoo.
“Finally, my dad and I got through the metal detectors and they scanned our tickets. But all it did was beep and show a big red X. The usher told us, ‘Sorry, these tickets don’t work.’ And we said, ‘What do you mean? We bought them through the NFL.’ ”
As Green Bay season ticket holders, Schlaak and his father won a lottery through the Packers to buy a pair of Super Bowl tickets for face value and purchased seats in section 425A above the end zone for $800 apiece. But, on Sunday, it didn’t matter where their tickets came from.
“All the usher told us was your tickets aren’t scanning right and, you have to go to the Ticket Resolution Area. He said, just walk out of here and make a left. We asked where exactly. And he said, ‘I don’t know. Just outside and to the left.’”
Schlaak and his father did as they were told, snaking their way backwards through the security line – “They didn’t even have another door for us to use,” he said – and into the parking lot to the left, where they found …
“Nothing,” he said. “No one was there. There was no ‘Ticket Resolution Area.’ Pretty soon, hundreds of other people started showing up with the same problem.”
Schlaak said that eventually someone from the NFL showed up and began putting all the affected ticketholders in lines. Buses pulled up after a while, which could each fit about 20 people.
“My dad and I were being pretty aggressive about things, so we got on the second bus,” he said. “But no one knew where we were going, And then we started driving away from the stadium. We drove around for a while and then we just ended up about 10 blocks away – on the other side of the stadium.”
Schlaak said fans were unloaded in another parking lot, where they were then handed computer paper print-outs with no official NFL logos or signatures that told them there seats weren’t available, they would receive a refund worth triple the face value of their tickets and that they would be admitted entry into a hospitality area to watch the game.
Schlaak said he and his father were then instructed to head to gate E-11, so they hustled over there. But once they arrived, the people working at that gate knew nothing about what was going on.
“They told us we needed to go to the Ticket Resolution Area,” Schlaak said with a laugh. “We said were just there! Eventually, we just pushed in there and were standing with a bunch of other people in an area near a security line. We stood there for another hour and people started getting angry. Some fans ripped down a fence and people started chanting ‘Let us in!’”
By this time, it was about 3:30 p.m., and Schlaak said finally a new corral was set up and two workers started doing security checks for the displaced fans.
“Even though they said we wouldn’t have to go through security again,” he said. “But they only had two men doing the security, and men can’t pat down women. So, no women were being allowed through.”
Schlaak said that once he and his father got through security – again – they were directed to another area where they were forced to wait in line for another 20 minutes.
“And then finally a lady looks at our tickets,” Schlaak said. “She was so rude and talked to us like idiots and said, ‘These tickets are fine. That area’s all open, just go in there.’ ”
Schlaak and his father, exasperated but now hopeful, took the escalators up to their assigned section only to enter through a doorway that led them to “what looked like we were under high school bleachers,” he said. “We walked up them and they were really steep and shaky. There were zip ties holding things together, no railings, cables and wires hanging all over the place. “And then we get to our section and there’s yellow caution tape all around it and security guards standing there telling us the section is closed.”
It was now 4:45 p.m., with kickoff just 45 minutes away and the Schlaaks still had no seats, just like hundreds of other people.
“So, we were then told to go to the Bud Light Club, but no one could tell us where that was,” Schlaak said. “And then, finally a guy wearing an NFL shirt shows up and says they’re working on a solution. He takes us, about 100 or 150 people from our section, and we follow him through the whole stadium. We’re back in the service areas, we’re down by the mascot area, we’re seeing signs for field-level boxes … We start getting excited, thinking that they’re going to take us out on the field.
“But then they take us to the Miller Lite Club, which is pretty much a bar with a VIP area right behind the Steelers bench. There’s a tunnel that goes through the bar where the players run out of the locker room onto the field and it’s surrounded by a wall of cops.
“Well, the NFL guy just disappears and we’re all just standing there looking at TVs. There is no one there from the NFL, just cops. No one knows what’s going on, and things start getting really heated. The cops said that they were told we’re staying here. Cops are yelling at people, there are people crying. My dad and I backed away, because we’re worried something is going to happen.”
Schlaak said the game then began, and he and his father managed to cram inside a viewing area along with about 50 other people about 50 feet behind the Steelers bench.
“We watched the game on the giant video screen above the field and tried to catch peeks of the field in between the players,” he said. “The Steelers players could hear us yelling at them, and it was a cool experience – but we weren’t watching the game.”
After the game ended, Schlaak and his father were handed a letter with an official NFL logo telling them how to get refunds and also given a gift bag – “It had a 4XL T-shirt and an XL hat,” Schlaak said, “Pretty much I think whatever they didn’t sell at the souvenir stand during the game, I think.”
The Schlaaks were then told by a stadium employee that they could walk out onto the field.
“And we were like, ‘Really?’ ” Schlaak said. “So we were out there on the field after the game and took photos beneath the goalposts and everything. But then we didn’t know how to get out. No one told us anything.”
Schlaak said he and his father eventually ended up in the press area and were stopped by an angry security guard.
“He wanted to know where our credentials were,” Schlaak said. “Here we were, a couple of idiots standing there with gift bags and wearing Rodgers jerseys. He was really mad and told us to wait, but we ended up taking a freight elevator packed with workers. They were all saying, ‘How did you get in here?’ ”
On Monday, after they survived the Super Bowl, Schlaak and his father FedExed copies of their tickets and paperwork to the NFL offices in New York City, as they were instructed to do by the league. The NFL has now said the affected fans would get triple refunds and free tickets to next year’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis.
“Hopefully, we don’t get nosebleeds,” Schlaak said
The NFL also admitted Monday that it knew last week there were problems with the installation of temporary Super Bowl seating sections and hoped until hours before kickoff that they could be fixed.
“At the end, we just ran out of time,” NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman.
The NFL’s failure to be prepared in that case was something Schlaak still can’t understand.
“I know things happen, but no one knew anything about what was going on when people’s tickets didn’t scan,” he said. “If you knew there might be problems with tickets, have a contingency plan figured out. I mean, just have a plan, you know?”
Schlaak said he doubts Cowboys Stadium gets another Super Bowl anytime soon – “Beautiful stadium,” he said, “but just botched in every way possible.” – and while frustrated by his day, he also had a story of a lifetime to tell.
“We got an unreal experience,” Schlaak said. “But believe me, we paid for it. I’m happy because the Packers won. But if I was a Steelers fan who went through all that, well, I don’t think I’d be very happy at all.”
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.