7:00 a.m. came fast on Sunday morning.
Most mornings I’d hit snooze a few times before waking up and slinking to my laptop to begin the day’s content. I’d grab whatever caffeine I could find that was ready-made and plant myself in my desk chair before swiveling into position.
But for the first time since I took this job covering the Chargers for SB Nation, I wasn’t going to be covering the week’s game from the comfort of my own home. No, sir. This time, I was going to be diving head first into the action. For the first time in three and a half years, I was going to be treated to the press box experience at U.S. Bank Stadium where the Chargers were fortunately coming to town.
Since this was an amazing moment for me, I decided, “To heck with acting like I’ve been there before. I haven’t. We’re going to have some fun with this thing.” So today, I thought it’d be a phenomenal idea to give you all a behind-the-scenes look at my time during the Chargers’ dramatic 28-24 victory over the Vikings on Sunday.
To put it concisely: It was awesome. No notes. 10/10. Would highly recommend.
I arrived at U.S. Bank just as media will call was opening up. I was advised to arrive early from those who had been here before and I wasn’t about to feel rushed entering an unknown environment. After clearing metal detectors and signing in, I was handed my media credentials tag before being guided to the media elevator.
My first “wow” moment came just after stepping off the lift. The work area for media within the press box was much more open than I expected. I’d been in the University of Iowa press box before but it was closed off with glass and eerily silent. This was so far in the other direction. No glass meant you were right there in the thick of it. Fans were in the tier above us and just a short drop below us.
Before finding my seat on the seating chart, I strolled down the way to find my first cup of coffee after downing an energy drink prior to arrival. In my search, I stumbled upon the meal area for media in which they had planned to serve us breakfast, a halftime snack, and postgame meal. The java was obtained (shoutout Caribou Coffee) before I made my way back to the seating area for away team media. After finding my name, I tried to make myself right at home. I was one of the first people in the area so I used the chance to stretch my legs and setup everything I needed for the day to run smoothly.
Slowly but surely some of the expected faces arrived. Jeff Miller of the LA Times took his place followed by Sam Farmer (LA Times), Kris Rhim of ESPN, and Daniel Popper of The Athletic. It was nice to finally meet these guys in person and it really helped bring some comfort to a situation otherwise still very new.
Like I touched on earlier, the press box was completely open to the main bowl of the stadium. Sitting inside the work area felt no different than if we were fans shuffling into our seats.
The lack of glass meant we heard everything. Every single thing.
The day’s singer of the national anthem practiced twice prior to kickoff. She had an outstanding voice and by the time she was done with her second run rendition, I could feel the patriotism welling up inside of me.
The Vikings kept a clock on the main video screen counting down the minutes until kickoff. When the clock ticked past the 30-minute mark, the stadium began to erupt with theatrics. Gjallarhorn sounded constantly throughout the morning and it rang even louder as kickoff neared. Fake snow began blowing out of numerous vents strung throughout the bowl to create some true “Great White North” ambiance. The Californians in the booth with me probably suffered some PTSD at the sight of it but I was right at home.
Just before kickoff, I realized I had made my first egregious error as a working media member in the press box. I had no clue just how convenient it would have been to bring a pair of binoculars with me. Miller and Popper were constantly using them to divine information from what they could see on the sideline and throughout the game. Next time, I’ll be prepared.
Before kickoff, several members of the Chargers PR team came by to greet us and check-in. They were incredibly kind and several referred to me by name despite never seeing me face-to-face before, so shoutout to them for the hospitality even on the road.
The stadium was rocking. You could not hear yourself think, nonetheless hear each within the press box. If I didn’t have deadlines, I would have completely leaned into the environment.
Player introductions are always great at U.S. Bank. They run out of the tunnel which happens to be a giant Viking ship complete with fire and smoke. To say it was cool is an understatement.
Once the game was underway, I fell right into my usual schedule. While working on the live recap, I was attempting to be more active on Twitter (X) while orchestrating the troops (Kyle and Ryan).
