Category: sports

Orange and blue: University of Illinois trombones and me

Orange and blue: University of Illinois trombones and me

by Douglas Yeo

My favorite colors are orange and blue. Why? Well, they’re the colors of my undergraduate alma mater, Wheaton College (Illinois). I graduated from Wheaton College in 1976, and I’ve been the College’s trombone professor since 2019.

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Compact disc recording of the Wheaton College Trombone Quartet, 1974–1976 (released 2022), Like a River Glorious. James Roskam, Eric Carlson, William Meena, and Douglas Yeo, trombones.

Orange and blue are also the colors of the Chicago Bears. My wife and I are season ticket holders to Bears football. There’s a lot of orange and blue in our family’s wardrobes.

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Douglas and Patricia Yeo at Soldier Field, Chicago. Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears, September 2019.

In November 2016, I traveled to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to give a lecture at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, give a trombone masterclass, and participate as guest soloist at an Illinois football game halftime show with the Marching Illini Band. You can read about those memorable days by clicking HERE. And, what, you may ask, are University of Illinois’ colors? You guessed it: orange and blue.

In May of this year, I took part in the All-American Alumni Band reunion in Ohio. That was fun, and you can read about it by clicking HERE. Although I represented New Jersey when I was a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band in 1972-1973, I wanted to show a little Illinois pride at our recent reunion, so I pulled out the polo shirt that Dr. Barry Houser, director of the Marching Illini Band, gave to me in 2016.

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Little did I know that just two months later, that shirt would have a lot more meaning for me.

Last week, University of Illinois School of Music announced my appointment as its trombone professor (Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor of Trombone) for the 2022–2023 academic year. At the end of May, the University’s trombone professor abruptly retired, and the School of Music reached out to several people including me to ask if we would be interested in applying for a one-year position. I was intrigued by the idea so I tossed my hat in the ring, not at all sure that everything could possibly come together to make it happen on my end even if the University turned out to be interested in me. As things turned out, they were interested in me and after several interviews, I was offered the position. After a lot of thought and prayer, I decided to accept, and in a few weeks, I’ll be in Urbana each week working with a trombone studio of talented players, and working alongside my good friend, Jim Pugh, who is University of Illinois’ professor of jazz trombone and composition.

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Jim Pugh and Douglas Yeo playing Charles Small’s Conversation, University of Illinois School of Music, November, 2016

I also have another friend who teaches at University of Illinois—trumpet professor Charles Daval. Charles was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra during my first years in the BSO. This photo, below, shows the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa in a memorable performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 at the Philharmonie in Berlin, August 1984. You can see Charles on the far right and me behind him, playing over his right shoulder. Our second trombonist for part of that tour was Carl Lenthe, then principal trombonist of the Bayerische Staatsoper, and now Professor of Trombone at Indiana University. Ronald Barron is playing principal trombone. I plan to hang this photo in my office at University of Illinois, a reminder of how Charles and I find ourselves together once again nearly 40 years after we first met.

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Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Seiji Ozawa, performing Symphony No. 10 of Dmitri Shostakovich. Philharmonie, Berlin, August 1984. Charles Daval (far right), third trumpet; Douglas Yeo (behind Daval’s right shoulder), bass trombone.

When my appointment to the University of Illinois faculty was announced, flute professor and chair of Winds/Brass/Percussion, Dr. Jonathan Keeble, interviewed me for a press release. Here’s the interview, which tells a little more of this story:

What have been your favorite professional musical experiences?

Making a list of favorite musical experiences is like asking, “Which of your children do you love the most?” But if I had to choose a few from my long career, they would include performing Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No 2 with Leonard Bernstein in the National Cathedral, Washington DC, Dmitri Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 with Seiji Ozawa in Berlin, Josef Haydn’s The Creation with Simon Rattle in Boston’s Symphony Hall, and Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 in Amsterdam with Bernard Haitink. And recording the film scores to Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan with John Williams on the podium.

What pulled you away from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and into teaching when you moved over to Arizona State University?

After playing in the Boston Symphony for nearly 30 years, I had accomplished every dream I had imagined as a member of a great symphony orchestra. My wife and I decided to retire to Arizona—we love the landscape and diverse cultures of the Southwest—not knowing exactly what was next for us but we were ready for new adventures. Then, Arizona State University approached me about accepting their full time Professor of Trombone position; I could not refuse. Trombone students at a university are interested in a host of artistic expressions: performer, educator, arranger, author, and much more. I am a trombonist who has been involved in everything – from performing the symphonic canon, to actively participating in early music as a sackbut, serpent, and ophicleide player, to being a New York City jazz freelancer, as well as a high school band director, and author of numerous books and articles. It’s through this broad set of experiences that I can relate to and help students who have many different goals. Engaging with my students at ASU and helping them to become difference makers in society was immensely gratifying but in 2018, we decided to move to the Chicago area. Grandkids can do that to you.

What about University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) coaxed you to come out of retirement for the upcoming year?

In 2016, I came to the Illinois campus on two occasions. The first was to give a concert in the Krannert Center with Philharmonia Baroque (I played serpent on Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks). The second was to give a lecture at the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, and perform as guest soloist with the Marching Illini at a football halftime show. I was impressed with all I experienced on campus, and when the University approached me about its need for a trombone professor for 2022–2023, the idea was immediately appealing. Also, I played alongside UIUC’s trumpet professor Charles Daval when he was a member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the 1980s, and jazz trombone and composition professor Jim Pugh and I have been good friends for many years. The prospect of working with them and UIUC’s talented students was simply irresistible. I keep flunking retirement but I’m OK with that.

