HOUSTON — You’ve seen the signs at luggage carousels in airports that say “Many bags look alike. Make sure the one you have is yours.” Well, this wasn’t an airport, although with the noise and chaos it seemed like one, and the bag I had, a backpack, it turned out wasn’t mine.
It belonged to Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. And it held his Super Bowl game plan.
It was Monday, media night on the NFL’s schedule for Super Bowl LI, at Minute Maid Park, home of the Astros.
While the Falcons’ stars such as Julio Jones, Matt Ryan and coach Dan Quinn had individual booths to do their interviews, Shanahan was sitting on the edge of a wall that separates the leftfield stands from foul territory.
Usually, my laptop is in one of those rolling briefcases, but you can’t drag that around a ballfield, so I was using a backpack. Locating Shanahan, I whipped off my backpack and set it down next to the wall. As it turned out, next to Shanahan’s backpack.
Journalists were in front of him (in the stands) and behind. I walked up and cracked, “Enough of this nonsense. Get out to Santa Clara.” That’s the home of the 49ers, the team for which Shanahan will become head coach shortly, Monday most likely.
Shanahan laughed at the comment, then went on. After about 15 minutes, I grabbed my backpack and walked away. Only it wasn’t mine, it was Shanahan’s.
As I found out from a few panicked phone calls. Who knew? I never tried to open the backpack, which is gray-green, like so many. When I finally answered my phone, a disembodied voice ordered, “Get back to Shanahan. You have his game plan.”
I returned to the wall. Shanahan was not there, but someone from the Falcons yelled, “There it is. Let me have it.” I didn’t know what “it” was, but I found out quickly enough. I felt I was in one of those spy movies where the operatives meet at the Austrian border and exchange documents.
But this was just a simple handoff. After a simple mistake, an “oops” moment that became all too large, that had Falcons fans believing it was a Patriots plot. The Patriots wouldn’t think of anything like this, would they? Oh!
What I thought after one radio station after another texted or called me Tuesday morning for interviews is that now I know what athletes feel. Sick of the attention. And for all those people who contend I am working for Bill Belichick, no chance.
I’m selective in my choice of employers. Besides, as Belichick and every other coach knows, a sportswriter has no idea how to decipher a game plan. We have enough trouble attempting to make sense out of their postgame quotes.
Art Spander is a San Francisco-based freelance sportswriter who regularly contributes to Newsday.