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  • by Chris Stewart

Countdown to Kickoff

Paul Lodi is not a small man but when he stands beside six-foot, seven-inch, 260-pound defensive tackle Shelby Jordan beneath the goalpost at Schaefer Stadium he looks strangely out of place. Yet every Sunday afternoon when the New England Patriots tangle with visiting National Football League teams, Lodi's split-second-direction insures that all events on and off the field take place on schedule, a demanding chore in an operation where time literally is money.

Production delays and foul-ups mean lost commercial time for the television networks, and this translates into heavy fines for the Patriots. For the past three years, however, Paul has kept this from happening. Working with his assistant, Edie Woodland, Paul coordinates the biggest extravaganza in New England in a job which combines quick thinking, sound long-range planning and a sense of timing as precise as a 24-carat Swiss watch. "It's very much like being the stage manager at a theater," Paul explained. "Only the stage is 140 yards long by 80 yards wide, the cast includes 360 people and we entertain a live audience of 60,000 spectators." And all this transpires under the critical, unflinching eye of television cameras.

Paul serves as Field Activities Coordinator for the New England Patriots, managing action on the gridiron much as a general directs troops on maneuvers. And like any commander, Paul must be certain that each person involved knows just what the timetable calls for. This isn't easy. Aside from 100 players and 14 coaches, the "cast" lists 4 doctors, 50 cheerleaders, a 150-person marching band, 8 game officials, x-ray, ambulance, cardiac machine and oxygen equipment personnel, a 10 man chaingang, spotters, 30-second and game clock people, scoreboard technicians, public address announcers, television crews, NFL film teams, 60 photographers and journalists, and security forces. "None of these people - except players and coaches - work full time at this,"Paul noted. "This is the difficult part. Most of the people involved come together just for our home games."

What viewers see when they tune in their televisions at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon is the end product of Paul's seven-day effort. Early in the week he plants himself in front of the telephone in his Jackson home and spends hours hammering out the details for the coming game. His phone bill rivals most congressional candidate's.

By Saturday morning, Paul is in Foxboro for the production meeting with television crews and broadcasting teams to compare schedules, timing, and to plan for the on-camera interviews with players and coaches during Sunday's telecast. "Once we collect all the needed information, we write a script for the game and put that information into a time perspective," Paul noted. From this point forward, Paul uses this timetable as a guide, making certain that everyone involved understands what they're expected to do and when they're expected to do it.

The pace quickens the morning of the game. Paul's rounds start at the television broadcast trailer at the stadium where he synchronizes his watch to television headquarters in New York. Paul's watch must match the network's running time exactly, just as it must match the "countdown" clock which times the 15-step sequence of events leading to the kick-off. Slipups cost. Since the networks pay the Patriots $5.5 million each year, they demand - and receive - strict cooperation with their broadcasting schedule; a minute of commercial time sells at a rate between $22,000 for weekly games and as much as $180,000 for the Super Bowl. The NFL can levy heavy fines on teams who mismanage their productions. As Paul knows, every second is, indeed, precious.

Following this meeting and a sound check to insure that all systems in Foxboro and New York are in good order, Paul devotes his energy to writing the Day of Game memo, an information sheet given to technicians, the press, cheerleaders and just about everyone who'll be on the field during the game. "We add special notes for different people," Paul said. "This information varies from telling sound men where to place mikes for the halftime show to advising photographers about the best spots for snapping pictures." In addition, these "DOG" memos list football statistics, a description of the halftime show, and a timetable for the day's events.

By 10:00 when traffic begins to clog at the parking lot gates, Paul meets with the Public Address announcer to review the schedule and 20 minutes later he makes his first visit to the Pat's locker room. Next he heads out to the field to test mikes, radios, phones, and loudspeakers and, following that, he runs a practice of the halftime show. Before the day is finished he'll log about 14 miles on foot, more than the combined yardage of the Pat's talented backfield.

The countdown clock now reads 76:00; in actual times its 11:45. At this moment Paul confers with officials and the public relations director to look over the game script, synchronize watches, and make any last minute adjustments. In rapid succession, following a 40 minute practice session for the teams, Paul must see to it that the cheerleaders and team mascots are introduced, that each team comes onto the field on cue, and that the National Anthem and coin toss are completed at exactly 1:00. Despite the demanding time schedule the system works well. At the October 12th game against Miami, the kick-off took place one second late.

