With an influx of people in metro Atlanta for Super Bowl 53, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has taken time to highlight five faces in the crowd of thousands each day leading up to the big game. They may be from miles away, or they may be your neighbor. Here are the five stories from Saturday you should know.
‘Outdoors’ men have different duties at Super Bowl
A ‘shrub’ flies across the country to startle fans
He does not know what kind of bush he is supposed to be, because no one had ever asked him before Thursday. But until the Super Bowl ends, Ryan Lewis, 38, of Roseburg, Oregon is supposed to be a bush.
He stakes out a spot near the stadium and stays still, scrunched in a large pot, with his eyes and smile hidden behind green plastic leaves plastered about his body. People walk by and don’t notice, until Lewis suddenly reaches out to grab them. Some jump in fright. Some laugh. Some want a picture or hand shake.
This is how Lewis said he supplements his disability check from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lewis said he joined the Air Force in 2000, not long before the world caught fire in the wake of September 11, 2001. He did tours of duty in Iraq and Pakistan.
Now, he gets paid off ad sales on YouTube videos from his travels. “It’s really easy,” Lewis said.
Game warden spots a ‘bear’ — near Mercedes-Benz Stadium
On a typical work day, Kevin Godbee, a game warden, hangs around the woods. In hunting season, he gets up before daylight to see if anyone is looking for a buck without permission in Clayton and Henry counties. Sometimes, he’s out checking fishing licenses. But every once in a while, the state gives him a surprising assignment.
This week, Godbee, 43, of McDonough, is helping with security for the Super Bowl, along with fellow game wardens from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The assignment puts him in the heart of Atlanta,at the biggest sporting event in America — far from the woods. He has seen a few familiar sights: a bear and a big bush. Both turned out to be people in costume, entertaining the droves of fans walking around the Omni Hotel on Thursday.
Godbee likes the change of pace. “This might be a once in a lifetime deal,” he said. His kids, ages 6 and 11, are excited.
The father does, however, have a small confession: he’s not into professional football.
“Truthfully, I watch college football,” he laughed.
— Joshua Sharpe
Walter’s Clothing president has some famous clientele
Jeff Steinbook can’t begin to guess how many pairs of sneakers are in Walter’s Clothing store.
The simplest answer? Thousands.
Steinbook is president of the downtown institution with its familiar red and white awning on the corner on Decatur Street and Central Avenue. The store is known around the nation as sneaker heaven with celebrities clients such as Big Boi, DJ Khaled and Ludacris.
You might recognize the store because its been featured in several scenes in the 2009 video “Welcome to Atlanta” with Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris. And it’s also gotten shout-outs in several songs from artists like Gucci Mane and and in a 2017 interview with Future, which was conducted there.
Walter’s has also made the list of the top hip-hop landmarks to visit in metro Atlanta.
“People often come here and say, ‘I heard about you in a song or saw you in a video’,” said Steinbook. “It’s had a big impact. It helped us tremendously.”
The business was founded by his late father-in-law, Walter Strauss, who fled Nazi Germany when he was 13, with few possessions and no money.
Steinbook took over the reigns in business in 1996 from the man he still calls “dad.”
Steinbook attended the University of Georgia and is a lifelong Falcons fan. He studied business and worked his way through the ranks at Radio Shack to district manager.
“When you’re working for those big companies they want you to relocate and that’s not something I wanted to do,” he said.
He came into the family business and “it turned out to be a good match.”
— Shelia M. Poole
Civil rights center’s new CEO talks about breaking barriers
Around the same time Tatum O’Neal was demonstrating that “throwing like a girl” is a good thing in “The Bad News Bears,” Jill Savitt was breaking through barriers in real life.
The 10-year-old Savitt earned a place on a Little League team in Ramsey, New Jersey in 1977, and successfully petitioned to get moved from outfield to catcher, because “in Little League, nothing happens in the outfield.”
She endured taunts from opposing players (her teammates were totally on her side) and she learned two very important lessons. One: bullies are obnoxious. Two: “women of my age often came to human rights through sports.”
Sitting Friday for a cup of coffee at the Krog Street Market, the new CEO of Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights talked about how her center is emphasizing that same lesson with its exhibit, “Breaking Barriers: Sports for Change.”
The traveling exhibit demonstrates how athletes, from Jesse Owens to Muhammad Ali, have used their positions to stand up for justice. It’s a story that, in the era of Colin Kaepernick, should be of interest to a Super Bowl audience.
A grant from Coca-Cola and FedEx has made admission to the center free through Super Bowl Sunday, which will help draw that football crowd.
During the planning stages of the Atlanta center, from 2010 until it opened in 2014, Savitt curated the human rights wing, collaborating in New York with creative director George Wolff. Now she has made the move to Atlanta, to manage what she calls “a sacred space.”
— Bo Emerson
Stagecraft workers are the wizards behind the curtain
For Joe Hartnett, the Super Bowl is just another job.
Hartnett, 42, has been working for 20 years with the stagehands that make everything from regional theater performances to the Oscars go off without a hitch. Now assistant department director for stagecraft with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, he travels the country to ensure workers putting on major events like the Super Bowl get the work done while being treated fairly.
IATSE’s local chapter, Local 927, has been involved in making major Atlanta events happen since the 1996 Olympics. Now, Atlanta-based carpenters, electricians and other stagecraft professionals are putting finishing touches on one of the most-watched 15 minutes in television. They’re responsible for most of what the public seees — sets, pyrotechnics, lighting — but they’re largely invisible.
“We make the magic happen. Our job is to not be known,” the veteran electrician said. “People don’t realize we’re there unless we mess up.”
Hartnett’s not fazed by the magnitude of the Super Bowl. The biggest headache is the extra level of security, he said. Workers began the credentialing process in December, and there’s tight control over stadium access.
“It’s a little different than loading in a Broadway show at the Fox,” Hartnett said.
Once halftime hits Sunday, Hartnett hopes the effort will pay off.
“If [people] don’t like the teams, at least in the halfitime show they can enjoy themselves and forget the minutia of their lives for a few minutes,” he said.
— Amanda C. Coyne
Operations manager makes sure all the machinery is working
When you look around Mercedes-Benz Stadium, you see Michael Moore’s touch.
Moore is the senior operations manager of field, ground and roof operations.
“My job is to make sure everything looks good and works,” said Moore, 47, a native of St. Louis.
And his big test will be Sunday when Atlanta hosts Super Bowl LIII.
“I’m really busy, but I’m ready,” he said.
He calls his team, the “storm before the quiet. We’re prepping the building and making sure that everything is operating properly.
At one time he was engineering services manager at the Georgia Dome.
This is his third job in a stadium. To Moore, Mercedes-Benz has some of the best technology around. “The engineering is on a different level,” he said.
What is especially exciting to Moore is to be able to work in an environment that hosts major events from professional sports, to college and concerts. This all prepares him for the big game.
“If the stadium didn’t do these types of large events, we’d have no clue where to start,” he said. Several people on his team have worked in previous Super Bowls, which helps.
So has Moore, who worked when the Super Bowl came to Houston.
“I got to see exactly what goes on behind the scenes,” he said.
— Shelia M. Poole
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.