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Sacco Sez: A tribute to the Super Bowl architect


The month of January is headlined by NFL playoff games, with every team either hopeful of making it to the Super Bowl or determined to address the issues that have kept them out of the playoffs.

Of course, the big game is "it" as far as NFL destinations are concerned, but the Super Bowl was not always here, and it certainly was never dreamed that it would be of this magnitude.

It was created on paper before on the field.

A series of secret meetings regarding a possible AFL-NFL merger were held in the spring of 1966, involving Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt and Cowboys president and general manager Tex Schramm.

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle announced the merger on June 8, and among the terms was the creation of an annual AFL-NFL World Championship Game beginning in January of 1967. Rozelle was named commissioner of the newly combined league and, because each league had separate television contracts, both NBC and CBS would televised the game.

The first Super Bowl — as it would be known later — was in Los Angeles, with Green Bay defeating Kansas City by a 35-10 score before a non-sellout crowd of 61,946.

But part of how it got bigger than life in the decades that followed had to do with the work of the Super Bowl architect, Jerry Anderson.

Anderson, who passed away in 2018, was a real Westerner. He earned his bachelor's degree from Montana State and he obtained his master's degree in architecture from the University of California-Berkeley. In establishing himself, that Westerner would go on to work with some of the biggest East Coast bigwigs, too.

During his four-decade career, Anderson led designs and operations efforts for the world's most prestigious sporting events, including the Super Bowl and the Olympic Games venues. He played a key role in designing every Super Bowl since Super Bowl XIX, as well as 13 Olympic Games. As a cofounder of Populous, a prominent sports venue architecture firm, he is credited with "inventing] the modern industry of event planning,” [as the company wrote in its obituary for him.

I first met Jerry when he was in charge of his first Super Bowl at Stanford Stadium. The stadium was largely of wooden construction at Stanford, and the worry of fire was paramount to Jerry. That was the last time the Super Bowl was held in such a stadium, and modern design has much to do with that, of course.

But what I remember and treasure the most is that Jerry Anderson was a regular guy. I probably sat in more than 100 Super Bowl meetings with him over the years, and you never would have guessed the significance of his role.

He absolutely never tried to "big-time" anybody, and the smallest detail was big to Jerry. Someone might bring up a small question that others would scoff at, but the next day Jerry would have a complete answer to that question.

I remember that someone once suggested that for the Super Bowl in Phoenix, "What would it cost to heat the outdoors (the auxiliary press box), so the writers don't get too cold?" The next day Jerry had an answer ($55,000), and yes, it was approved.

Naturally, working on the Super Bowl involved copious note-taking, and I once admired the notebook which Jerry had created and took everywhere with him. The next day he brought me one of those notebooks, and I have used it (and many later generations of it) ever since.

We got together for lunch several times in Denver, where he lived, although there were years when he spent far more days out of our city due to his work.

One could outline and talk about his accomplishments ad infinitum, but the stories would all have to include some version of Jerry Anderson as a regular guy. He probably worked 85 to 100 hours a week, but I never saw him without a smile on his face.

When the Broncos played the San Francisco 49ers before nearly 84,000 fans in London in 2010, we took several buses to Wembley Stadium for an arrival workout.

The first person to greet me upon my exit from the bus was Jerry — not one of his assistants, but Jerry himself. He wanted to give me a personal tour of the new Wembley Stadium, and it truly humbled me.

Along the way, by the way, he mentioned that he thought Wembley was a better Super Bowl site than any American Stadium, and it is hard to argue with the official architect.

Again, I will not get into a listing of his accomplishments. Suffice it to say that they are worldwide and vast.

He was known for staying calm under pressure and he trained his staff to always avoid the spotlight — or as Jerry would say, "Stay in the shadows."

Jerry died at 64 years old, and he is a guy that I really miss, especially at this time of the year.

Populous still has a location in Denver, but it will forever make me think of its cofounder.

The Super Bowl is a massive worldwide event, and Jerry Anderson left an incredible legacy that helped make it so.

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