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(Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle)
He has personally checked stadium bathrooms to make sure they were stocked with toilet paper, replaced a light bulb on the game clock and paid the Navy to helicopter in a water heater when one at a hotel malfunctioned.
Such are the kind of details that have fallen to Jim Steeg, senior vice president in charge of special events for the National Football League, who on Feb. 1 will supervise his 25th Super Bowl.
He may not referee the game itself, but does officiate just about everything surrounding it: pregame and half-time extravaganzas; posh parties attended by as many as 3,000 people; game-day security and transportation; an onslaught of more than 3,000 media members; the traveling football-themed NFL Experience; and dozens of league- sponsored charity events and concerts.
"Jim has had a great influence on what the Super Bowl has become. He is the one who has expanded it, refined it and taken it to the next level. He has made it into more of a weeklong event, more than just a game," said Pete Kranske, who has helped oversee Super Bowl security since 1977 for Contemporary Services Corp. "But he has never lost sight that the football game is what it is all about."
Steeg, 53, would be the first to say that if Super Bowl Sunday has become something of a secular holiday it's because of the nation's love of pro football. But there is no question that he has played a major role in adding the accents and theatricality that have made it a media extravaganza.
In 1982, for example, he launched the era of celebrity performances by bringing in Diana Ross to sing the national anthem. He upped the ante in 1993 by signing Michael Jackson to do the halftime show. Today, even the pregame show features major acts.
In 1983, he installed a giant TV screen at the Super Bowl after attending a rock concert and seeing how they had enhanced the experience. Today, every stadium has one.
In 1990, Steeg and another NFL executive staged a sports card show during Super Bowl week, holding it atop a garage in New Orleans. The concept has morphed into NFL Experience, where fans can kick field goals, run pass patterns, do commentary on famous NFL games and, yes, buy football cards. It will take up most of the vast George R. Brown Convention Center and draw an estimated 175,000 people.
He also organizes the staging of the college draft, the Pro Bowl in Hawaii and various league meetings. But running the Super Bowl is his main job.
Working his way up the corporate ladder
James Howe Steeg was born in Boston and grew up in its suburbs. His father taught at MIT and later joined RCA, where he worked on the Saturn V rocket. His mom was a teacher. After the family moved to Fort Wayne, Ind., his dad worked for ITT and later taught engineering at Purdue's satellite campus.
A good athlete, but no star, Steeg gave up basketball in high school after his dad got sick. After graduating from Miami (Ohio) University with a major in political science, he earned an MBA at Wake Forest University in 1975.
"When I was between my first and second year of business school, my dad said, `You've always been interested in sports. Why don't you get into that?' "
After applying to every U.S. pro sports team, Steeg, then 25, landed a job as an accountant with the Miami Dolphins. Earning just $12,000 a year, less than half what he'd been offered by some accounting firms, he joined the Dolphins in 1975, a year after the team won a second consecutive Super Bowl (at Rice Stadium, where Miami beat Minnesota, 24-7).
"(Team owner) Joe Robbie would pile up work on his desk," recalled Don Shula, the Dolphins coach at that time. "Jim would clean up the pile and look for more to do. He was a pretty impressive young guy."
Steeg was promoted to traveling secretary and, later, business manager, handling some general manager-type duties, such as negotiating contracts.
Robbie also sent him to represent the Dolphins at league meetings.
"The first time I went to a league meeting, 1976, George Halas was sitting across from me," Steeg said. "Paul Brown was sitting next to him." Halas, of course, was the founder of the NFL and Paul Brown helped start up the All-American Football Conference, which later merged with the NFL, and coached the Cleveland Browns to three NFL championships.
Shula said, "Those could be some pretty intimidating guys."
When Robbie brought his son into the Dolphins organization and elevated him to general manager, Steeg lost some of his regular duties and considered moving on.
His work at league meetings had brought him to the attention of Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who in 1979 asked him to come work for the league.
Until then, the Super Bowl had been run by several key NFL executives, who had many other responsibilities. Rozelle "desired to have someone in charge of the whole thing," Steeg said. "He thought it had grown to that level."
Steeg, then 28, got the assignment. He observed preparations for the 1979 Super Bowl and has helped run every game since.
"The great thing about Pete is he gave you an awful lot of rope," Steeg said. "He trusted your judgment. He really gave you the opportunity to grow and learn from your mistakes. I try to do that with the people who work for me."
When Rozelle died in 1996, Steeg took it hard.
"He was like a father figure to me," Steeg says. "He meant an awful lot to me. I was probably more devastated when he died than by the death of anybody else, probably even my parents."
`Cool, calm, collected' while running the day
During the run-up to this year's game in Houston, Steeg has been working out of the new Hilton Americas, the NFL's on-site headquarters. He begins the day with a 7:30 a.m. staff meeting and commonly works till midnight, sometimes later.
During Super Bowl week, "Jim Steeg's name is used more than Pope John Paul's in the Vatican. They're trying to get tickets, parking - everything," said Paul Ridgeway, president of Ridgeway International Events, which handles Super Bowl week transportation issues for the NFL. "Jim is the favor king. Everybody wants a favor of him."
