While much of the United States was mesmerized by Sunday's Super Bowl game, we may have had here the only guy in the country who could not have cared less about who won. Production Manager Gene Ulrich was far more concerned with the weather at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
His responsibility is to get our photographs, artwork and prose to the presses. Although our magazine is printed in four different cities, our color engravings are produced only in Chicago—where winter weather is apt to be terrible and film deliveries can involve altogether too much suspense. This was Ulrich's seventh Super Bowl, an event right up there on our list of stories that cause wear and tear, the more so when a game is played on the West Coast so that regional time differences work against our operations in New York and Chicago.
At such times Ulrich finds himself mentally in three different places: 1) The city where the game is being played—how will the film be flown out in time to meet the deadline? (In this case, by two commercial flights and a chartered jet.) 2) Chicago, where he and a crew of layout artists and editors are waiting, trusting that the film is going to arrive. 3) New York, where final editing is done on the story so that it can be transmitted to Chicago.
"Obviously, timing is the key," Ulrich says. "You try to figure out what can go wrong in advance and plan to counteract it." He has a written outline of procedures that looks like a novel in progress, and when in 1971 film of the conference championship games never did make it to Chicago, we were prepared, sort of. "Fortunately we had brought some color shots of the teams with us and we printed them with black-and-white wire-service pictures. A lot of people thought it was very effective. Then there was the year we had a transmission failure," he recalls with a certain gloomy relish. 'The editors were waiting for the wire copies of the picture layouts and we had to verbalize the entire thing over the phone. Now, at least, equipment has become more sophisticated. In the early days we used to have to carry an enormous wire-photo machine out to the airport and get permission to put it in the belly of the plane."
Ulrich does not work alone, of course. Assistant Ken Tomten accompanied him to Chicago, and Deputy Manager Wayne Prather held the fort back in New York along with assistants Frank O'Regan and Mark Levine. It took all night, but by dawn Monday Ulrich was headed back to New York—where he arrived in time for the meeting to plan the next week's coverage.