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Super Bowl Exceeds Expectation, Even for an Olympian

 Super Bowl Exceeds Expectation, Even for an Olympian

02/22/2012 

When New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady heaved the ball to the end zone on the final play of Super Bowl XLVI, George Breen ’56 stood speechless in the stands at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“The ball’s in the air and I’m thinking to myself: ‘This is one of those moments I’ll remember for the rest of my life,’” said Breen, the winner of SUNY Cortland’s Super Bowl raffle package for the football getaway in Indianapolis.

As it happened, the ball was batted down and the New York Giants defeated the Patriots, 21-17, in a memorable back-and-forth tilt.

A record 111.3 million Americans watched the action on television. But Breen, of Sewell, N.J., and his wife, Christine, were two of the 68,658 screaming fans in attendance.

George Breen
George Breen ’56 sits in a
race car at the
Indianapolis Motor
Speedway.

He called the three-day experience “as good as anything I’ve ever done.” That’s high praise, coming from a world-class swimmer who won three Olympic medals and was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame. A regular attendee at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and countless national championships for swimming, the 76-year-old Breen said it was the best travel experience of his life.

Every detail of the trip was flawless, from the cozy bed and breakfast in Zionsville, Ind., to the pre-game meal he enjoyed at Shapiro’s, a famous Indianapolis deli, according to Breen.

The game tickets weren’t for nosebleed seats either.

SUNY Cortland acquired them through its close ties with the NFL’s New York Jets, which used the College campus as its official training camp site in 2009 and 2010. Although the NFL lockout forced the Jets to hold training camp in New Jersey in 2011, the team plans to return in 2012, 2013 and possibly beyond that.

Breen and his wife were the beneficiaries of the College’s partnership, sitting at the 35-yard line, within shouting distance of celebrities such as Jessica Simpson, Danny DeVito and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“Sitting there, taking everything in, I couldn’t believe it happened because of a $100 ticket,” said Breen, referring to the Super Bowl raffle tickets SUNY Cortland sold in the fall. “To have a chance at something like the Super Bowl and to have all of the money go to scholarships, I’m surprised those tickets don’t sell out in a day.”

In 2011, SUNY Cortland raised close to $20,000 through the third-year raffle, according to Vice President for Institutional Advancement Raymond D. Franco ’72.

“The Super Bowl raffle truly is a winning fundraiser,” Franco said. “One lucky person wins the experience of a lifetime and, more importantly, our students win vital scholarships to keep their educations affordable.”

Franco was the person to deliver the good news to Breen when his winning ticket was pulled in December.

“George, like many of our alumni, went on to do remarkable things after his Cortland days,” Franco said. “For an Olympian to call this experience one of the best of his life, it speaks volumes to the draw of this contest.”

The Breens arrived in Indianapolis on Friday, Feb. 3, and spent the day reminiscing in a city where George once lived for three years. They stood on the brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, not surprisingly, caught a glimpse of the indoor swimming pool at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, the largest indoor pool in the nation.

“Having spent a few years of my life there, I felt like I had an edge,” Breen said.

They spent Saturday waltzing around Super Bowl Village in downtown Indianapolis, marveling at the city’s impeccable organization and the sheer magnitude of the event. Restaurants such as St. Elmo Steak House and tourist attractions such as a human zipline were booked for three days straight.

Still, the Breens enjoyed perfect weather and the Midwest hospitality.

“The whole city of Indianapolis, everyone wanted you there, whether you were a Giants fan or a Patriots fan,” Breen said.

On game day, the Breens entered Lucas Oil Stadium two hours before kickoff to digest the Super Bowl’s sights and sounds. Their prime seats were located in a sea of Giants fans, with a few Patriots fans mixed in. Despite the game’s importance, there weren’t any hard feelings between the two sides.

“There was a lot of anxiety, but in a classy way,” said Breen, who was rooting for the Giants.

The couple watched Madonna’s halftime performance, but George admitted he was more enthralled with the lights and stage set-up than the pop star’s dance moves.

And, of course, the Breens witnessed all of the game’s highlights unfold in person. They saw Brady orchestrate a 96-yard scoring drive, Giants quarterback Eli Manning lead a fourth quarter comeback and Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw tumble into the end zone for the game’s decisive score.

George Breen
Breen stands with his wife,
Christine, at the
Indianapolis Motor
Speedway.

On their way out of the stadium, a man approached the Breens and offered $20 each for their ticket stubs.

“No way,” George said with a chuckle.

He brought the ticket stub back home to New Jersey and showed it to the young swimmers he coaches for a local swim club. The longtime men’s swimming head coach at the University of Pennsylvania shared Super Bowl stories in the same way he recounts his own Olympic memories.

As the winning Super Bowl quarterback, New York’s Manning followed a long tradition by pointing to television cameras and telling them he was going to Disney World.

In Indianapolis, Breen was already there.

“The whole time we were there, we felt like we were eight or nine years old,” Breen said, “like kids going to Disney World.”