Suffolk natives put their touch on Super Bowl

Published 11:45 pm Friday, February 8, 2013

Two Nansemond-Suffolk Academy alumni had their names in lights last week at the big game.

They weren’t tossing touchdown passes or making interceptions, though. One was helping cover the game with his film company, and the other had one of the most-talked-about commercials that aired during the game.

The media credential for Thomas, who is a Suffolk native. He covered last week's activities in New Orleans for the NFL Network.

San Francisco 49ers fan Troy Thomas, from NSA’s class of 1982, was among thousands of media crews covering Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans last weekend. His Atlanta-based company, Inertia Films, routinely works for the NFL Network and was sent to help cover the week’s activities.

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Though his 20-year-old company usually covers the Falcons because of its location, Thomas admits to being a fan of the San Francisco team, which competed and ultimately lost to the Baltimore Ravens in the championship game. The Falcons have become his second-favorite, so there was no way he could lose when the two teams played each other for the NFC championship.

“I was thrilled,” he said this week. “No matter who won, I was going to be happy.”

Thomas and his crew were in New Orleans for nine days and got assigned to cover the 49ers, which no doubt pleased Thomas. But the worst part was the timing.

“We did live shots (from the 49ers team hotel) every morning starting at 5 a.m.,” Thomas said. “I got up at 2:30, and we got to the hotel at 3:45.”

The crew also covered 49ers press conferences each day, talking to players like quarterback Colin Kaepernick and linebacker Patrick Willis. They covered Saturday’s voting on who would make it into the NFL Hall of Fame and did other assorted projects, like shooting traditional New Orleans food in a local restaurant and covering the madness of Bourbon Street, which Thomas described as “absolutely crazy.”

“We were kind of all over everywhere,” he said. “We pretty much covered whatever they needed us to cover.”

For the big game, though, Thomas and his crew weren’t anywhere near the Superdome. He believes local crews were given preference to cover the actual game.

“It’s such a huge media event and there’s so many crews there that they delegated who would be doing what,” Thomas said. “The crews that were doing all that were all Baton Rouge- or New Orleans-based.”

At least that gave him a good excuse when others accused him of trying to help his team get back in the game.

“A lot of people think I’m responsible for the power outage,” he joked.

Thomas is now back in Atlanta, working on his company’s normal workload — producing corporate videos and documentaries, covering the Atlanta Braves for the MLB Network and preparing to cover the NFL draft in April.

While Thomas was watching the game back in his hotel room, he probably saw a commercial partially produced by a former classmate of his.

Richard Keel, who is one-half of The Mediajack Company with Sarah Kaminski, submitted the much-buzzed-about Elephant Auto Insurance ad that featured a flash mob with elephant masks taking over the Pagoda Café in Norfolk.

After hearing about the company’s contest to submit possible commercials, “Sarah and I started kicking around some ideas,” said Keel, who graduated from NSA in 1980. “We wanted to create some really positive energy and attach it to a brand.”

They came up with the elephant-mask-flash-mob idea and stayed up all night making masks and drinking wine, he admitted.

“It didn’t quite comply with the rules,” Keel said. “It was supposed to be something about football. We didn’t care about that. We’re just slightly off beat and off kilter.”

The group showed up at Norfolk’s Waterside — without prior notice — to tape the commercial but got kicked out. They regrouped and hit the Pagoda the next day, eventually editing and submitting the commercial just before the deadline.

Keel said he believes the company was attracted to “the energy of it and the ‘What the heck was that?’”

“It’s counterintuitive to some people, but it’s not about the brand, it’s about the emotion they want the brand to have,” Keel said.

Since the commercial aired, he has received a lot of buzz about it, he said.

“It just makes no sense at all something that small would have generated as much interest as it has,” he said. “Really, all we care about is having a really good time and making something we like.”