Indeed, it seems as though you’ve hardly taken a breath since “retiring!” What is it you find most gratifying about teaching trombone?

Watching a student have that Eureka! moment when a concept clicks. When a student understands that making music is more than a job but it’s a calling, the intensity of the student/teacher relationship kicks into high gear. I have been fortunate to have many students who are passionate about positively influencing the world with a trombone in their hands, and the joy of working with them is incalculable.

Who’s Professor Yeo when the trombone’s out of his hands?

I love to write. In fact one of two books I completed last year is published by University of Illinois Press (Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry, co-authored with my friend, Kevin Mungons). My favorite non-musical thing to do is hiking with my wife, our favorite place to do that is Zion National Park in Utah, and we are Chicago Bears football season ticket holders. Our family bleeds orange and blue. That’s another reason why I’m very excited to be part of the UIUC community!

So, here we go. In a few weeks, I’ll be in Urbana teaching at UIUC. Orange and blue. That same week, I’ll be also back in my studio teaching at Wheaton College. Orange and blue. And a few weeks later, the Chicago Bears will open their season and my wife and I will be in our seats at Soldier Field, Chicago. Orange and blue.

They really are my favorite colors.

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Reflections on a year: COVID-19 and more

Reflections on a year: COVID-19 and more

The coronavirus pandemic has upended everything. Everything. Everyone has a story. It is true that “we are all in this together”—it effects everyone. But it is not true that “we are all in the same boat.” Some boats are doing better than others. Some are sinking. Some have sunk. The virus is real and it’s bad. In the words of a good friend of mine who is a Dean at a major medical school and research hospital in New York City, “this virus is scary and sneaky.” Yes, it is.

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The COVID-19 dashboard at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, February 4, 2021.

We in our extended family consider ourselves very fortunate: none of us has contracted COVID-19. We are all exceptionally cautious. We wear masks and take other protective measures. But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve received email messages from a number of friends who have noticed that I haven’t posted anything on The Last Trombone since October. “Are you OK?”, they’ve asked.  I appreciate the concern, and it’s a reminder how we all are on edge, uncertain what lack of contact with someone might mean. I’m well—thank you for asking!—but as I have been reflecting on a number of things, I find it remarkable that in a season of life where I have done almost no traveling and I have been at home since mid-March, 2020, I am so busy in so many ways.

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It has been nearly a year since the coronavirus has been part of our every day vocabulary. On February 2, 2020, my son-in-law, Chad, and I went to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. I won a contest sponsored by the Chicago Bears (you can read about how I won the contest HERE and our experience at Super Bowl LIV HERE) and we had an amazing trip. Chad and I were in the midst of 65,000 other fans. We gave high-fives and hugs to total strangers, stood in crowed lines for food and to use the rest room, we screamed our lungs out during the game, we flew on planes, traveled on buses, and we did this without even thinking. We didn’t know that in a few weeks, that would all change.

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Megumi Kanda and Douglas Yeo in recital in St. Louis, February 16, 2020.

A few days  later, I was in St. Louis, playing a recital and giving a masterclass along with my good friend, Megumi Kanda who is principal trombonist of the Milwaukee Symphony.  The recital was sponsored by the St. Louis Low Brass Collective. In addition to my trombone activities, I went up the St. Louis Arch in a small elevator that seated seven people, all jammed in like sardines. I didn’t even think twice about doing it.

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The elevators at the St. Louis Arch, February 15, 2020.

Coronavirus? It was “one of those viruses” we hear about from time to time that affected people in lands far away. It had no impact on us. Yet.

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Sloan Park, spring training home of the Chicago Cubs. March 12, 2012.

Then in March, we went to Arizona for a week. Our plan was to go to some Chicago Cubs spring training games, do some hiking, enjoy restaurants, and all of the nice things you do on vacation. On March 12, we arrived at the Cubs spring training facility, Sloan Park, ready to watch a game. We found that the gates were locked and the scoreboard said that the game had been cancelled due to weather. But it wasn’t raining, and the forecast was for sun as the clouds were moving away. Nobody at the ballpark gave us more information. We went to have lunch at Portillos to assuage our disappointment and then went hiking. When we got back to our rented house, we heard that all Major League Baseball games had been cancelled. Coronavirus became real.

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Wheaton College’s COVID-19 dashboard, February 5, 2021. Students start returning to campus tomorrow for the spring semester under strict virus mitigation protocols. The entire student body will be tested for COVID-19 when students arrive on campus this weekend and they will all be tested regularly throughout the semester.

Later that day, I received an email from the President of Wheaton College. I am Wheaton College’s trombone professor and I was anticipating getting back to teaching when we got home from our spring break vacation. But our President said that spring break was being extended for another week and that all faculty needed to get prepared for several days of training: Wheaton College was going to a combination of remote and greatly modified in-person learning. Everything was changing.

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We all know the kinds of things that happened after that. No in-person concerts or theater performances, restaurants and movie theaters were closed, church doors were shuttered, life moved from personal engagement to a computer screen. We all learned that Zoom was not just a word little kids say when they’re pretending to pilot a rocket ship to Mars. Trombone lessons with Zoom and Cleanfeed. Recitals without an audience. Symphony orchestras making mashed up videos with players recording in their living rooms. Cancel. Cancel. Cancel. Masks. Social distancing. Hand sanitizer. Wash your hands. Wash your hands again. CAN’T TOUCH THIS!

