February 10, 2011
"When you wish upon a star..."
By now you've likely heard about the nightmarish experience hundreds of Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers fans encountered when they arrived at Cowboy Stadium for the Super Bowl this past Sunday. The story you're about to hear is the antithesis to those revolting tales of fandom gone impossibly wrong.
Yes, due to what appears to have been little more than a toxic, Texas-sized crap cocktail whose main ingredients were greed and incompetence, a number of fans -- most of whom had traveled hundreds of miles at a great expense -- were denied entry into the stadium on Sunday. And despite the NFL's best efforts to right the wrongs those fans suffered, a number of them will likely join a class-action lawsuit against the league and the swashbuckling, modern-day P.T. Barnum owner of the Dallas Cowboys who hosted Super Bowl XLV, the well nipped and tucked Jerry Jones.
"We thought we were going to get the chance of a lifetime to watch a great game between two Super teams that played their hearts out," one disgruntled fan told Business Insider on Wednesday. "We did everything we could to see the game but that never happened and those memories can never be replaced."
On the opposite end of this particular spectrum is Giovanni Bartocci, a 32 year-old native of Italy. Bartocci traveled to Dallas not knowing if he'd even be able to get into the stadium to cheer on his beloved Green Bay Packers.
"If I had to I was going to go to the stadium and hold up a sign that said, ‘I came all the way from Rome to cheer for the Packers. Please help my dream to come true,'" Bartocci told me in heavily accented English.
By his telling, Bartocci became a Packers fan at 14 when he traveled with his family to visit an aunt living in Albany, N.Y., at Christmas. At some point during his stay, he caught a nationally televised Packers game being played at Lambeau Field, and even though he "didn't understand nothing about it," the sport, the team and its fans struck a chord with him.
"When Green Bay scored, I saw one of the players jump into the crowd and I loved that," Bartocci said about the "Lambeau leap" many Packers players perform after scoring a touchdown. "Plus, most of the supporters, the fans, they had their shirts off and it was snowing and they were wearing giant pieces of cheese on their heads. And I thought, ‘Man, these people are crazy. I like that.'"
Bartocci returned to Italy after the holiday that year, but he did so infected with a fever for the Packers and American football. Over the next few years, he says he followed the team as best he could, often calling family members back in the states who he'd instructed to "follow the Green Bay for me" in order to get scores and rundowns of what happened with his team on Sundays in the fall and winter. He remembers staying up until the wee hours of the morning to watch the Packers win the 1997 Super Bowl, one of the rare instances at the time when American football was broadcast live into his family's home.
"When we won I was jumping up and down screaming alone in my room at like five in the morning and my ma-ma came running upstairs worried because I woke her up and I just yelled, ‘Mom, Green Bay won the Super Bowl!'"
Years passed and finally, three years ago, Bartocci moved to New York, in part to help his uncle run an East Village Italian eatery, but also to be closer to American football and his beloved Packers. In December of 2009, the team's biggest Roman fan made his first pilgrimage, solo, to Green Bay for a game at Lambeau, where he, well, he did as they say to do when in Rome and immersed himself among the locals -- consuming copious amounts of brats and beer, donning a foam cheesehead, and taking off his shirt to watch a game played in 9-degree weather.
"I go to the game and I make friends with everybody, and I got so drunk," he said, noting that some of the fans were perplexed by the exuberant foreigner in their ranks. "I told them, ‘I am from Rome and this is my dream...I'm finally in the Lambeau field.'"
"Anything your heart desires will come to you..."
At this point it's important for me to mention that I know Bartocci, or "Gio" as his friends in New York call him, personally, mainly to provide context for what's to come. I met him two years ago through a friend who'd visited the aforementioned East Village restaurant he works at, Via Della Pace, and raved to me about his skills as a bartender.
"The bartender at this restaurant on 7th street is just ridiculous," is how I remember her first describing Gio. "You have to come with me and meet him. You'll love him. He's insane."
