My name is Jake Atkins and I am an active duty officer in the Army on assignment here with the Kansas City Chiefs. It has now been three months since I started my adventure here and it has been an amazing ride! When I began the Chiefs and I were not entirely sure what they wanted and needed me to do. Luckily they had a rough idea and together we came to a great conclusion. So what is it that I do around here?
1. Digital Media Analysis – setting up and managing the Chiefs digital inventory
2. Gameday Production – color guards, pyrotechnics, Stats in a Box, and the Rumble Drum Line
3. Military Liaison for the Chiefs – coordinating hometown heroes, the military appreciation game, and anything military that the Chiefs want to do, such as halftime shows, anthems, and community outreach programs
After we settled on what I was going to do, we starting getting ready for our first preseason game against the Bengals. The start point was ensuring our pyrotechnic team was ready to go.
Have you ever been to a Chiefs game and seen that amazing pyro show we put on for the player intro?
Well the Chiefs use the outstanding team from High-Tech FX to put that show on and a lot of work goes in before we get to the point where eighty foot flames are shooting in the air! The giant arch you see in the picture and at the game is assembled once a year during the first rehearsal and takes anywhere from six to eight hours to get functional. As they were assembling the structure I got the chance to meet the pyro team who I will work with throughout the year and understand the complexities of the system. Luckily my predecessor had worked with them last year which made who I am and what I was doing much easier.
After we managed to get the arch assembled we took it down the “E-Tunnel”, and went through the set up. Fun fact about the E-Tunnel, it is the only tunnel in Arrowhead and is named “E” tunnel because at its creation the thought by Lamar Hunt was to be able to move a live elephant down it! Part of the set up process is putting out ten bike racks to form a tunnel out to the field with the pyro. Part of what I’m doing with the pyro is making sure those racks get in place in time. I do that with the help of a pool of interns, who are roughly the same age as privates and specialists in the Army, so it was a lot like leading a squad through a live fire exercise.
To fully test out the whole process of timing and pyrotechnics we had to have folks run through the smoke and pyro during the entry music for the Chiefs. It was pretty cool to run through that and experience a little of what the players do on gameday. All the smoke and sparklers are pretty but what really takes the cake is the giant flamethrowers High-Tech FX uses to shoot flames in the air. If you have not experienced it, you can literally feel the heat on the far side of the stadium.
We have a saying in the Army that if something is worth doing, it is worth rehearsing. Considering the stakes of a live NFL football game, I’m glad the Chiefs take that advice seriously! We rehearsed every part of the pregame show a week after the pyrotechnics to ensure timing and coordination was all ready to go. The rehearsal made me appreciate just how much goes into a Chiefs game from pregame all the way through the closing seconds. With all those rehearsals completed it was finally game time. My first professional football game that I have ever gone to – and boy it was an experience!
The Bengals pregame show was special because of a ceremony the Chiefs put on called the Thank You Fan Ceremony. 90 season ticket members are given the opportunity to go on the field during the pregame show and get a football signed by a player. Great moment, but it is interesting to try to move all those rightfully excited folks and get them on the field and off in a limited amount of time. Part of my job that pregame was to do just that. Dealing with very excited fans just required patience and careful explanation. Everyone I worked with that day did exactly what they were supposed to in the time they were supposed to do it, and got an awesome souvenir to boot!
All sorts of fun things happen on the first game of the season, even if it is preseason. The oddest thing was the Curious Case of the Gator Bandit. The stadium operations folks set aside a 4 wheeler “gator” every game for the pyrotechnic crew. This gator is absolutely essential to the pyro team for set up, and for some reason that game every couple of minutes during pregame the gator would vanish and I would have to run around and “acquire” a new one. It would not have been so bad, but the gators are outside the stadium, so the security guards became very familiar with me by kickoff.
After Kickoff I get to go up to the control room, which is near the press box on the 9th floor of the stadium. This is where all the visuals on the ArrowVision, which are the giant jumbotron screens on the West and East side of the stadium, happen as well the controls for all the boards and TVs around the stadium. This place is a hive of activity during gameday, but it is a very well organized and precise hive. My job up there is to run the “Stats in a Box” machine for the game. The NFL has a league wide system that links all the statistics for regular season games and makes them available in a common format for all teams to use. So, whenever you see scores, or fantasy stats, or just general statistics on the ArrowVision – that’s me.
The final preseason home game was the Vikings game on August 23rd. Hot was the best word I can use to describe it. Best phrase though – Gaining Momentum. All the pregame and game time systems stepped up significantly for this game. Despite the preseason loss, we are absolutely ready for the season opener on September 7th against the Titans. It will be a fantastic show.
The Vikings game really gave a great opportunity for all the surrounding little league football teams. 4,000 little football players got to walk around the field before the kickoff and feel the excitement of the being in a stadium full of fans. It was a very awesome experience and they were all really excited about it. The moment might have been amazing, but it was very hectic to try to cycle all those teams through before kickoff.
Finally I’ll wrap up this issue of the Gridiron Chronicles with a shout to the Color Guard on the Vikings game. Boy Scout Troop 66 out of Fort Leavenworth– you all did great. Thanks!