So, here we are, nearly a year later. Nobody saw this coming, nobody imagined it would last this long. But we are starting to see hopeful signs for deliverance from the pandemic. Vaccines are now being distributed. I had my first jab of the Moderna vaccine yesterday morning—it was a truly joyful, emotional experience, the fruition of something I had been praying for over many months. We continue to pray that the rest of our family will receive the vaccine soon. So much will change for the better when that happens.

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The first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine I received yesterday, February 4, 2021, at Central DuPage Hospital.

We are hopeful that with continued vigilance in following guidance on protective measures (wear your mask—keep apart from others—wash your hands—get the vaccine), we will slowly come out of this long tunnel. And when we do, and when we go to the first sporting event, the first church service, the first concert, play, or musical, the first restaurant after not doing those things for over a year, we will have a new sense of appreciation for all of those things that we always seemed to take for granted. That is one of the important lessons we have learned over these long months.

Still, the pandemic has provided us with opportunities to do other things. Like everyone else, I had to cancel a host of performing and teaching trips over the last year. Soloing at a brass band festival in Seattle. Cancelled. Playing with the Finnish National Radio Orchestra in concerts in Finland and Japan. Cancelled. Teaching at Gene Pokorny’s low brass seminar, at Interlochen Arts Academy, at the Wheaton College summer music camp, at the Csehy summer school of music. All cancelled. Planned vacations to Glacier National Park, Zion National Park, to Arizona. All cancelled. You’ve had things cancelled, too.

But we’ve spent more time with our grandkids, took more walks in forest preserves when the weather was good, and we go sledding down a four foot high berm next to our home (we don’t do “mountains” here in the Chicago area)—the most exhilarating five second ride on a sled that our grandkids have ever had. And in the midst of the storm, and without traveling regularly, that’s freed up time to do a lot of other things. No, I would not have chosen to be at home day after day. But that’s what we have. So I’ve been busy. Here’s some of what I’ve been doing lately.

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  • I wrote an article about my friend, Megumi Kanda, for the International Trombone Association Journal. that published in January of this year. Megumi was the 2020 recipient of the ITA’s highest honor, the ITA Award. Click HERE to read the article.

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Part of my teaching workstation at my home.

  • I’ve continued teaching my students at Wheaton College each week, both weekly lessons and trombone studio class. And, last semester, trombone literature class. Due to the pandemic, all wind, brass, and voice lessons are done online. I set up a new work station in our basement where I do all of my online remotely. We all know the limitations of Zoom and Cleanfeed, but we’re grateful that the technology allows us to continue to work together and make good progress. We all look forward to the day when we can sit side by side and play duets together once again. Everything just takes so much more time when it’s done virtually. For instance: If a student has a noisy F-attachment valve linkage, at an ordinary in-person lesson, I can say, “OK, hand me your horn,” and in a few minutes, I can usually solve the problem. But now, I have to hold my trombone up to the camera and try to help the student run through a number of diagnostic steps so I can identify the problem. “OK, put your thumb on top of the ball joint—no, the ball joint, not the stop rod arm—then with the other hand, move the F-attachment paddle. Where is that clicking sound coming from? No, I don’t think it’s from THERE— I see the movement in the linkage THERE. . .” And so on. But I salute my students who are dealing with so much as they are in school, both remotely and on campus with very strict virus mitigation protocols. Wear your mask and get the vaccine. Help students and teachers everywhere return to 100% in-person learning as soon as possible.

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Advertisement for Henry Fillmore’s The Trombone Family, c. 1920.

  • In June, I wrote two articles about Henry Fillmore’s iconic collection of trombone ragtime pieces, The Trombone Family, which includes Lassus Trombone. You can read those articles HERE and HERE. To say the articles aroused a lot of interest is a profound understatement. In the first two days after posting my articles, over 100,000 people read them on The Last Trombone. A vigorous discussion about music, race, and racism ensued. Since then, I’ve answered hundreds of emails from people who have written to  me about the subject, my articles have been reprinted in several journals and newsletters, and I have been asked to speak about the subject before several groups. This engagement continues, and a day doesn’t go by when I am not engaging with people about this important issue. This takes a lot of time. A LOT of time. But it matters.

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  • I wrote a long article about the Mozart Requiem Tuba mirum that will be published in the International Trombone Association Journal sometime next year.

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  • I wrote a commentary and glossary to accompany the republication (in the International Trombone Association Journal) of a short story, The Story of A Trombone, that was first published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1875. It may have been the first short story ever written about the trombone. This will publish in the ITA Journal later this year.

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  • I continued working on my eight part series of articles about the piece for tuba, narrator, and orchestra, Tubby the Tuba. The articles have been published in the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal through all of 2020 and 2021.

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  • My Boston Symphony Orchestra colleague Ronald Barron (retired principal trombonists) and I have just finished making an edition of Sliding and Stringing Along, a duet for tenor trombone or bass trombone and violin by the late Charlie Small. This was one the last pieces Charlie wrote before his death in 2017 and he had given both Ron and me handwritten copies of the piece. Trombone players know Charlie Small for his superb playing and also for his fantastic duet for tenor and bass trombone, Conversation. Ron premiered Sliding and Stringing Along in 2015 and he and I put our heads together to sort out Charlie’s many manuscripts. It will be published by Ensemble Publications later this year.

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The cover to Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry, by Kevin Mungons and Douglas Yeo.