And so it was that a few days later I found myself sitting at Gio's bar taking in the particularly endearing brand of insanity he dishes out on a nightly basis. Gio is, in no uncertain terms, a larger than life personality, a man who oozes cocksure mojo but somehow manages to balance it with a genuine, disarming warmth. Think Tom Cruise in "Cocktail," only much more profane and rock-n-roll -- heavily pierced and well-tattooed, with long hair pulled back into a ponytail -- and exceedingly Italian. We hit it off instantly.
With all of that said, there's something else I should add about Gio that probably shouldn't come as any surprise -- he's that guy. Everyone knows a that guy, someone who always manages to find himself in absurdly wonderful situations other people only daydream about. Cosmo Kramer was a that guy. So was Forest Gump. But Gio is a that guy of rare talent who isn't anywhere near as cluelessly bumbling as Kramer or Gump -- a virtual lock to be a first-ballot entry into the that guy Hall of Fame.
To wit: Last year, for the Super Bowl, my team, the New Orleans Saints, was participating in the game and I invited Gio to watch it with me and a couple hundred other Saints fans in New York at our local Saints bar. On the Friday before the Super Bowl he called to tell me he wouldn't be able to make it -- because he was going to the Super Bowl. Some wealthy business types, Wall Streeters as I recall, came into his bar and became taken by him, so they flew Gio to Miami on a private jet, bought him a ticket to the game, and put him up in the swanky Delano Hotel for a few nights. He went from spending his Super Bowl drinking cheap beer with me in a sweaty bar to having an all-expenses paid trip to the actual game. This is the life of Gio Bartocci.
Somewhat seething with envy, I sent him to that game with a few of my treasured pieces of Saints merchandise so that at least a small part of me would be present in the stadium. He brought them all back, along with an official game program and a few other souvenirs that now make up part of the shrine I've created in my apartment to commemorate that magical season.
"Your dreams come true."
A week before this year's game, I received a text message from Gio lamenting what others have recently suggested -- that the Super Bowl has become a bloated spectacle populated mainly by the rich and famous, who go there to feed each other concession stand snacks, rather than, you know, exude love and passion for the game being played on the field. His text read: "I need to go to Dallas...$2700 ticket...CRAZY!!!"
I didn't hear from Gio for the rest of the week, and by the time game day finally arrived and stories began to surface about people with tickets who couldn't get into the game, I assumed there was just no way he got into the stadium. Boy was I wrong.
Imagine my surprise when, after the game, I began getting text messages from Gio with photos attached of him with the Packers players celebrating the win on the field. "I was on the Packers bench...I was on the field. Everyone back in Italy saw me." he wrote.
Indeed, Gio went to Dallas and somehow managed to secure an all-access field pass to the Super Bowl. To the Super Bowl. He uploaded a video to Youtube of the game's final moments from his vantage point and the frenzied celebration that ensued when time expired, and some of the photos he took are featured in this post. As for how he came into possession of such a pass, Gio asked that I not divulge this information. "I don't want to get anybody in trouble," he said.
But the real kicker for me came on Monday, when I caught a glimpse of the Aaron Rodgers version of the Disneyworld commercials that are so ubiquitous for weeks after every Super Bowl. Following a montage of Super Bowl highlights and the requisite question ("Aaron Rodgers, you and the Green Bay Packers just won the Super Bowl. What are you going to do next?), the Packers quarterback and Super Bowl MVP looks into the camera and emphatically answers, "I'm going to Disneyworld." Standing with jaw agape in childlike amazement over Rodgers' left shoulder at the precise moment he utters those words in the spot is Gio, of course. Watch the commercial below:
The best moment of Gio's night, he told me, was when he got to hold the Lombardi Trophy. "I DID IT I DID IT I DID IT I DID IT I DID IT I DID IT...if I touch the Lombardi I can do anything," he said in a message. Yes Gio, you certainly can.
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