For a pair of former Ohioans living in SoCal, we couldn't have asked for a better Super Bowl LVI matchup: our hometown team, the Cincinnati Bengals vs. our adopted hometown team, the Los Angeles Rams, playing right here in L.A.
It’s been a tough, decades-long slog for the Bengals. The team has never won a Super Bowl, and their last appearance in "the big game" had been in 1988. In the ‘90s, the team was so bad a Cincinnati radio DJ camped out on a billboard and wasn’t going to come down until the Bengals won a game. He stayed up there for 61 days.
In the 2000s, we saw a glimmer of hope, when the team reached the Wild Card round of the playoffs twice. They lost both games. In the 2010s, they lost all three Wild Card appearances. It’s been like Groundhog Day.
This season, though.... What a run! Right after the Bengals beat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game - and Janine and I were done yelling and high-fiving - we set our minds to getting Super Bowl tickets within a set budget. In the following days, we entered sweepstakes, kept an eye on ticket broker sites, and did some brainstorming. Scouring social media, I ended up finding a charity auction for a ticket package, and the foundation’s posts weren’t receiving many likes or comments. That seemed like a possible way in. A few days later, the auction came to a close with just three bids, and ours had won. That moment was both exhilarating and, with smiles on our faces, we had to ask each other "What did we just do?!?"
That was our only option to stay within budget, since there weren't any additional fees. Via Ticketmaster or StubHub, the same pair of tickets would have cost at least a few thousand dollars more at checkout. We also slept easier knowing the proceeds from our purchase would be used for a good cause, rather than funding a scalper's next vacation.
Planning ahead, we explored several ways to get to the game from the San Fernando Valley, in the northern part of L.A.… It’s probably not necessary to run down our list of transportation options for you, dear reader, but we determined the most efficient way would be to park-and-ride from the L.A. Metro’s Hawthorne/Lennox station, two miles south of SoFi Stadium. Pre-paid parking was $40 and was a breeze. From there, we took a free ride on a Metro bus the rest of the way.
On the shuttle, someone’s luggage was rolling around in front of us. We were going to the Super Bowl…. Who the heck would try to bring something like that? We soon figured out it belonged to the woman sitting to my right, across the aisle. She was planning on selling clear plastic purses and KN95 masks outside the stadium. Considering all the security, I was really surprised going to the game wasn’t a prerequisite to board the game day shuttle.
As we drove through a residential area, many enterprising people held cardboard signs at the end of their respective streets: “Parking $150,” “Parking $80,” “Parking $400.” That's the kind of market that pops up when there's no onsite parking at the stadium (there normally is but not for the Super Bowl).
When we got off the bus, nothing was obvious. There was a huge gaggle of people chatting, taking photos, selling trinkets. It seemed like the big, decorated truss with the “LVI” logo at the top should be the main entrance, but with so many peripheral events happening on Super Bowl Sunday, that was only a guess. We gave that walkway a try and, thankfully, it did get us closer to the stadium.
The next question came when we approached security lines designated as A, B, and C. Which one do we go through? Does it matter? Do they correspond to any gates? We asked, and no, the letters don’t mean anything.
By this time, given the lack of helpful signage, the actual Super Bowl event was beginning to feel a bit like a hobby project that’s still going through some growing pains.
Going through security, no one asked for the "mandatory" proof of a COVID vaccination or recent negative test emphasized on the NFL's website. There also wasn't any enforcement of the mask mandate, which is complicated... SoFi is an open-air stadium (with a roof but open on the sides), and L.A. County's mask requirement for outdoor events expired three days after the game. Still, if you feel safer masking up outside, or in any environment these days, I won't judge. No one else should, either.
AT THE STADIUM
It was chaotic inside the stadium, no surprise, considering attendance was 70,000+. I wanted to see the Lombardi Trophy and collection of Super Bowl rings on display, so I asked one of the staff where those were. “I’m not sure, sorry. If you ask one of the people in the black outfits, they’ll be able to tell ya.” I asked one of those team members. “Oh, just stay on this level, walk to the other side of the stadium, and it’ll be right there.” We did just that, walking and weaving through the crowd. The walkway was an odd design: most of the time the concourse was wide open, but several times it narrowed down to accommodate only a single-file line going in each direction.
When we got to the other side, we didn’t see the Lombardi Trophy or collection of rings. We looked out and saw a bunch of tents outside the stadium and wondered if that’s where the displays were.
Janine and I were getting aggravated from our introduction to this Wild West experience, so we saddled up and bought a $13 Bud Light for the walk back. They called it “Classic Beer” on the menu. Michelob Ultra was $4 more, under the "Premium Beer" category... seriously! This was a cashless event, for which there was no prior notification.
