MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA Ariz. -- Jerry Rice, Derrick Brooks and their Oakland Raider and Tampa Bay Buccaneer teammates won't be the only folks treading on the grassy gridiron of San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium during the Super Bowl on Sunday.
More than 200 Marines including 17 from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma will also take their places on the playing field during the most watched one-day sporting event in the world. The off-duty leathernecks will be part of the AT&T Wireless Halftime Show, albeit a barely visible part.
Canadian country chanteuse Shania Twain and pop rock band No Doubt are the headlining musical acts for the halftime concert, but before they can stretch their vocal cords, the Marines and the other volunteers must first stretch their legs as they push out the tons of metal and wires that will make up the entertainers' stage on to the field.
"How many people that you talk to can say they get to be on the field for the Super Bowl?" asked Lance Cpl. Jerson Matias, Jr., an administration clerk with Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1 and one of the halftime show volunteers. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's great."
The Marine volunteers, participants in the Single Marine Program, began practicing for the show Friday night at Qualcomm Stadium's practice field. Single Marines from Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar filled out the remainder of the Marine Corps' participation in the event, while the show's producer, Tenth Planet Productions, drew the rest of its volunteers from San Diego-area Navy personnel.
"The greatest asset of this group is that they are already trained to work together as a team," said Doug Mau, a volunteer coordinator for Tenth Planet, who said he is involved in his third Super Bowl halftime event. "I expected this group to come in more ready than a group of high school kids, and that has borne out so far."
The teamwork experience of the military volunteers proved to be helpful in quickly, yet safely, steering 21 rolling carts each one a piece of the stage to their spots on the field. After watching the cart ballet being danced a few times, the team leaders for each cart many of whom were theater and stage professionals were impressed with the help of the Marines.
"You ask somebody to do something unfamiliar, in terms they haven't heard before, and to execute on a seconds notice, and these people can do it," said Dino Ramble, a cart leader who has been a stage hand for 27 years. "It's like in theater; you get only one shot at it."
That shot will come Sunday, when an estimated 130 million television viewers in the United States and 800 million spectators worldwide are expected to be watching the National Football League championship game. While the fans in the stands are getting refreshments and the fans at home are watching creative advertising on television, the Marines will be wheeling out their stage carts and getting ready for their other responsibility: being the front row of fans for the concert.
"All the volunteers have been putting in 100 percent, and they seem to be enjoying themselves while doing it," said Gabriela Black, SMP and special events coordinator for Marine Corps Community Services in Yuma. "All the Marines who got the chance to do this were involved with SMP already, so this is an opportunity to say thank you to the Marines who have been helping the program to grow into what it is now."
The Marines haven't had a chance to be starstruck, since the celebrities haven't held a dress rehearsal yet, but the anticipation of the show is enough to generate excitement.
"The work may have been labor intensive, but for the 20 minutes we'll be in the stadium, there is a great payoff for the work," Matias said. "I've had a blast; nothing but a blast. I can't wait until the show actually happens. I'm excited about Sunday."
Whether the Raiders offense scores big against the Buccaneers, or the Tampa defense shuts down the high powered passing game of the NFL's most valuable player, Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon, the Marines will still be able to tell their grandchildren they were a part of making Super Bowl XXXVII a hit in San Diego.