On game day, he will be high above the field in a control booth with about 18 other key personnel working the game: supervisors of NFL officiating, security directors, the league's television liaisons, the public relations director, public address announcers.
He will be linked by phone or two-way radio to scores of areas in the stadium.
And he won't see much of the game. He'll be too busy seeing that the meticulously choreographed day stays on schedule. Halftime is timed down to the second: five minutes to get the stage on, 12 minutes to perform, five minutes to break down the stage.
"He is one of those people who can balance many things at once and never seem anything but cool, calm and collected," said Debbie Wardrop, an NFL manager who runs Hospitality Village, a mammoth pre- game and post-game party. "He has remarkable attention to detail, but he never loses sight of the big picture."
Every Super Bowl, Steeg deals with performers, superstar athletes, celebrities, team owners. "A lot of my job is massaging egos," he says.
To relieve stress, Steeg will occasionally head to a batting cage - he's located one in Houston - to groove his swing for the upcoming season with the Bergen Rockies, a hardball, over-40 league in New Jersey. Steeg says he has a career batting average topping .400.
Also providing relief will be the annual basketball game put together by Steeg and Pete Kranske's CSC security outfit. Kranske and Steeg became so consumed by winner's bragging rights that each began loading his roster with former college basketball players.
"We had so many ringers that Jim and I were not playing much, so we scaled it back," Kranske says, laughing.
Steeg has lived in northern New Jersey since separating from his wife of many years. They lived in Ramsey while his children, Bryce, 24, and Darcy, 22, were growing up.
Bryce, now a Harvard Law student, played quarterback and outfield at Ramsey High. His daughter, Darcy, played softball. She graduated from Princeton in June and works for an economics consulting firm in Washington, D.C.
Steeg is remembered fondly at Ramsey High because of his efforts to improve the school's sport facilities, including blocking sleds, scoreboards and weight-lifting equipment for the football program and a new baseball stadium and playing field.
"It looks almost like a little minor league field," said John Ponchak, who was Ramsey's baseball coach when Bryce Steeg played there. "These guys maintained it almost religiously. (Steeg) loved to edge the field so everything was precise, and there would always be a grill going with some hot dogs. Almost everybody who contributed wanted credit. He never wanted anything."
Despite compliments, not a fan of publicity
Deflecting praise seems to come easy to Steeg. For months, he tried to discourage the Houston Chronicle from profiling him, then avoided being interviewed for this story until recently. Others interviewed for this story were lavish in their praise, and even their criticisms can be interpreted as laudatory - that he is a no- nonsense perfectionist who can be abrupt.
He puts so much energy into the Super Bowl each year that he often feels empty and down when it is over. During Super Bowl week, he gets a vitamin B shot so he doesn't get sick the month after the game, when his adrenaline level has subsided.
Shula said that if Steeg had stayed with an NFL club, he would have "gone to the highest level" and become a president or general manager.
Does Steeg ever think about that? "Would I like to have been with a team that got a ring? Absolutely," he said. Today, he wears a bulbous Dolphins' Super Bowl ring, a gift given long after he left Miami.
But he says he doesn't dwell on what might have been.
"This job has given me the opportunity to meet and know people I have no right to know," he said.
Two years ago, he was elected to the inaugural class of the special events industry's hall of fame.
"People in this industry watch to see what the Super Bowl is doing," said John Baragona, publisher of Event Solutions, the monthly trade magazine that created the industry's hall of fame. "He took the Super Bowl and turned it into an extravagant special event before that was going on. He is absolutely instrumental in making the Super Bowl what it is today."
Fox Sports Chairman David Hill said, "I've done an awful lot of things in an awful lot of countries, and Jim Steeg is simply the best at what he does."
Born: Boston, raised outside the city and, later, in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Home: Hackensack, N.J.
Duties: Organizes Super Bowl, NFL Draft, Pro Bowl, league meetings; oversees 24-member staff and $135 million budget
Experience: Has helped run Super Bowl since 1979; worked in Miami Dolphins' front office 1975-1978
Hobbies: Golf, over-40 hardball league in north New Jersey, sports card collector (owns complete sets of football and baseball cards since 1952)
THE STEEG EFFECT
Jim Steeg has played a big role in making the Super Bowl a major media event.
1982: He launched the era of celebrity performances by bringing in Diana Ross to sing the national anthem. In 1993 he signed Michael Jackson to do the halftime show. Today, even the pregame show features major acts.
1983: He installed a giant TV screen at the Super Bowl after attending a rock concert and seeing how one had enhanced the experience. Today, every stadium has one.
1990: Steeg and another NFL executive staged a sports card show during Super Bowl week. The concept has morphed into NFL Experience, where fans can kick field goals, run pass patterns, do commentary on famous NFL games and, yes, buy football cards. It will take up most of the George R. Brown Convention Center and draw an estimated 175,000 people.
|Photo: 1-2. NFL official Jim Steeg visited Reliant Stadium Thursday, top photo, and is seen on the sidelines during Super Bowl XIII, above, his first. As senior vice president in charge of special events for the National Football League, Steeg deals with performers, superstar athletes, celebrities and team owners. "A lot of my job is massaging egos," he says (color, b/w); Graph: 3. JIM STEEG (b/w, TEXT)|