Once the game is under way, Paul's scurrying is far from ended. Communicating by radio or with headphones, from his headquarters on the 50 yard line he continues to direct traffic. He cues the cheerleaders sideline routines, timed to fill the lulls between television commercials. He cues the public address announcements for lost children and stadium direction and handles any problems which arise, all th while keeping one eye trained on the field monitoring the action. As soon as the halftime gun sounds, the show must roll. Whether the program calls for Punt, Pass and Kick competition, a cheerleaders' act, an award presentation by the Governor's Safety Council or - like the Miami game - a concert by the Coast Guard Band, Paul oversees the action, keeping it on time and running smoothly. Only at the end of the game can he begin to relax.

Although most weekly games have built-in pressures, the special Monday games can cause even more anxiety. "They're a lot like a playoff game in terms of timing and planning," Paul added. "They're very tightly timed." Introductions of Patriot players, for instance, must come right on cue so that when Cosell leads off with his comments about the team, viewers at home will hear the clamoring fans. "We face more problems because it's dark, there are more television cameras and because more people are involved," he said.

Paul's work with the Patriots evolved from what he described as a "long term interest in the organization and coordination of events." His current career began when he painted the graphic red, white, and blue designs at the stadium, designs he drew at night by projecting slide images against the walls and tracing their outlines. Always concerned with problem solving, Paul noticed that while the Pats generally played solid football, they needed help with other aspects of their Sunday afternoon festivities.

"I watched the ensuing confusion coming down during the games," Paul recalled, "and suggested a proposal for making events more organized." Referring to the NFL Game Operations Manual - a 300-page book mapping of every detail in a football game from distance separating lines to who can do what during a game - Paul devised his own "scripting program." "The manual suggested a scripting program for organizing games and I incorporated its ideas into my presentation," he continued. Management agreed with Paul's idea and also decided he was the best man to carry it out. The rest of the story is history.

Although Paul naturally spends most of the season commuting between Foxboro and Jackson, his work keeps him busy in the winter and spring months as well. At the end of the 1979 campaign, he traveled to Detroit, Miami, Denver and Pittsburgh to learn how other NFL teams ran their training film programs. As a result, Paul designed and wrote a 22-page proposal for a new film lab production center for the Pats, a proposal accepted in full except for his choice of cameras. "They opted for a less expensive model," Paul explained.

Only once has Paul stepped beyond the confines of his job. In an incident he described as "my first and last mistake on the field," Paul made his feelings known to Steeler linebacker Jack Lambert. During a Monday night game against the Steelers last year, Paul objected when the Steeler linebacker - not a man known for gentle play - crumpled Pats' quarterback Steve Grogan at the Steeler sideline. "I yelled some like, "cheap shot, Lambert," and he stood there, staring at me and I thought he was going to gnaw my head off. I wound up being barred from that side of the field for the rest of the game." Later Lodi received a sanction from the league, but since it was his first transgression he escaped a fine.

WHile continuing as the Field Activities Coordinator in Foxboro, Paul will take on another assignment this winter when he assumes the position of Tournament Director for the World Professional Skiing circuit, the prestigious A-class racing competition. "It's pretty much another stage with different costumes and different rules," he said. "You deal with the same organizational problems," As Tournament Director, Paul will travel to Japan, Austria, and Switzerland as well as half a dozen areas in the United States, arranging and directing the action. "Both jobs fit together nicely," Paul continued, "and I'll be working with Edie Woodlawn again. She'll handle press releases, all credentials, and media interviews for the WPS, which is similar to the work she now does with the Patriots. We work well together as a team."

As a close observer of the Patriots - a team with only one loss in six outings - Paul offered a tentative and optimistic assessment of their 1980 chances. "it's a talent stacked team," he said, "and, barring injuries, if we play to potential, we stand a good chance of being in New Orleans on January 25th." And who knows? Paul Lodi is a man whose assessments have been on target before.

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