As we approached our seats, I wondered what we would find. Back in 2001, when the NFL’s home office still legally operated as a “nonprofit organization,” I racked up some high school community service hours by strapping Super Bowl seat cushions onto seats all day long at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Seat cushions had been a long-running tradition, so I just figured we would be sitting on some during our experience. We didn't… Instead, our cup holders were filled with a Pepsi Halftime Show lanyard (attached to an LED light unit that was part of the show), a KN95 mask, and a pair of earplugs for an effect at the end of the halftime performance. Generous gifts, NFL!
The lead-up to the game was really exciting - watching the teams warm up, listening to the Jock Jams being piped in, getting to know our neighbors… and there was so much orange in the crowd. It almost felt like a Bengals home game. We had heard “Who Dey” all day long, and it was just relentless and fun and awesome.
As an aviation geek, I was really looking forward to the heritage flyover during the National Anthem. Those are well-rehearsed and publicized ahead of time, so I knew it would be a squadron consisting of a WWII-era P-51 Mustang and a lineup of jets currently in active service - an A-10 Thunderbolt, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, and F-35 Lightning II. As our anthem came to a close, I was ready with a fisheye lens on my phone. Over the roar of the crowd, it sort of sounded like the jets were overhead, and we could maaaaaybe see a rough outline of the aircraft through the translucent roof… That’s when we knew the flyover was a made for the TV audience, not us.
When the game kicked off, I was so pumped to be in that moment! Bengals, Rams, Super Bowl. Here we go!
Near the end of the first quarter, it was time for a quick trip to the restroom. That destination looked and smelled clean… and then I realized an inch or so of water, urine, or both was sloshing around on the floor. While finishing up in there, I was standing so only my heels were touching the ground, since I was worried the mystery liquid would absorb into the front of my shoes, where the soles aren’t as thick.
On the way back to my seat, I made a stop for some booze and water. Janine and I spotted some Roe & Co Irish whiskey earlier, so I had to get that. We purchased a bottle a few years ago at the Dublin Airport, before they started distributing to the states. At the end of vacation, that bottle felt like a big expense, so we made sure to take our time with that whiskey… and it was nice getting to sip on it again. The bottle is second from left, with the two greenish labels, in the image below.
As for water, stadiums should be required to provide as many water fountains as restrooms. Just to have some sort of container, we bought one of those 16 oz. Aquafina aluminum bottles for $5, then refilled it at a fountain a couple times during the game. The nuisance? I walked about halfway around the stadium to find the fountain I noticed earlier. The second time, I walked in the other direction, figuring one would be closer, but I probably walked halfway around the stadium again. This inconvenience is by design, of course, and water is one of the worst things to commodify on this entire planet. At the concession counters, there were two bottled water options: Aquafina and LIFEWTR. Both companies are owned by the halftime sponsor, Pepsi.
Back to the game. The big, roundish video board above the field is pretty cool. Video displays on the inside and outside, like pairs of massive TVs mounted back-to-back from the rafters. With that approach, you can see replays and stats from any angle, low or high. I was just surprised the board didn’t always show the game clock, play clock, and score. For that info, you have to look across the field at the tiny LED boards in between the levels. I actually didn’t even notice those until looking at my pictures after the game.
For what it’s worth, the nosebleed seats in SoFi Stadium offer a great view of the action. There probably isn’t a bad view in the house.
The most frequent question family and friends have asked about this experience is "What was halftime like?" It was fun jamming to the tunes, but it just looked like chaos from our seats. With dancers all over the place, it was often hard to keep track of where the stars were. The three-wall sets didn't help, either. Eminem kneeling - we missed it. 50 Cent's upside-down intro - we couldn't see that from our seats. Watching the performance online the next day, it was well-produced and exciting but, without a doubt, meant to be consumed by the worldwide TV audience, not us.
The light show was really neat. The lanyards at every seat held an LED housing and, during the halftime performance, the lights inside changed colors. It was cool seeing areas of the stadium lighting up and twinkling in different ways as the show progressed. Below, the purple, red, and white came from the LED packs.
THE REST OF THE GAME The teams continued to duke it out, and our jaws dropped as the Bengals let their lead slip away with just over a minute left in the game. What an exciting, yet heartbreaking finish. Despite local reporters' game summaries, I can confirm a lot of people weren't actually yelling "COOOOP" - they were yelling "BOOOOO" - after Cooper Kupp's Rams touchdown. The Bengals were soooo close to winning that elusive championship! Despite the end result, Cincinnati needed this run. It had a really great, positive impact on the city, and hopefully the young, talented Bengals squad can keep up the momentum.
AFTER THE GAME
Once the game clock hit double zeros, we watched grown men cry and the confetti rain down, then made our way out. Right away, it was back to the NFL's hobbyist level of event organization.