  • For the last six years, my friend, Kevin Mungons, and I have been working together on a book about the trombone-playing song leader for evangelist Billy Sunday, Homer Rodeheaver. I had previously published an article about Rodeheaver in the Historic Brass Society Journal (to read the article, click HERE), and it’s been a real joy to work with Kevin to write the first full length biography of Rodeheaver. We completed the manuscript—the book is titled Homer Rodeheaver and the Rise of the Gospel Music Industry—last year, it then went out for peer review, we then engaged in a rewrite, and the book went through various editorial processes with our publisher, University of Illinois Press. We have just finished working through proofing the page proofs and the last thing for us to do before publication of the book this spring is to write the index. The pandemic has provided time for extended work on the book  and we are now in the home stretch. For advance information about the book on the University of Illinois Press website, click HERE.

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Illustration of a buccin (dragon bell trombone) by Lennie Peterson, for my new book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player (Rowman & Littlefield).

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Another side of Lennie Peterson’s artistic persona, a cartoon from his syndicated comic strip, The Big Picture.

  • For the last five years, I have been working on another book, An Illustrated Dictionary for the Modern Trombone, Euphonium, and Tuba Player. Since being contracted to write the book by Rowman & Littlefield, I’ve been at work putting it together. Last month, I finished my manuscript—over 650 entries about instruments, individuals, composers, manufacturers, and parts of low brass instruments—and submitted it to my publisher. It has now been sent out for peer review and once those comments come back later this month, I’ll engage in a rewrite and the other editorial processes. Hopefully the book will then head toward being published, sometime in late 2021 or early 2022. One of the great joys of working on this book has been working with my illustrator, Lennie Peterson. A sample of his work for the Dictionary is above. Lennie (who is a successful trombonist in addition to his other artistic pursuits) is well known to trombonists for his famous cartoon about trombone players and their band director, Mr. Kaplin (above). Lennie is the rare artist who is expert in a host of styles and I am very happy that we have been partners in putting this book together.

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John Kuhn, a member of John Philip Sousa’s Band, at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-American Exhibition.

  • I’ve started researching the legendary Sousaphone player, John Kuhn, and I hope to publish a major article about him in the International Tuba Euphonium Association Journal sometime in 2022. Kuhn is a fascinating subject and as I was researching him for an entry in my Dictionary, I realized that a lot of the information that is known about him is in need of an adjustment. I find this all the time: historical figures have stories associated with them that are “too good not to be true,” but when one actually digs deep to find the root of the story, the narrative needs to be changed. Here’s a photo of Kuhn playing with a massed band (including John Philip Sousa’s band, of which Kuhn was a member) at the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition; that’s him looking over his shoulder at the camera. Stay tuned for more about this member of the Sioux nation who was a true force on the Sousaphone for much of the twentieth century.

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Our family’s 2020 annual Christmas ornament.

  • Every year since we were married 45 years ago, my wife and I have made an ornament for our Christmas tree that reflects some of what our family did in the last year. It’s a nice time capsule that allows us to remember things we might have otherwise forgotten, and to celebrate some of our family’s milestones. It was challenging to find things to put on the 2020 ornament. Here’s what we came up with. A pin from Super Bowl LIV when the world seemed normal, a pin from 2020 baseball spring training when the world changed, and a NO COVID pin. That seemed to summarize the year.

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Sign in the lobby of Central DuPage Hospital, Winfield, Illinois, February 4, 2021.

  • As mentioned above, I received my first COVID-19 vaccination yesterday, with another dose coming in a few weeks. And, straight up, I want to say that I had no side effects apart from a slightly sore arm yesterday, no more than what I experience every year when I get a flu shot. By saying that I received the vaccine, I guess I’m giving away my age since here in Illinois, the vaccine is only available at this time to front line essential workers like doctors, nurses, and emergency personnel, teachers, and individuals over 65 years old (and I’m not a front line worker). My son-in-law, Chad, who is a hospice chaplain who is in contact with people all day long in homes and care facilities, has had both of his vaccination doses over the last few weeks. My getting it yesterday means 25% of our immediate family has been vaccinated, and we see this as tangible progress toward all of us getting vaccinated—a key element to returning to a more normal life. I received my vaccine at Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield, Illinois—part of the Northwestern Medicine health network—and I was so impressed by the efficiency of their distribution system and the care of its staff. The process went smoothly from start to finish, and I want to add my voice of thanks to all those who have been working so hard to help get the vaccine into people’s arms, and to those who have been caring for those who have contracted the coronavirus. We all know that this virus is bad—really bad—and we rejoice that deliverance from the pandemic seems to be in reach thanks to the vaccines. Thank you, God. In a world that is upside down, during a time where so many people have lost so much, it’s comforting to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. And we’ll get there sooner if everyone follows health care directives including wearing a mask, maintaining appropriate distance from one another, and getting the vaccine. It matters.

So, that’s some of what’s been keeping me busy over the last year. Thanks to those who reached out and expressed concern, who wondered why I haven’t been posting more often on my blog. I’ll try to get to it more regularly. I’ve just been busy—like you’ve probably been busy, too.

[Header image: The daily United States coronavirus map from The New York Times, February 5, 2021.]

It matters—in music, politics, sports

It matters—in music, politics, sports

by Douglas Yeo

With cultural events happening at the speed of light, it occurred to me that this week may be remembered as one in which three independent events that affect particular communities in the worlds of music, politics, and sports, came together. Three events that are informing discussions among diverse groups of people that are clear signs of the effort to learn from the lessons of history, promote justice, and end racial stereotyping.

