Monday Night Football: Behind the scenes
(IDG) -- It's the Broncos vs. the Patriots tonight, and each team has a key player who won't be on the field.
When the Denver Broncos square off against the New England Patriots tonight in the first Monday night game of the season, the names of two key players probably won't be mentioned by Al Michaels.
In fact, few people know about the Broncos' hard-hitting Rick Schoenhals. Yet his leadership and skills helped the Broncos become the 1998 Super Bowl champions, and Schoenhals has the Super Bowl ring to prove it.
The Patriots' Paul Concannon doesn't yet have a Super Bowl ring - the Patriots were beaten by the Green Bay Packers in their 1997 bid - but he has another claim to fame: He was drafted personally by Jonathan Kraft, the team's vice president and owner's representative.
But you won't find statistics for either man in the game program or spot them on the field. Schoenhals and Concannon are IT stars - managers of information technology for their respective teams.
Even on the sidelines, Schoenhals gets a good workout on the road to victory. He runs an 80-user Windows NT network at the franchise's headquarters in Dove Valley, Colo., and the ticketing network at Mile High Stadium.
The contributions of the Broncos' administrative staff are critical to the team's success. Schoenhals' department enables coaches to efficiently and quickly analyze data to formulate plans for upcoming games, and the team scouts use software to find the best players.
Schoenhals started preparing for last January's Super Bowl game as soon as the final whistle signaled the end of the American Football Conference (AFC) championship game. The road to the Super Bowl became Job One.
About 10 days before the big game, Schoenhals sent one of his two employees to San Diego. The advance man scouted the Bronco's hotel arrangements and handled the logistics of setting up an IT base camp. Schoenhals stayed on in Denver for a few more days, handling the network breakdown and setup logistics and writing customized travel itinerary software for the team.
The two weeks between the AFC win and Super Sunday were barely enough time to build the network. To make things even more challenging, all of the club's departments were working at full capacity and driving up network traffic.
Denver won Super Bowl XXXII, beating the Green Bay Packers 31 to 24. The team's victory was Schoenhals' victory, too. He spent Sunday night celebrating, but Monday it was back to work. He broke the whole network down and returned to Denver to start preparing for the current season.
"You can celebrate the Super Bowl win for only so long before reality sets in and it's back to work," he says.
Concannon, Schoenhals counterpart on the Patriots, didn't join the high-profile organization because of home game press-box passes. He respected the Kraft family's belief that technology and football go hand-in-hand. "The Krafts have a tremendous vision. They understand technology and what it represents," he says.
What this represents to Concannon, the man on the field, is a lot of work. With his staff of three, his network supports the Patriots, the Patriots Football Weekly newspaper, Foxboro Stadium and The New England Revolution, a soccer team that plays at the stadium. In two years, Concannon took the club from 50 PCs networked through two servers to 150 PCs on five servers.
Even game day is a work day for the Patriots' IT project manager. Home games mean Concannon must set up hardware, mostly laptops provided by the National Football League (NFL) that are used to keep the official stats. He also maintains the Patriots' NFL Net server, which is a Microsoft Exchange e-mail system the NFL uses to distribute game statistics to all its teams.
"During the game, I'm the on-call support, so to speak," Concannon says. He constantly monitors the NFL Net from the press box. If the system goes down, Concannon must get it back up. "So far, it's just been a kicked out cable or a printer problem," he says.
Perhaps not realizing he puts in long hours year-round, some of Concannon's friends are envious that he sees players like Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates at the office. "When I first met them, I couldn't believe it. But that wore off. I got tied up in day-to-day responsibilities. Now I just kind of blow right by them," he says.
It's no different for Schoenhals. He still enjoys using his complimentary mid-field season tickets, but saying good morning to John Elway isn't the big thrill it once was.
But the excitement of working for a high-profile football team isn't completely gone. Schoenhals received his Super Bowl ring during a posh celebration, then wore the ring to his parents' 40th wedding anniversary party. "It was a big hit. My family thought it was great," he says.
Prencipe is a freelance writer and attorney in Springfield, Va. She can be reached at LWPrencipe@mailexcite.com.
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