Updated Feb. 10, 2011 @ 3:41 p.m.
UPDATE: PrimeSport, the company that sold Sheryl Cerkleski the Super Bowl XLV ticket package, has contacted her and is working with her, she said, on some sort of good-faith compensation for her Super Bowl troubles. Cerkleski said she was very happy with the company's service and did not know if it had contacted the NFL on the matter.
Sheryl Cerkleski was not one of the now-infamous 400 people without Super Bowl XLV seats. She was part of the quickly forgotten other 850.
As a gift to her two brothers for recently finishing their cancer treatment, Cerkleski treated them to a Super Bowl weekend. Just the three of them finally getting a chance to celebrate life. The fact that their beloved Bears were not playing in the game was almost beside the point. Cerkleski, 43, of Barrington, Ill., had been to the past two Super Bowls in Miami and loved the experience, and she wanted her brothers to have a dream weekend.
"I took them as a 'Congratulations, you beat cancer' trip, trying to make it really special for them," she said.
She found herself instead in the middle of a Super Bowl nightmare.
The problems started before they even got into the stadium. Cerkleski bought three ticket packages — for $7,300 apiece, mind you — that included lodging, transportation to and from the game, an ESPN-sponsored pre-party at the stadium and tickets for the game. Good tickets, too: Section 215A, parallel with the endzone on the Steelers' sideline. Or so she thought.
The three of them were at the two-hour pregame party that was supposed to last until 3:30 p.m. when representatives of PrimeSport, the Atlanta-based company she bought the tickets through, announced at 2:30 that security was being slowed down dramatically because ice had closed at least one of the entrances. The message was to head into the stadium as early as possible, so they followed the advice at that point.
What they found thereafter was pure madness.
"It was absolutely crazy," Cerkleski told PFW by telephone on Wednesday. "There was nobody to ask for directions. It took two hours to get in. It was complete chaos. You couldn't find the end of the line after going through the maze of people. You had grandmas and grandpas and people with their families, small children, all struggling to find out where to go."
They braved the chaos and arrived at their seats at 5:05, roughly 30 minutes before kickoff. "We had missed all of pregame, the warmups on the field, all part of the whole experience of being at a Super Bowl," she said. "I thought, 'Well, at least we made it for the national anthem.' "
Not so fast. A stadium employee quickly delivered the first bit of what would be a day full of bad news: "You can't have these seats. These seats aren't available."
"I said, 'What do you mean they are not available?' I looked at my brothers and said, 'They gave our seats away because we weren't there two hours before (kickoff)?' " Cerkleski said. "I didn't understand what was going on. She wouldn't explain why we couldn't (sit there)."
Instead, the employee just said they need to exit the stadium and head to the ticket office to sort out the mess. What Cerkleski didn't realize is that 1,250 or more other fans were being told similar things and that the problems had nothing to do with not arriving early enough but rather that the temporary seating had not been approved by the local fire marshal. What they found outside was another serpent of a line full of seething fans.
"No one told us anything," she said. "It was in line where you learned from other (fans) about the seats, that the (original tickets) were temporary seating sections and that we were all in the same boat.
"We all talked to each other about how much money they paid for the tickets and what section their tickets were. But there were no representatives from the stadium, from the NFL; nobody was there while we waited in that line, explaining anything to us."
Instead of watching the pregame pageantry inside, which is most definitely part of the exorbitant ticket prices, the NFL will tell you, they stood and saw the six Navy F-18s flying over the stadium, a sign that kickoff was moments away. (Incidentally, the Washington Post reports that the flyover came at a cost of more than $450,000.) And as if to rub it in, outside the ticket line there were audio rebroadcasts of prior Super Bowls being played, not of the actual live game they were trying to attend.
When they finally got to the front of the line, they were given the fateful words: "This is the best I have available." Cerkleski asked about a refund, having heard rumors amongst the fans in line of the league issuing them. The stadium employee said there would be no refunds given until the NFL issued a statement on the matter. One bad turn was beset by another.
"There were probably six or more windows where they could have had representatives helping people, and they had maybe three of those windows filled," Cerkleski said.
As they finally entered the stadium — for a second time — more video monitors rubbed further salt into their fresh, unlicked wounds. "They were playing these advertisements: 'Welcome to the Super Bowl, this is going to be the most exciting day of your life,' and everyone started booing."
With seven minutes remaining in the first quarter, Cerkleski and one of her brothers finally sat in their seats — in the highest row of the entire stadium in the corner of the endzone. The NFL had issued a statement to the media during the game stating that 400 people were without seats and that 850 were given equal seats or upgraded to better seats. As one of those 850, Cerkleski begs to differ, having originally been seated two whole sections lower and with a much better vantage point at the goal line.
Meanwhile, her other brother had to meet them at the seats, and he arrived even later in the first quarter, too tired from all the walking. "He complained how exhausted he was," she said. "The two hours to get in, it just drained him. He just finished chemo(therapy) a month and a half ago. He had no energy."
They had seen a family of four that had a child in a wheelchair and another couple with walking sticks, with the man apparently blind. They were stuck in the line to get their tickets exchanged. Perhaps they were among the 400, or the 850, who knows? "There was no one there to ask where the handicapped entrance was," she said. "I thought about that kid in the wheelchair throughout the game more than anything else."
They watched a little over three-quarters of a football game, with the Packers beating the Steelers. But that was the footnote of the day for many, including Cerkleski. What started as a joyous weekend with her brothers — "something they normally couldn't have gone to otherwise" — ended as a nightmare.
"I see all these articles, but there just needs to be some sort of explanation or apology, I guess," she said. "It's just not right."
When asked what one word came to mind about the NFL after the whole experience, Cerkleski didn't hesitate: "Greedy," she said. "Greedy, greedy, greedy." She has not heard Word One from the NFL, although she says she has not tried to contact them yet, either. Her husband did, however, call PrimeSport, the ticket brokerage, to get some answers. Their initial response was that the man in charge was still in Dallas and that they would return his call soon.
A call from Pro Football Weekly to PrimeSport was not immediately returned. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello also did not immediately respond to an e-mail regarding the situation.
As for future Super Bowl trips, Cerkleski isn't sure. She now has run into dozens of friends the past few days who of course have asked her how her Super Bowl trip was. Wise words of advice to friends of Mrs. Cerkleski: Don't ask.
"I'd never go to Dallas again, I know that," she said. She has heard about the NFL's current labor strife, nicknamed "the billionaires vs. the millionaires," and wonders whether the average person is in their minds sometimes when all this is allowed to go on.
"It's frustrating," she said. "Everyone hears about the 400 who got triple face value and tickets to next year's game, or whatever. But we paid a lot of money and were treated very poorly. We have been offered nothing. I feel like (the NFL) just took care of them and assumed everything was OK. It was not."
Asked what would be the best resolution to the situation, Cerkleski stopped and thought for a moment before answering.
"Oh, gosh," she said. "I just would most like my brothers to experience what it was like in Miami. Last year, it wasn't even the Chicago Bears in the game, but it was so exciting and thrilling to be there. The whole experience of going to a Super Bowl — it's not just another football game.
"This year was worse than going to just a regular football game. It was awful."