By MIKE ASHMORE
Special To Digmi
ATLANTA – I’ve told the story before, but I haven’t really got into the “why” behind it.
Growing up not far from Digmi headquarters, I was a part of a very small family. Myself, my mom and my dad. Unless you’re counting the cat, too, that was it.
It certainly isn’t a point of pride, but I lived at home into my early 30’s. We were a family that had to earn everything we got, and even though I suppose we could be considered “middle class,” money wasn’t always in abundance.
So, when I told my parents that, nine years removed from the only NFL game I’d ever covered, I’d accepted a gig to start covering the New York Jets on game days, the reaction was mixed. Between that and having just bought Janet Jackson concert tickets – Miss Jackson if you’re nasty – and it’s safe to say that allocation of resources was not considered to be a wise one.
My father was not happy. My mother was not thrilled either, but more understanding. She was always my biggest fan, my biggest supporter.
It was sometime in late August of 2015, and we had a lengthy conversation about it on the way home from me covering a Somerset Patriots game. My career was in a difficult place at the time, and there was always a lot of pressure on me to do better, to do more.
We talked a lot about how much the Jets opportunity meant to me, but specifically the possibility of getting to do the Super Bowl one day. At that point, I had three Stanley Cup Finals on my resume and two World Series, and given that pressure I’d mentioned earlier, I said that if I could just get that Super Bowl under my belt that I could be happy with moving on to something else.
I never did go to that Janet Jackson concert.
I DID GET TO WORK A SUPER BOWL THOUGH
Funny enough, and I don’t think this is anything I’ve ever revealed publicly before, but I actually got denied a credential for Super Bowl 50. Too much, too soon. I get it.
For the 2016 season, I was switched to covering the New York Giants on game days, and made it a point to make a few road trips so as to get some more exposure and hopefully make our case to head to Houston for Super Bowl 51 a little stronger.
I got my first Super Bowl. It remains one of my two favorite things I’ve ever covered, along with Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.
In 2017, I was back on the Jets, and we really stepped up going on the road that year, hopeful for an opportunity to head up to Minnesota for Super Bowl 52.
I got my second Super Bowl.
This year? For the first time, I covered every Jets home game – preseason included — in a single season, in addition to road trips to Chicago, Detroit, Foxboro, Nashville, D.C., Philly and the “road” preseason game against the Giants.
And now, here I am, still at my third Super Bowl, waiting to fly home after another incredible week.
What’s the experience like? It’s a delicate balance of running around between press conferences, player availabilities and then simply trying to find things to do on the Friday and Saturday leading up to the game.
This year, I flew in on Wednesday afternoon, quickly checked in to a $300/night, NFL-arranged hotel and ran over to the Georgia World Congress Center, which doubled as this year’s Media Center and “Radio Row,” which is where you see all of the big live TV shows set up as well as where seemingly countless radio shows are there interviewing all sorts of legends and current NFL players.
After picking up my “week of game” credential there, I quickly headed over to the New England team hotel for their media availability, where I spoke to Chris Hogan and Sony Michel for stories you (hopefully) read during the week in The Trentonian.
The following day, I worked the Rams media availability session in their hotel, and spoke to Sean Mannion for a story we ran on Friday and former Rutgers standout Sebastian Joseph-Day and Ndamukong Suh for a piece on Joseph-Day we used as our big Super Bowl Sunday piece.
I also worked hockey games on Wednesday and Thursday about a half-hour away in Duluth, Georgia to catch up with former Princeton goalie Sean Bonar, who is now with the ECHL’s Atlanta Gladiators.
Super Bowl week is a great opportunity to stay out late and go to parties – and trust me, I was invited to more than a few – but I’m there to work, and was happy to travel a bit to do so, even if it wasn’t for my football stuff.
Friday was supposed to be a fairly light day, but turned into one of my more productive ones. I headed back to the Media Center to pick up my “Game Day” credential, which is different than the one that gets you in various places during the week and is only good for entry to the stadium on Sunday. But, I also spent some time on Radio Row, and ended up landing a chat with Tiki Barber for a story on how the running backs were sharing carries that went with the conversation I’d had with Michel earlier in the week.
Saturday? In Houston, I’d tried to work NFL Honors, the league’s annual awards show, but got shot down. Last year in Minnesota, I gave up on trying to go and instead worked the Minnesota Timberwolves game that night to get a feature on Karl-Anthony Towns done.
This year, however, I got in. I ended up speaking with Patrick Mahomes, who was just named the NFL MVP, as part of a print piece we ran on Monday since deadlines don’t allow getting the game in the paper, as well as Carson Palmer for some notes for that story.
Truthfully, the experience of adding another of the NFL’s “jewel” events to my resume meant a lot. I’ve never wanted to live a life or have a career where I had to wonder “what if” or what it’s like to get to do something. I’d always wondered what it was like to get to work the Honors show.
Now I know.
What’s the big day like? All week I hear from the players how it’s just another football game, and that was the approach I tried to take heading into Sunday, especially having been there before. But, you wake up that morning and…you’re just giddy. This is one of those things you work all year for, and for the day to finally hit, there’s such a sense of accomplishment to get to do another “big game.”
I took the earliest scheduled media shuttle from the hotel to the stadium, made the lengthy trek through security into the stadium, got to my seat in the main press box as soon as I could and just wanted to soak it all in as much as I could.
I thought about everything I’d done in my career that helped get me to this point, and more specifically the people who believed in me to help get me here.
I wanted to call my mom. But I can’t anymore.
She passed away unexpectedly on September 22, 2015. While she got to see me get back to the NFL, she never did get to see me work a Super Bowl.
She’s been with me at each one, though.
After the national anthem of any game I work, no matter how big or small, you’ll see me put three fingers to my chest in the shape of an “M” for “Mom” and raise them up to the sky in honor of her. We have a quick chat before every game, and it’s been a system that’s worked to help get me through the last three and a half years of my career.
Live, dream, be? You bet. I do it for my mom.
I know she’d be proud.