DON'T GET IN THE TICKET, TRIP OR PARTY BUSINESS
The quickest way to insure that we will be successful in Pasadena is not to become involved in the inevitable chaos which surrounds a trip to the Super Bowl.... Buy your tickets, airplane seats and rooms. Give them to your spouse, girlfriend, family member or trusted friend to dispense—and disappear.
That paragraph, buried deep in a five-page Super Bowl advisory the Buffalo Bills distributed to their players and coaches the day after they won the AFC championship, was a key piece of advice in helping the Bills deal with one of the major hassles leading up to the Big Game. Still, that meant somebody in every player's and coach's life had to perform the delicate juggling act of doling out Super Bowl tickets, making airline reservations, booking hotel rooms and planning meals, transportation and sightseeing trips.
For Buffalo special-teams captain Steve Tasker, that nerve-racking assignment fell on the shoulders of his wife, Sarah. An architect by training, Sarah transformed herself overnight into a hostess with the mostest. In 11 days she drew up an elaborate blueprint of a Super Bowl trip for a group of 26 family members and friends, who descended upon Los Angeles from various points across the country, arrived by many modes of transportation and ranged in age from one to 78.
Once in L.A., they slept four or five to a hotel room, sharing double beds, curling up on rollaways or sacking out on the floor in sleeping bags. In the rooms they maneuvered around piles of suitcases, duffel bags, toddlers' car seats, strollers and video-camera equipment, and they nibbled from grocery bags packed with fresh fruits, juices and graham crackers. On Friday, Sarah escaped to Disneyland with her three children—Deacon, 5, Annie, 3½, and Lucas, 2, all of whom were decked out in whirligig caps and fluorescent lime-green jackets. On Saturday, 22 members of the traveling party piled into a tour bus and spent the afternoon at Universal Studios.
"Sarah has always been an organizer," says her mother, Marcia Mehl. "That's where she shines."
"This is the pinnacle of Steve's football career, and who knows if he'll get to the Super Bowl again, but it's only another special experience that happens in your life," Sarah said. "Families all get together to share important occasions: weddings, funerals, graduations, birthdays and anniversaries. Why not throw a Super Bowl in there too?"
Even though this was the Bills' third straight trip to the Super Bowl, don't get the idea that Sarah is an experienced travel agent. On the contrary, she attended the title game in Tampa two years ago accompanied only by Lucas, then six days old; the family pediatrician, Dr. Frank Schreck, whom she had invited before Lucas was born in case she were to go into labor before the kickoff; and her oldest brother, Steele Mehl. Last year 12 members of the family went to Minneapolis for Super Bowl XXVI, but they seldom left the hotel because of the cold weather. So this year's juggling act was something new and exciting—for the most part, anyway.
"It was highly chaotic, big-time crazy," said Sarah, 30. "There were so many questions to be answered: What's the weather like in L.A.? What kinds of things will we be doing? What clothes should I bring? At one point I had to stop answering my phone, because I flat out couldn't get anything done."
And there was more than the trip to L.A. to prepare for. Sarah had to pack clothes for three different climates—Los Angeles; Honolulu, where Steve will play in his fourth Pro Bowl on Sunday; and Leoti, Kans., where the Taskers will spend much of the off-season. What's more, she had to put their 120-pound Great Dane (Yogi) in a kennel as well as instruct a neighbor about feeding their cat (Popcorn) and their fish (Kevin, Patrick, Schmooky and Kooky). She also wanted to make sure the neighbor combed their house for mice twice a day. "I'm paranoid the mice will figure out there are no pets and no people around, and they'll take over," Sarah said. "The last time we went to the Super Bowl, they gave birth."
By last Thursday morning, as Sarah was running through her checklist and closing up the house in time to catch one of the two planes chartered for the Bills' families and guests, a girlfriend was getting the kids ready, two neighbors were washing the Taskers' dishes and cleaning the house, and a friend of a friend was speeding to United Parcel Service to ship boxes of the kids' clothes to Leoti. Big-time crazy. "It's funny to think that all of this lunacy is about a football game," Sarah said.