On Sunday, June 26, I called on trombone players to stop playing the fifteen pieces that make up Henry Fillmore’s The Trombone Family, among which is his most famous composition, “Lassus Trombone.” I brought this up because Fillmore’s pieces were birthed and advertised using racist tropes from minstrelsy, demeaning caricatures of African Americans, blackface, and use of the n-word. The response to my article has been astonishing; a world-wide conversation is underway.

On Tuesday, June 30, Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves signed a bill to change Mississippi’s state flag, and replace it with one that does not contain the Confederate battle flag. The state has been under pressure for many years to remove the battle flag from its state flag since the battle flag is associated with the American Civil War and the Confederacy’s push to preserve slavery.

Today, Friday, July 3, the Washington Redskins of the National Football League announced the team will “undergo a thorough review” of its name and nickname. Commentators expect this review will lead the team to change its name. The team has been under pressure for many years to change the name which is widely considered to be a racial slur against Native Americans.

Change is in the air. It’s time. It matters.

©2020, Douglas Yeo. All rights reserved.

Super Bowl LIV – an exceptional fan experience thanks to the Chicago Bears and the NFL

Super Bowl LIV – an exceptional fan experience thanks to the Chicago Bears and the NFL

My wife and I love professional football and are season tickets holders (STH) for the Chicago Bears. Last fall, I entered a contest that the Bears sponsored, and the prize was a pair of tickets to Super Bowl LIV (54), held in Miami on February 2, 2020. Well, not just tickets to the game. A few other things were included as well.  As I wrote about previously on The Last Trombone, I entered the contest—which required entrants to compose a 100 word essay to answer the question, “Who would you take to the Super Bowl, and why?”—and I nominated my son-in-law, Chad. And my essay was selected as the winner out of thousands of entries. Wow.

Ever since Chicago Bears Chairman George McCaskey (son of Bears owner, Virginia Halas McCaskey) called me last November to give me this happy news, Chad and I have been preparing to go to the Super Bowl. We knew the Bears were giving us tickets to the game, three nights of lodging in a Miami hotel, and airfare to Miami. What more could we ask for?! What we didn’t know was exactly what was in store for us during those days apart from going to the game itself. Now that we are back home from what I can only describe as a remarkable experience, I’ve had a little time to reflect on all that happened thanks to the generosity of the Chicago Bears.

Friday, January 31

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It was snowing as I pulled out of our driveway to pick up Chad and drive to Chicago’s O’Hare airport. Fortunately, the flight to Miami was uneventful and after we landed, we navigated Miami’s terminal to rent a car.

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The airport was in full blown Super Bowl host mode, with Super Bowl signage and extra staff that was happy to help the huge invasion of visiting fans. While the Chicago Bears were not in the Super Bowl, we were proud to represent the Bears in Miami on behalf of all Bears season ticket holders. For us, it was all Bears gear, all the time, as you can see in these photos of us from Super Bowl weekend.

We drove to our hotel, the Biltmore Miami/Coral Gables. This is not the kind of hotel where our family usually stays on vacation! But the Bears and the National Football League (NFL),who partnered in this experience, pulled out all the stops in booking us in a 5-star, luxury hotel. Our room’s bathroom was bigger than a lot of hotel rooms I’ve stayed in. I’m serious!

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Immediately upon checking in, Chad and I headed to our first activity of the weekend, a dinner in the Biltmore’s Ahlambra Ballroom. It was a spectacular feast and it was there that we learned more about what we would be doing throughout the weekend.

As we were told, each of the NFL’s 32 teams selected a season ticket holder (along with one guest) to receive a unique Super Bowl experience. Most teams conducted a random drawing; the Bears were the only ones (as far as I could learn) who chose a fan through an essay contest. At dinner, we began to meet the fans from other teams who had been selected to share in this special Super Bowl Experience.

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[NFC North table at the Biltmore. Left to right, fans from the Chicago Bears (Chad and me), Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, and Green Bay Packers. Photo by Nicole Blake.]

We were all seated at tables according to our NFL division. Our table, representing the NFC North, was in the front of the room, and we sat with fans from the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings, and Green Bay Packers. We also met Nicole Blake; she works for the NFL and was our exceptionally helpful NFL representative who took great care of our division throughout the weekend.

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We were all given a custom NFL jersey in the style of our team’s jersey, each with the number 54 emblazoned on the front and back (for Super Bowl LIV), and the words “Super Bowl” across the back. These are real really special jerseys, and for us, it’s nice that they bear the number 54 which was worn by Bears Hall of Fame linebacker, Brian Urlacher. We wore the jerseys to all events during the weekend which was a good way for us to visually keep up with our group (and for our NFL reps like Nicole Blake to keep up with us).

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During dinner, we had a private presentation by Al Riveron, the NFL’s Sr. Vice President of Officiating. This was really interesting. Really. Interesting. Every fan is passionate about officiating—especially when calls don’t go the way you want them to go. We all learned a lot about NFL rules and how they are applied—much more than had previously known—and there was an energetic back-and-forth between all of us and Al Riveron as he explained the nuances of rules and officiating. Sorry, Cowboy fans, Dez Bryant didn’t catch the ball (as shown on the photo above). But the rule, “What is a catch?”, was changed the next season and under the current rule, it would have been a catch. It was a terrific presentation, and it made me want to read the NFL rule book, a link to it which was kindly provided to me by Nicole Blake. You can read the rule book for yourself; click HERE to see it on the NFL website as a downloadable PDF file.

