January 28, 2013

UNO Professors to Help City Put Best Foot Forward During Super Bowl Week

There will be thousands of VIPs streaming into New Orleans for Super Bowl week, but few out-of-towners will be as well looked-after as the 32 owners of NFL teams. That’s where two University of New Orleans professors come in.

Polly Thomas, a professor in the College of Education and Human Development, and James Lowry, an associate professor of geography, are among the 32 locals selected to be part of the NFL’s Team Liaison Program. Each volunteer is assigned to a specific team owner or owner’s representative to essentially act as a concierge during the owner’s Super Bowl visit.

The program, which is part of the league’s Fans First initiative, debuted at last year’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis, Ind.

 “It worked so well, we got so much good feedback from the owners that we decided to institute it again in New Orleans,” said Dave Houghton, senior director of events for the NFL.

 The names of potential liaisons were nominated and league officials conducted in-person interviews in December to make their final decisions on who would represent New Orleans to this select group of people.

 “It’s an opportunity to put New Orleans’ best foot forward for our visitors,” said Thomas, a professor of special education and habilitative services, who will be paired with Chicago Bears Chairman George McCaskey.

 Thomas has already spoken to McCaskey on the phone and discussed the best routes to travel around the city and what times mass is celebrated at St. Louis Cathedral. She will help him get checked into his hotel and arrange dinner reservations. “My owner has been absolutely delightful to chat with,” she said.

 Lowry is matched with the Minnesota Vikings ownership group. Lowry, who is chair of the geography department and the faculty athletics representative, is thrilled about the vantage point that he’ll get during Super Bowl week.  He’ll accompany Vikings executives to the commissioner’s party at Mardi Gras World on Friday.

 “I get to be an insider at a Super Bowl,” Lowry said. So for a couple days there, I’ll be hanging out with the folks from the Vikings and getting to see stuff from the inside. I’m a big sports fan, so there was no way I was going to say no to something like this.”

 Houghton said some liaisons from last year’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis expressed an interest in signing on for this year’s game, but the NFL is adamant that local residents are the ones providing the guidance and assistance during this memorable week.

“Hospitality is a big part of New Orleans culture and we want our teams to feel that culture,” Houghton said. “And this is just part of that VIP treatment for those 32 clubs.”

New Orleans is hosting its first Super Bowl since 2002, and as the ultimate decision-makers on future Super Bowl sites, the owners are an influential lot.

“I want to make the owner want to come back often for Super Bowls,” Thomas said.