He was standing right on the sidelines during the most exciting play in Super Bowl history. But lifetime Steelers fan Brian Tirpak '07 completely missed linebacker James Harrison's electrifying 100-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Tirpak, a video production assistant for the Steelers, was among several RMU graduates working at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. His job was getting crowd reaction shots, so with the Cardinals looking at first-and-goal from the 2, and 18 seconds left until halftime, Tirpak zoomed in on an Arizona fan and waited for him to cheer.
"He stands up like they're about to score, and then he covers his mouth," Tirpak recalls. "And then the Steeler fans around him start going crazy, and then they're turning their heads as Harrison runs past. So I knew something big was happening. I panned around really quickly to get our sideline, which was going nuts. And I still had literally no idea what happened, until I turned and saw James lying in the end zone."
But Tirpak got the shot, which is what the Steelers pay him to do. Another RMU alumnus, Rob Brakel '98, got to watch the whole thing unfold in his camera's viewfinder while perched high over the stands. But while Brakel earned a Super Bowl ring as a Steelers video assistant three years ago, he collects his paychecks from the Cardinals now, so Harrison's record-breaking runback was much less fun to witness. "I can't tell you how many times I was shaking my head. Of all the teams in the NFL to play in the Super Bowl, I could not believe we were playing the Steelers," he says.
Brakel spent a decade with the Steelers after graduating from RMU. When offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt became head coach of the Cardinals in 2007, he offered Brakel the top video job in Arizona. Brakel jumped at the chance; he and Whisenhunt are close friends and golfing partners. They're also both "Survivor" fans, and on Thursday nights Brakel brings a bucket of wings to the Whisenhunts' place and watches the show with the family.
At high school in New Jersey, Brakel was play-by-play announcer for the football and hockey teams. At RMU, he handled game video for Colonials coach Joe Walton, whose staff also included current Cardinals wide receivers coach Mike Miller M'98 and defensive assistant Matt Raich. Brakel credits Walton, a former Steelers offensive coordinator, for getting him the job with the Steelers after graduation.
"I'm still very good friends with a lot of people with the Steelers," Brakel said. "I'm happy for them. I wish we'd won, but we'll just have to win next year."
Several other RMU alumni working for the Steelers got to see the team win its sixth Lombardi Trophy in Tampa in February. James Sacco, the executive director of stadium management at Heinz Field, studied business administration downtown for two years in the 1970s. Michael Marchinsky '99 is marketing manager for youth football. Breanne Mueller '04 is client services coordinator. The most satisfied of all had to be Kevin Colbert '79, who as director of football operations is the man who drafted Harrison.
But perhaps nobody at the game was more excited than Scott Golmic, who is hoping to follow a similar career path as Tirpak and Brakel. The sport management major and RMU Colonials video coordinator already is working as a freelance cameraman and video editor for the Steelers.
The senior class president, Golmic took 18 hours of classes this fall while working 40-hour weeks and still managed a 3.6 QPA. "It's easy to get motivated when you're going down to Heinz Field to work," he says. One of his jobs is recording Steelers players taking turns as guest sportscasters at local high school football games. Feeding star athletes their next line can be a bit surreal, Golmic says. "In the moment, they're just another guy. But when you're driving home, you're like, 'What just happened?'"
While they didn't need Golmic to carry a camera at Super Bowl XLIII, the team thanked him for his hard work this past season with a plane ride down and a ticket to the game. On Super Bowl Sunday, Golmic left his room at Concord Hall at 4 a.m. with no luggage, wearing shorts, and boarded a team charter at the airport. Twenty-four hours later he would flop back down onto the bed, exhausted but deliriously happy. Sandwiched in between was a day he will never forget. Perhaps the high point was sitting in the 23rd row in the Steelers' end zone, watching Harrison gallop towards him down the sideline, a host of desperate Cardinals flinging themselves at the ferocious linebacker in a futile attempt to bring him down.
At that moment, Golmic had only one job to do: scream his head off. So he did.