The bus area had 7 lanes where the various public transit services would pull up. Those lanes were numbered "Lane 1," "Lane 2," etc. on sandwich board signs, with no indication for which transit agencies would be pulling up where. The only specific and obvious bit of information we saw in the entire lot was the city of Gardena's "GTrans" flag. Props to that team, seriously.
So, which lane for the Hawthorne/Lennox bus? “Lane 7,”a worker said. We followed lane 7, and it came to a Y. To the right were the buses you see in the photo above, and we couldn't spot another "Lane 7" sign in the lot. To the left was a sidewalk, leading to buses that were parked on the street ahead. No one was around to ask for more info, so we continued toward the street and asked a Homeland Security guy along the way where we could find our applicable shuttle. He said “It would be over there,” pointing back to the lot. You’ll have to go around the block to get there.” We said “But you just saw us walking from the lot. Nothing around here is clearly marked. You’re not going to let us walk back about 20 steps?” “You’ll have to go around the block again,” he said, motioning up the street with his flashlight. Not wanting to get arrested by this guy with a power complex, we started up the street. Just a moment later, we heard the same DHS agent yelling at a guy who was halfway across the single-lane side street. “Hey, hey you, stop! I didn’t say you could cross!” The Homeland Security dude then ran across that street, grabbed the guy by the shoulders, and guided him back to where permission would have been granted to cross. It was such a pathetic display of authority.
Back around the block and through lane 7 again, we took a right at the “Y”. This time, someone directed us to the middle of the lot. There, we waited and waited and waited and waited. Everything was at a standstill. No buses were coming or going, and you could feel the energy change as people were becoming restless and irritated.
"Can somebody tell me what's happening here?" a man in our line asked a nearby security guard. We learned all the traffic in the area had been stopped since the Bengals’ buses were prepping to leave - not leaving yet, just prepping. After maybe 20 or 30 minutes, motorcycle cops started driving by, followed by 5 or 6 Gold Coast Tours buses. With no onsite parking, who thought it would be a good idea for the busy, public transit hub to be located next to the players' exit?
Once we were finally on that bus, it was a big relief. Looking back, the highlight of the day had been the time I spent sitting firmly planted in my seat, not having to sort anything out and just getting to enjoy what was happening in front of me. The game was such a blast, and our neighbors in the stands - a mix of Rams and Bengals fans - were awesome. If we ever happen to attend another Super Bowl, I'd pay to get beamed directly to my seat and skip the all the disorder getting to, in, and from the stadium.
TIPS, TIPS, TIPS FOR SECURING TICKETS AND GOING TO THE GAME
1) Be aware of the average ticket prices, set a budget, and try your best to stick to it. The website TicketIQ offered a ton of data that tracks when is generally the best time to make the big purchase. This time, though, the data didn’t apply. L.A. turned out to be an outlier, with sluggish ticket sales in the days leading up to the game. That caused prices to drop lower than expected, so consider the data as a general guide and not as a rule.
2) Before you go, make sure your devices are fully charged. If it’s not on future lists of prohibited items, take a little USB charging bank. Our batteries were topped off before getting to the stadium. By the end of the game, our batteries were down to about 5%.
3) Consider taking earplugs. After years of working in live sound, the audiologist told me to conserve my hearing. The stadium can get LOUD, so I was glad I had tucked a couple earplugs into the rarely-used “watch pocket” on my jeans before we headed to the game.
4) If you expect to FaceTime with anyone, you're probably going to need earbuds, too. I dialed up a couple people but couldn't hear a thing over speakerphone.
5) Definitely figure out transportation to the stadium ahead of time. No one should get stuck paying $400 to park in some random person’s driveway.
6) Get to the stadium early. We thought arriving a couple hours before kickoff would be fine. To some degree, it was, but we never located that plaza with the Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl rings.
7) At the stadium, be on the lookout for water fountains, and don’t fear them. In most parts of the country, the municipal water supply is held to a higher standard than what the bottled water industry provides. Plus, tap water doesn’t generate a glut of plastic that often ends up in our oceans. I don’t care, either, if the companies are shifting over to aluminum bottles - containers still have to be manufactured and shipped around mostly on diesel trucks.
Finally, I want to share an image I took on Feb. 16. As a tribute to the Rams' Super Bowl win, the team paid to have the Hollywood sign temporarily covered, to say "RAMS HOUSE." Boy, they really got flak for that effort. The letters are difficult to read, nor does the brown background match the mountain that turned green after some recent storms.
I'm out! Who Dey!
“A View from the Inside: Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles, 2022” Written by: Justin Kilmer | Edited by: Janine Kilmer Any purchase from our Fine Art America portfolio helps support future travels and writings. Plus, wouldn’t some of the photos look great on one of your walls?
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