Super Bowl LI is just around the corner, and the excitement is mounting all over the nation for the biggest sporting event in the world. According to Neilsen Holdings, a company that specializes in viewership and television ratings, Super Bowl 50 was watched by approximately 112 million people in the United States. Super Bowl LI could very well exceed that number. And Rice University is making its mark. Students and staff have worked hard to contribute to Houston’s Super Bowl.
While many anticipate a tight game, perhaps nobody is more excited for the Super Bowl than those working for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee. This committee, constructed over three years ago, started off as a small group of individuals who were given the assignment of constructing and turning Houston into the best Super Bowl host city it can possibly be. There are 40 main directors each assigned a department and staff of their own.
Former Rice Athletics Marketing employee Travis Hornik left Rice almost two years ago to accept a role as the coordinator of Super Bowl LIVE, a downtown event for the public. In addition to Hornik, many other Rice University alumni, staff and students have been granted opportunities to work for the committee. Each of these Owls is contributing and planning different aspects of the Super Bowl experience.
One of these students is Pax Kaplan-Sherman, a McMurtry College junior and sports management major. Sherman said he specializes in volunteer programs and helped to oversee and organize the nearly 10,000 volunteers who signed up to aid in the Super Bowl.
“I need to be sure that our volunteers are where they need to be when they need to be there, can communicate well and are well trained,” Kaplan-Sherman said. “A lot of them are just representing the city of Houston whether it’s a Super Bowl LIVE or the NFL experience or even airports, hotels, hospitality venues or more.”
Super Bowl LIVE is occurring down at Discovery Green. There are live concerts, roller coasters, flag football fields for kids and memorabilia shops. The NFL Experience is in the George R. Brown Convention Center. It is more football-centric with activities ranging from a mock scouting combine to a virtual reality experience.
Mai Pham, a McMurtry sophomore and sport management major is another student working for the Super Bowl Host Committee but specializes in private events. ike Kaplan-Sherman, Pham has been working for the host committee since the fall of 2015. She said she enjoys her role in the Super Bowl.
“Private Events is a great department to work in because I help host events for the sponsors [of the Super Bowl] and prevalent people around the game,” Pham said.
Pham is also a diehard New England Patriots fan and said she can’t believe that her team is coming to Houston to play in the Super Bowl.
“I can’t believe it’s happening, that my boys are coming to Houston,” Pham said. “And because of the relationship I have had with Robert Kraft, [the owner of the Patriots], I get to work as the Houston liaison for Mr. Kraft through the NFL’s White Glove program. I get to greet him at the stadium.”
There are numerous other students getting involved in the Super Bowl. Duncan College senior Jeremy Reiskind has worked on websites, social media outlets and marketing for over a year now for the Super Bowl. He reports directly to the vice president of marketing for the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee. McMurtry College sophomore Ben Schragger also works for the marketing department while Baker College freshman Taylor Scott is actively involved in two committees: community relations and operations and logistics.
As for the game itself, the National Football Conference champion Atlanta Falcons will be making their second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history (0-1) while the New England Patriots are making their seventh appearance in just the last 16 years (4-4 all time). The Falcons and their star quarterback Matt Ryan defeated the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers in blowouts in the NFC playoffs. The Tom Brady and Bill Belichick-led Patriots went through both the Houston Texans and the Pittsburgh Steelers with the help of a pair of unlikely heroes in Dion Lewis and Chris Hogan to reach the Super Bowl. This is the third Super Bowl that the city of Houston has hosted. The first one was Super Bowl VIII on Jan. 13, 1974, played in Rice Stadium. Super Bowl XXXVIII was played at Reliant Stadium (now NRG Stadium) on Feb. 1, 2004.
Even those who are just casual fans of the sport can get involved in the Super Bowl buzz somehow and someway. Rice will be hosting the Atlanta Falcons for practices this week. Although the practices are closed to the public, Rice athletics has installed a new practice field and set up the locker room to welcome the guests. For students, Super Bowl parties are planned yearly in each of the residential colleges. In years past, the serveries have cooked up chicken wings, nachos, burgers and even cakes with intricate Super Bowl logos on them.
Each Super Bowl represents a defining moment in NFL history, but it also represents an important moment in the host city's and host community's history. Rice is doing its best to contribute to that impact.