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We also received a booklet with information about all of the participants in the STH program, a bit of each of our story, and how we were selected. Here (photo above) is what the Bears submitted about Chad and me.

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After dinner, Chad and I drove to Miami Beach to take in the Super Bowl LIV Experience. The NFL provided us with tickets to the event which mostly had interactive games and activities for fans, as well as a NFL shop of epic proportions full of Super Bowl LIV gear.

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Among the many exhibits at the Super Bowl LIV Experience was a display that featured all 53 Super Bowl Champion rings. Among them was the Chicago Bears Super Bowl XX ring from 1986, when the Bears defeated the New England Patriots, 46-10. The display was really impressive, from the modest rings of early Super Bowls to the outrageously large ring made for the New England Patriots when they won Super Bowl LIII last year, their record (along with the Pittsburgh Steelers) sixth Super Bowl victory.

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There were also displays that included championship trophies, including the George S. Halas Championship Trophy, given each year to the NFC Conference Champion. It was named after George S. Halas, founder, owner, player, and coach of the Bears, and the man who is considered to be the “father of the NFL’ when it was founded in 1920.

And Chad and I had a little fun, climbing up behind a model of a 6’6″ Chicago Bear. Uh, no, those are not really our bodies!

Saturday, February 1

Saturday was devoted to attending the annual NFL Honors event where players and coaches are honored with awards in various categories, including Most Valuable Player, Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, etc. Chad and I had watched the program on television in previous years so we were really interested to get a first hand, up close look at how it all came together.

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After meeting in the lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, we all boarded two busses for the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami. This was one of the great things about the weekend: for both NFL Honors and the Super Bowl, we left the driving to someone else. Traffic around Miami was truly crazy, and we were very happy to just go along for the ride. We walked along the red carpet past dozens of media outlets whose photographers and videographers were busy setting up for the arrival of NFL players, coaches, and celebrities.

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Once inside, we were all positioned on risers backstage where we could watch the proceedings on huge television monitors while being up close to many of the attendees and award winners before and after they received their awards. This was, to me, much more interesting than being out in the audience in the theater, since we got to see how photos, videos, and interviews came about. [Photo above by Logan Bowles, courtesy the National Football League.]

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For instance, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Tenessee Titans running back Derrick Henry were named FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Year. Before the ceremony, they came backstage to be photographed with their trophies. The photo above was taken by me from our vantage point backstage. In the somewhat chaotic scene,  you can see the photographer, a man who is operating a laptop that showed each photo, and another person assisting in the setup.

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The photo above shows the same moment, as the photo was post-produced for the NFL’s  Twitter feed [photo courtesy of the National Football League]. No more chaos; just two happy players with their awards. I love seeing how things work and come together. While it was a long day of sitting and standing, ours was a very special view of the NFL Honors event.

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came by to greet us, and Chad and I each enjoyed a brief moment of conversation with him. While it’s easy for fans to be critical of the Commissioner when he metes out discipline to a player on your team, I have to say that we have great respect for the Commissioner. He has a Herculean job and all things considered, we feel he does an excellent job of helping to steer the NFL in good directions for fans, players, and owners. It was a privilege to meet him, have a few words with him, and shake his hand. [Photo above by Logan Bowles, courtesy the National Football League.]

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Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh came backstage to be photographed and interviewed after he accepted the NFL Honors award for NFL Coach of the Year. He recognized our Bears jerseys and immediately came up to Chad and me. Harbaugh’s younger brother, Jim, had been a quarterback for the Bears from 1987-1993 (he is now the football coach at University of Michigan). Chad had a nice chat with Coach Harbaugh who was enthusiastic over seeing Bears fans backstage.

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Chad and I also had a brief moment on camera in the NFL Honors telecast, when host Steve Harvey came through the red carpet to interview a few of us. The photo above shows Chad and me on the broadcast as we appeared on the television broadcast. Fun stuff.

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A highlight of the NFL Honors experience was seeing the 2019 Walter Payton Man of the Year, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell. This annual award, named for Walter Payton, legendary running back of the Chicago Bears, is given to one NFL player each year in recognition of his exceptional volunteer and charity award. Shown above is Calais Campbell with (left to right), Brittney Payton (Walter Payton’s daughter), Connie Payton (Walter Payton’s widow), and Jarrett Payton (Walter Payton’s son). We have a lot of pride in Chicago that this award is named for one of our own Chicago Bears. I had seen Calais Campbell play many times when my wife and I lived in Arizona (for six years before we moved to the Chicago area) and we were season ticket holders with the Arizona Cardinals; Campbell was a member of the Arizona Cardinals from 2008-2016. I was delighted to see Campbell honored as the 2019 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year. He is highly deserving of this, the NFL’s highest honor.

Sunday, February 2

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Super Bowl Sunday began with breakfast at the Biltmore Hotel’s Alhambra Ballroom , where NFL Vice President of Broadcast Planning, Mike North (shown in the photo above), gave a presentation on how the NFL schedule is made up each year. I’ve known it’s complicated, but Mike North let us see just HOW complicated it is. There are so many factors to take into consideration. How is THIS (below) for a list of just SOME of the factors that have to be taken into consideration when the schedule is made each year:

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Mike North, like Ron Riveron on Friday night, was very engaging, and we all enjoyed interacting with him, asking questions and learning so much. Chad and I left the presentation with an even greater appreciation for all the NFL does to put the product we know as the National Football League in front of fans around the world from August into February each year.

