This past weekend, on Sunday, Dec 5, Sailor and I performed at our first NFL game in front of 69,366 fans during the Atlanta Falcons vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers game at Mercedes Benz Stadium.
I’m going to be breaking down the gameday, including the halftime show, into the Finite and Infinite Game*. I’ll do a later post about the trip. This is important because how we performed on the field is just a small part of the entire trip and experience. The halftime show performance is the Finite Game and everything else (including the non-performance moments during the halftime show) is the Infinite Game.
The Finite Game
The goal I had set was to be the first human-dog team to ever go endzone to endzone at an NFL game with a frisbee throw & catch, which would be a throw & catch between 100 and 110 yards (an NFL field is 100 yards long with 10 yard endzones). Sailor and I have had lots of catches over 100 yards and during rehearsal, we had two practice throws with one catch around 97 yards (which he ran in for a touchdown) and one catch around 102 yards, which he caught cleanly in the endzone.
However, 20 seconds before we stepped onto the field for the halftime show, Tom Brady (Bucs) was picked off by the Falcons, who then ran into the endzone for a touchdown. We were standing at the base of the stairs that led up to the Dirty Birds fan section, and when the Falcons scored, a huge air cannon went off, spooking Sailor. His owner, Lara, tried to calm him down and reassure him, but Sailor was trying to run down the tunnel, away from where the air cannon went off. We had no time to calm him down, and so we had to go ahead with the plan. Lara gave Sailor to me, she headed to the endzone and my girlfriend, CJ, headed to the left side of the field. Their job was to make sure Sailor didn’t chase after a frisbee that was heading towards the uprights in the middle of the endzone, or towards the gates on the sideline.
However, that didn’t matter because as soon as I let Sailor off the leash and threw a short throw as a warmup, he ran towards the sidelines, looking for a way to escape. He then headed towards the tunnel, so I took off after him. I’ve seen him spooked before and he will just go running, in complete flight mode. I knew this and was fortunately able to call him before before he ran down the tunnel. I picked him up and carried him back to the endzone, tried to get his attention with a frisbee, got him to go around, and tried another throw. He started running after it, but again turned away and tried to get away.
Eventually Lara came down to try and help me with him when she saw what was happening, and after several more throws that he never went after, we tried holding him to get him excited and go after my throw. We gave it one final attempt but it was too late and weren’t able to pull Sailor out of his flight instinct so we put him back on leash and headed back to the dressing room.
We were all in total shock about what had just happened and noone was speaking. We put Sailor back in his kennel to give him a safe space and we all were trying to just comprehend what had happened.
I felt like there was something in my throat – but realized it was from me yelling during the halftime show at Sailor to get him back because the crowd and music was so loud.
At the same time, all of the emotions from the days leading up to it, the excitement, thrill, sadness, shock, disappointment, fear (about Sailor running away), and the stress of the entire trip hit me, and I threw up three times in the washroom. My body was so overwhelmed that it was the only thing that could calm me down. I was numb, and really didn’t know how to process everything that had just happened.
We all sat there with Sailor for the 3rd quarter, not really talking much at all, each of us being consumed with our own thoughts and emotions.
I went back up to sit with my sister, dad, and Jim (my dad’s university football teammate) because I just needed to be around them. It was a strange feeling because we hadn’t failed – I didn’t throw poorly, and Sailor didn’t miss my throws – it was the air cannon that spooked him and he was in flight mode. I’m still working through my emotions, but I know that this will be a huge moment and experience for me, so although it’s hard work, it’s important work!
There was nothing that I or any of us could have done, which is what made it that much more confusing and difficult to process. It was something completely out of our control and there was no way to anticipate that going in. It’s a huge lesson and moving forward, I have a more clear expectation of what could happen and how to prevent/avoid something like that happening again. Although Sailor was still a bit on edge a few days after it happened, he will be ok, which is the most important part.
The Infinite Game
Outside of what happened during the halftime show, the day itself was pretty amazing. We arrived at the stadium for rehearsals around 7:30am and got to be on the field from 8-9am, warming up, meeting the entertainment staff from the Falcons who walked us through the gameplan for halftime, get setup with our credentials, drop our stuff off in a private room which was ours for the day, and familiarize ourselves with the field & stadium.
As far as a rehearsal goes, it was pretty perfect. I threw about 40 throws from the endzone closest to the entrance tunnel, but was only able to get a few throws to land in the opposite endzone. I then threw two practice throws to Sailor, and be caught them both. One was around 97 yards, which he ran into the endzone, and the other was around 102 yards, which he caught cleanly in the endzone. The staff and media crews were watching us warmup, so they saw us do it, and were all super pumped to have us perform. I then walked down to the other endzone and felt a bit of a breeze, so I threw about 25 throws towards the endzone I had just thrown from, and was able to get about 85% of the throws to land in the endzone.
