Jerry Anderson was a true partner in sports
Last month the sports world lost one of the most significant contributors to the industry. Most fans would not know the name, but those across all sports were keenly aware that when it came to the planning and design of major events, Jerry Anderson, co-founder and senior principal of Populous, was the person upon whom they relied on for more than three decades. He was a pioneer in sports architecture whose innovative work ultimately touched millions of people. He died Sept. 25 at age 64, from cancer.
I was first introduced to Jerry in 1983 by legendary sports architect Ron Labinski. The NFL was about to embark on Super Bowl XIX, the most challenging Super Bowl to date, a game to be played at Stanford Stadium on the campus of Stanford University. For those not familiar, this was an ancient stadium built in 1921 with a tiny press box, no locker rooms, no outdoor lights, bleacher seats built on wooden 2x4s on dirt hills, port-a-potties for restrooms, etc. The NFL needed someone to spearhead a $3.5 million renovation. Jerry was the man for the job.
It took me the following year in New Orleans at Super Bowl XX to understand his full value and that we needed him from there on out, and he with a growing staff remained on the job through Super Bowl LII. We also used him for American Bowls, Pro Bowls, the NFL Draft and more. His architectural plans became a standard for us and others.
The NFL was not the only league that recognized his brilliance. Jerry worked all nine venues for the 1994 World Cup; managed venues for the 2002 Winter Olympics; Final Fours; World Series; MLB All-Star Games; NHL Winter Classics and even the Democratic National Convention. He had direct roles in 11 Olympic Games.
For me, he was a true partner. We used each other to push toward new ideas. We always sought to get better, and any idea was worth a discussion. What happened the previous year was a stepping-off point for the next one. There were not many times he said “no,” and there were so many issues Jerry found a solution to. There were not many times I said “no” to him.
One of his greatest accomplishments, I believe, were all of the issues involved with Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, the first Super Bowl after 9/11. The security measures put in place changed how all sports venues addressed procedures in the future.
One of the best examples of problem solving came at Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans. We had built a riverboat float for the halftime show. It stood 5 feet, 6 inches tall, and we figured it would “live” on the sideline on gameday. We all thought the height was below the eye level of the first row of seats. Well, Jerry came to me eight days before the game and said we had an issue. It turned out that the riverboat float expanded out 40 feet and now obstructed 2,500 seats (5 feet at the wall is like 8 that far out). The solution was potentially to scrub the show, but the one we came to was to take the float in and out through the tunnel. The issues were: The goal post was in the way and the ramp was too steep. The ramp was adjusted with asphalt and then the great “goal-post snatcher” was invented. It lifted the posts out, pulled to the side and then put back on the bolts. Watch the show on YouTube to see how successful that was! John Madden loved it, telestrating the operation on air.
Then there was the 1992 American Bowl in Berlin when the lights went out late in the second quarter at Olympiastadion. As I addressed the options of whether to keep playing, I trusted Jerry to try to fix the problem. We sent the teams in for halftime thinking they may not come out, and then Jerry decided the best action was to shut off all the breakers and turn them back on one-by-one. That solved the problem and the second half started on time.
I will forever remember our times together, including those late nights in the office on site at 20 Super Bowls.
For his wife, Rebecca, and his son, Jackson, we all are thinking of them. It is important to know that Jerry made a difference not only in his chosen profession, but to millions who had a better experience at events he planned and those in the future that benefited from his innovations, concern for the best experience possible and the people he mentored.
Jim Steeg is former executive vice president and chief operating officer of the San Diego Chargers, former senior vice president of special events for the NFL, and consults with organizations on operations, structure, event experience and business development.