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After breakfast, Chad and I took a walk around the impressive Biltmore property and then got ready to go to the game. We all met in the lobby of the Biltmore hotel where we were given our game tickets. Our seats were to be in an end zone, section 330, row 12. While my wife and I are certainly spoiled by our incredible 50 yard line seats as season ticket holders for the Chicago Bears, it’s always interesting to sit in different locations and get a different view of the playing field and stadium. With tickets in hand, we headed for the bus and we were off to Hard Rock Stadium for Super Bowl LIV.

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Once again, we were really happy someone else was doing the driving. Having our own charter bus to get to Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium (the home of the Miami Dolphins) made getting to the stadium a very relaxing experience. We arrived at the stadium at 2:00 pm (kickoff would be at 6:30 pm). Once there, we began to take in the scene. From cold and snowy in Chicago two days ago, Chad and I were standing in Miami’s 70 degree sunshine. Hard Rock Stadium underwent a major renovation in 2015. Among the many changes made at that time was the addition of a canopy that covers all seats and protects fans from rain and sun, leaving a large opening in the middle so the field is exposed to sunlight. The result was a modernistic update to the stadium that was originally built in 1987.

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Super Bowl LIV was to be played by the San Francisco 49ers (representing the NFC) and the Kansas City Chiefs (representing the AFC). The two teams had great seasons and we knew we were in for a terrific matchup and game. Because we didn’t have a rooting interest in either team, we were going to enjoy a game where we could just appreciate the whole experience without the stress of seeing our team losing—or the joy of seeing it winning. Chiefs and 49ers fans were out in full force (such as the funny Kansas City Chiefs fan bus in the photo above) and the fan vibe outside the stadium was raucous, enthusiastic, and fun.

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When we met at the Biltmore lobby and our Super Bowl tickets were distributed, we were also given wristbands (with embedded security chips) that would allow all of us to have access to the field at Hard Rock Stadium before the game. When we passed through security at 2:50 pm and got our first view of the inside of the stadium, the “wow factor” was in full force. We were virtually alone in the stadium, and as we made our way to the field, the full impact of just how special it was to be there began to sink in.

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Our on-field access was to a dedicated area only for us, next to the Kansas City bench, near the Chiefs’ end zone. As time went on, players, coaches, and others began to arrive to get set up for the game.

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Chad loves sports stadiums. He’s been a passionate sports fan since he was a young boy, particularly for the Chicago Bears. He has a prodigious memory for stadium details, even down to particular plays he’s seen in different venues. It was a real joy to see him at Hard Rock Stadium, just taking in the scene.

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Being on the field was a spectacular experience. The panoramic photo above gives you a sense of where we were and what we looked out and saw. It was beautiful and more.

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While our Chicago Bears were not in this year’s Super Bowl, we were keenly aware that the Bears had given us this amazing experience and in a very real sense, we were representing the team at the game. Many fans recognized our jerseys and shouted out “Go Bears!” and gave us high-fives and fist pumps. While on the field, I reached into my bag and pulled out a Bears rally towel, one that was given out at a Bears game this past season at Soldier Field. The Bears, as a founding franchise of the NFL in 1920 (one of only two still in existence, along with the Arizona Cardinals), celebrated their 100th season along with the NFL. Posing with my Bears rally towel was yet another tribute we could make to the team we love, in thanks for all the joy they give to our family and to so many other fans.

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From our vantage point on the field, we saw many players arrive. Shown above is Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (on the left) who, just a few hours later, would be both a Super Bowl champion and also Most Valuable Player (MVP) of Super Bowl LIV. We also saw various media outlets on the sideline conducting interviews and reporting from the scene.

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The time on field was a rich one, as all of us in the STH Experience were together taking photos and taking it all in. A nice moment came when all of us representing teams from the NFC North (Lions, Packers, Vikings, and Bears) got together for a photo with Nicole Blake (center in the photo above). I have to say, Nicole took exceptionally great care of our division. She was always available to help in any way possible and was a fount of information. We could not have asked for a more competent, helpful, poised person to assist us in so many ways. You heard it here first: Don’t be surprised if some day, you hear that Nicole Blake is commissioner  of the National Football League. I’m serious. She’s that good! [Photo above by Logan Bowles, courtesy the National Football League.]

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Before we left the field, all of us who had been given this amazing Season Ticket Holder experience gathered for a group photo. Getting to meet and know many of these fans was a highlight of the weekend and something we will keep with us for a very long time. It was great to be with fans who were there to enjoy the game, were passionate about their team, and engaged in friendly, positive, collegial (non-“trash talk”) conversation. I’m glad to have met them. You can see Chad and me kneeling in the middle of the group in the right hand third of the photo. [Photo above by Logan Bowles, courtesy the National Football League.]

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By 4:45, we decided to leave the field and head to our seats. The stadium was slowly filling up and pregame entertainment was beginning to appear on the jumbotrons. We did a little shopping for Super Bowl souvenirs for family members and then walked up the ramp to section 320.