My motto is “Let the Wind Guide You“, which really means that although I can do everything possible to make sure I’m warmed up and ready to perform, there are some factors out of my control. One of those is the wind, and although the roof was closed, I did feel a bit of a breeze. It could have been from the big fans overhead, or it might just have been how the stadium is designed, but in any case, I was definitely throwing much better from one side of the field compared to the other. Since so much of my success is based on going with what feels right in the moment, I decided at that moment to throw from the far endzone. This wasn’t ideal for the Falcons crew, since that meant we’d have to walk to the far endzone before the halftime show could begin, which meant a slight delay, but ultimately as the talent, I need to speak up and let them know what I need for the highest chance of success.
It gave me so much confidence and a deep sense of relief that not only was I able to hit many endzone-to-endzone throws in practice, but also that Sailor and I were able to connect for the same. To have the staff and crew also see that we were capable was huge because it meant that no matter what happened, they knew we could do it, and that they had made the right choice in bringing us in for the game.
We did talk about the noise in the stadium, and what kind of special effects they had which could potentially spook or cause Sailor stress. At the Stampeders game in Oct, Sailor was thrown off a bit by the fireworks, but he adapted so well and was prepared for the subsequent firework blasts during our performance. He was fired up during rehearsal and performed beautifully, despite all the activity and noises in the stadium. Even leading up to the air cannon going off, he was fired up and ready to go, so although it’s a big lesson learned, it’s also just another reminder that there will always be things out of your control, so you have to be prepared for the unexpected.
Thinking big picture, it was great to have some time with Kurt Wisenbaugh, the Falcons Director of Live Events & Entertainment, and Justin Gibbons, the Live Events & Entertainment Assistant, and our gameday coordinator.
Having the chance to perform at an NFL game is still pretty mind blowing, especially since it came together so quickly. Regardless of the outcome, I can now say that I got to perform in front of 69,366 people, more than 3x the number of fans at the Calgary Stampeders game. What was really cool is that I wasn’t nervous. Leading up to the halftime show I had crazy nerves and had to spend time alone listening to music while I warmed up. I even had tears a few times because it was such a powerful and emotional moment for me and my family. But once I stepped onto the field, I had the same focus and awareness I did at the Stamps game. I knew what I had to do and was going to go out and do it. This time was different because I was also trying to keep Sailor safe and do everything I could to try and get him to come back to me and do what we do, but I didn’t hear the music, the fans, or the announcer. That was pretty cool to be back in the zone!
Before the game, when my sister, dad, and Jim arrived, my dad had a moment where he realized how much my mom has missed and how special it would be to have had her there for my big moment.
This trip was so much more than just Sailor and I performing at halftime. I will be writing another post about the trip overall, but to have my dad and Jim be there for their first ever NFL game was truly special.
There are so many people I’m grateful for but especially Lara, who made this possible by letting me compete with Sailor. I will be forever thankful for all the time I got to have with Sailor, and all that we have been able to achieve as a team in such a short amount of time.
Thank you also Hero Disc USA for the support and making sure I had discs for the game. Ultimately, I used the pink Supersonics I threw at the Stamps game because they were more consistent for me during rehearsal, but I was able to give away a few of the red discs, which goes a long way in making sure people are throwing appropriate discs with their dogs.
There have been stories already done on what happened, and I really appreciate that people care about our story, both in glory, and heartbreak. Life isn’t about always winning, so it’s nice to be able to share our story and have support from people when things don’t go as planned.
In particular, I’d like to thank Michael Rodriquez from the Calgary Herald, Mark Rickard from The Bugle Observer, Ted Henley from The Drive, and Stephen Hunt from CTV Calgary for sharing our story.
- Calgary Herald: https://calgaryherald.com/sports/air-cannon-spooks-calgarys-touchdown-dog-before-nfl-halftime-show
- The Bugle Observer: https://tj.news/telegraph-journal/101738512
- The Drive: https://youtu.be/vHFA7QauYAg
- CTV Calgary: https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/sailor-spooked-by-air-cannon-blast-at-falcons-game-in-atlanta-1.5696479
I have been in talks with a Major League Soccer team, a minor league baseball team, and have been reaching out to NBA teams about future performances. I am so excited for what’s to come, and know that this is just the beginning!
The Infinite Mindset
*The Infinite Game is a book by Simon Sinek. In it, he talks about Finite Thinking vs Infinite Mindset, which is to explore if you’re trying to win or trying to stay in the game.