I found myself struggling not to stand up and pace on some of the crucial third and fourth downs. When the Chargers scored their first touchdown, my legs wanted to shoot me out of my seat. Professionalism thankfully won out in the end. Thankfully there wasn’t an expectation to be quiet for the sake of your colleagues working next to you since the entire atmosphere of the game spread throughout every inch of the building.
One of the coolest things I noticed while the game went on was that there was an announcer just for the press box that would read back the play result after each snap. Not the stadium announcer, but a secondary, quieter voice just for us in the booth.
“Alexander Mattison rushed for five yards. Second-and-five on the Vikings 35-yard line.”
He also updated us with injuries and any other detail that could help us do our jobs easier.
The Chargers entered the break leading 14-10.
Halftime meant halftime snack so I made a beeline for the dining area. After seeing numerous photos over the years of what NFL teams have provided members of the media, it was finally my turn to indulge.
The late lunch menu included polish sausages, Bavarian pretzel dogs, and chicken tacos. There was also self-serve ice cream sundae bar. I chose to stick with the sausages and the pretzels being of midwestern heritage but also as to not be the guy who stacked his plate to the point of gluttony. I also refilled my coffee for the fourth time and took my seat to relax for a bit before the madness started again.
The second half was more of the same in the first. We tried to keep our heads on and do our jobs all while the game was unfolding wildly beneath us. I’ve already written a recap of what happened but the Chargers thankfully won which meant I wouldn’t have to experience a losing locker room in my first time on site with the team.
As the new guy, I chose to take an observational approach when it came to postgame interviews. Miller and I made our descent to the locker room with the rest of the media and eventually reunited with Popper who had to be one of the first people on the elevator oce the clock hit zero.
As were were waiting for the team to be done with their game ball ceremony, Chargers owner Dean Spanos and his family made their way past us. Dean shook Popper’s hand, Miller’s, and then mine before stating, “Never a dull moment!”
My first and only thought at the time was, “He’s probably so tired of saying that.”
Once we got the green light, everyone sped through the double-doors into the mass of players.
Now the thing is, I’m not a small person by any means. I’m a smidge under 6’3 and I probably weight around 245-250 pounds. I’m far from my prime, but I’m still a pretty sizable human. But goodness gracious, you don’t quite understand just how large NFL players are until you’re standing next to one.
The first player I saw was Khalil Mack. Huge. I then walked by Austin Johnson and Sebastian Joseph-Day. Both huge.
Our first little scrum was around Derwin James who voiced his frustrations with his second unnecessary roughness penalty of the season. The next Joshua Palmer, then Donald Parham, and then Kenneth Murray.
Unlike in SoFi, the podium room was not attached to the locker room. We had to exit and walk about 30 yards into another room to hear from Brandon Staley, Justin Herbert, and Keenan Allen. However, they did not go back-to-back-to-back. Staley went first, which meant traveling over. When he was done, we went back to the locker room for a short few moments before hustling back to hear from Herbert. When he was done, I said to heck with rushing back. I was going to stay seated for Allen.
Once the podium sessions were done, I made my way back to the locker room to see if I could find the few Iowa connections just for fun. Running backs coach Derrick Foster wasn’t around but I managed to share some words with linebacker Nick Niemann who just finished his second NFL start. He was excited to hear I was a former Hawkeye and I wished him luck the rest of the year.
When everything died down, it was time to get back up to the press box to finish my recap and put the final touches on everything I needed to. To my surprise, there was even more food to be had after the game. You can’t beat local pizza, so I snagged a couple slices.
Before heading out, I said my goodbyes to Miller, Popper, and Rhim and wished them the best the rest of the season.
After such an incredible experience, I’d be lying to say I’m not itching to find a way back there as soon as possible. The vibes were immaculate. The people were genuine and incredibly kind. If only the Chargers could play in Minnesota every week, huh?