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Then an extraordinary thing happened. We had been in our seats only a few minutes when who should come up to us but George McCaskey, Chairman of the Chicago Bears (center in the photo above). It was George who called me last November to tell me that my essay had been selected as the winning entry in the Bears’ Season Ticket Holder Super Bowl Contest. We have great admiration for the McCaskey family, beginning with George’s mother, Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey, who is the daughter of George Halas. From our seats in section 309 at Soldier Field, we can turn around and see Virginia McCaskey and her family in her owner’s box. We are very grateful for the way the McCaskey family runs the team. They are “stand up” people, a family that loves God, loves football, loves the Bears, and is very aware of the legacy that of which they are stewards. That George took the time to come to visit us in our seats was something I never could have expected. I didn’t see any other owners or Chairmen of any other teams making their way to visit winners of their Super Bowl ticket contest. We had a great conversation with George about the Bears, the Super Bowl, and how we all looked forward to the day when we would see the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl once again. Thank you, George, for all the Chicago Bears and McCaskey family means to our family and to Bears fans around the world.

Part of the pregame entertainment was the airing of the NFL’s new commercial titled, “Next 100.” It is a continuation of the story that started at the beginning of this just past season, which was the 100th anniversary season of the NFL. Before the first game of the season (which was between two of the most storied franchises in NFL history, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers), the NFL aired a commercial that featured dozens of current and former players at a banquet celebrating the NFL’s centennial. What happened as Commissioner Roger Goodell was addressing the players was quite something. Have a look at the NFL’s “100-year Game” commercial (to view the commercial on YouTube, click HERE):

As a follow up, the NFL created a new commercial that aired during the Super Bowl LIV pregame show. “Next 100” features 13 year old Maxwell Bunchie and a cast of current and former NFL players as well as youngsters who are currently playing the game. The commercial ended with Bunchie running onto the field at Hard Rock Stadium with a group of young players to the cheers of the crowd at Super Bowl LIV. The commercial became real. Have a look (to view the commercial on Youtube, click HERE):

I think this commercial is terrific. It brings together the youth football movement and the NFL, and it shows something of the future of the League. Of the many exceptional moments in the film, I was deeply moved by two segments. The first is where Maxwell Bunchie stands in front of the statue of Pat Tillman (who, while a member of the Arizona Cardinals, left the team after the 9/11 attacks and joined the U. S. Army; he was killed in Afghanistan in 2004) at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, home of the Arizona Cardinals. All music and other sounds stop in the commercial for a few seconds as Bunchie considers the sacrifice Tillman made in the service of his country.

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The other special moment is near the end, when Bunchie walks a gauntlet of NFL players to the end of the tunnel to a playing field. There he is met by Chicago Bears owner Virginia Halas McCaskey—now 97 years old—who gives Bunchie the game ball for the kickoff of Super Bowl LIV and says, “You know what to do.” Bunchie accepts the ball, nods his head, and runs onto the field in Hard Rock Stadium. Film to reality without missing a beat.

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With the showing of the “Next 100” commercial, the pregame activities moved ahead quickly. There was the introduction of many members of the NFL 100 All-Time Team, the 100 best players and 10 best coaches in NFL history. And then here was the singing of America the Beautiful by Yolanda Adams, and the National Anthem by Demi Lovato, both done very well and respectfully. Here is the video of Lovato singing the National Anthem (to view this video on YouTube, click HERE):

The coin toss was won by the 49ers who deferred to the second half, meaning the Chiefs got the ball first.

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When the 49ers kicked off (photo above), Super Bowl LIV was underway. The first half seemed evenly matched which seemed a bit of a surprise. Many fans were expecting a high scoring game, but when halftime came and the score was tied at 10-10, it seemed like the game was wide open. But before the second half began, we had the Super Bowl halftime show ahead of us.

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When we arrived at our seats before the game, we found a bracelet taped to the back of the seat. As we learned, every fan in the stadium was issued a bracelet with instructions to put it on before the halftime show and hold our hand up. The halftime show, which featured singers Shakira Ripoli and Jenifer Lopez, turned out to be much more than a musical event.

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The show was a technological tour de force, where each of the 62,000 bracelet lights were remotely controlled to give the audience a spectacular, ever-changing light show. In addition to the bracelet lights, fireworks were fired skyward throughout the show. While I confess the musical aspect of the halftime show was not especially interesting to me and I was disappointed in the not-exactly-family-friendly, hyper-sexualized dress and movements of the star singers, I was fascinated by the innovative use of technology that kept the audience aware of the always changing environment. When I got home and saw the halftime show on television, I realized just how unique our view of the action was.

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After halftime, the game resumed. The 49ers seemed to be in control of the game, scoring 10 unanswered points after halftime, but in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Chiefs became a different team. They quickly scored 21 unanswered points and won Super Bowl LIV handily, 31-20. The game was exciting and very interesting, and kudos to the Chiefs for continuing to fight even when it looked like they were poised to lose. As soon as the game was over, confetti in Kansas City Chiefs colors was shot over the field from confetti cannons. Look in the bottom left/center of the photo above to see the moment the confetti began.

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Then followed the presentation of the Vince Lombardi trophy to the Chiefs (photo above), and the Most Valuable Player trophy to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Super Bowl LIV was history, a game that was more than worthy of concluding the year-long celebration of the 100th season of the National Football League.

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As we left Hard Rock Stadium to return to our bus to take us back to the Biltmore Hotel, Chad and I turned around for one more look at the Stadium. It was beautifully lit on a beautiful night, palm trees moving in a gentle breeze. It seemed like the ideal end to a weekend to remember. Given all that we received from the Chicago Bears and the NFL, it’s difficult to find words that are adequate to express our gratitude. What started with writing a 100 word essay and entering a contest culminated in a trip of a lifetime. Thank you, Chicago Bears. Thank you, McCaskey family. And thank you, National Football League. Because of all of you, Chad and I were a part of football history last weekend, and that is something for which we are very, very grateful.

Oh, and. . .

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