Local News

Springer Journal: "Tops in Blue"... A Super Bowl Event

Posted January 27, 2005 8:55 a.m. EST

— As we approach Super Bowl XXXIX, I am pleased and proud to look back 20 years at Super Bowl XIX which was played in Stanford University stadium, Palo Alto, California. I have a very personal and enduring remembrance of one aspect of Super Bowl XIX in January 1985.

In the early 1980's I was privileged to serve as the Commander of the Air Force Military Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. We had, among a broad range of significant and important responsibilities, the task of providing a wide array of morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) functions across the entire USAF.

Embedded within the MWR directorate was the Air Force's "Tops In Blue" entertainment showcase. Our specific mission for this small group was to bring the very best in music, dance and comedy to our Air Force audiences around the world. Interestingly, the stars, the entertainers, are all young Air Force officers and airmen. They have survived talent competitions at their specific base of assignment, and also an Air Force worldwide talent contest.

About 30 members from an active duty force of some 350,000 men and women are chosen to form the annual team which the Air Force refers to as "the Air Force's premier entertainment showcase."

These men and women might be serving as hydraulic specialists on the flightline, as administrative specialists in administrative offices, as security forces providing security and force protection at their respective bases ... or any of a host of functional disciplines. They must have their commanders' approval to train and travel with Tops In Blue for a one year commitment. (Something virtually every commander is proud to approve.)

So what does this have to do with Super Bowl XIX? A lot. In early 1983 I accompanied the supervisors of Tops In Blue to the offices of Pete Rozelle, the then Commissioner of the NFL in New York city. We were asking for the privilege of providing a 12 minute entertainment program for the halftime show at Super Bowl XVIII in 1984. The NFL staff responsible for such decisions was especially attentive to our well prepared and well rehearsed demonstration of what we could do.

As we wrapped up our presentation with Mr. Rozelle's team, I was convinced we had sold them on our proposal. But alas, they advised that the January 1984 Super Bowl was being played in Tampa, Florida and a nearby organization had been selected to do the halftime show. The NFL had already selected Disney. (Not bad competition for a bunch of Air Force amateurs.)

They were really impressed with our presentation so they quickly asked us if we would consent to doing the halftime show for Super Bowl XIX the following January. I just as quickly said we could and we would agree to do it in the Stanford University stadium. My team was elated. We had just booked an entertainment gig for 30 amateurs to perform for the world's largest TV audience. In 1985, there were an approximate 110 million viewers tuned in to the biggest event ever for Tops In Blue.

Obviously, 30 very talented entertainers could not do it all. Hundreds of others would be needed on the field for such things as dance troops, baton twirlers and others would be needed off stage and to move floats, etc. Since Stanford University was near the then Mather and McClellan Air Force bases, we drew heavily on active duty members, their families as well as civilian employees to round out the total team. It was a grand experience for all.

As I reflect back on that event, I am heartened by the theme we presented ... "The World of Children's Dreams." It was clean, wholesome and uplifting. It also showcased the incredible talent of Air Force men and women and their families. The on-field half time show, along with a pre-game flyby of Air Force jets served as a great marketing and recruiting tool. In those days Super Bowl ads were running at about $500,000 per 30 second spot. We could not have afforded the 12 minutes of TV coverage.

During each annual tour, Tops In Blue will perform at about 100 locations around the world. Many are at remote locations where our Air Force members and families do not have access to first class live entertainment. However, many shows are on or near Air Force bases. Should you ever have the opportunity to see such a show be sure to do so. You will be impressed!

How impressive are they? Some of our nation's best known entertainers and personalities, such as Sinbad and comedian Jerry VanDyke got their start with Tops In Blue while serving in the United States Air Force.

This year's Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Florida will not feature a military dominated half-time show. However, all of the military service academies will be represented as a joint choir and will sing the pre-game national anthem ... and probably sing it the way it was meant to be sung.