When the NFL season culminates on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis with Super Bowl LII, Wayne Rushing and his partner will have driven 26,000 miles through 38 states, amounting to more than 370 hours behind the wheel.
The average game day usually includes 500-750 fans boarding the NBC Sunday Night Football bus.
Imagine traveling across the country, making stops on Sunday nights at National Football League stadiums.
A dream for avid football fans. A reality for Wayne Rushing.
Rushing, is one of two tour managers for the NBC Sunday Night Football bus during the 2017-18 season. Starting in October, Rushing and partner Jason Woods have traveled from city to city navigating the bus, which as Rushing describes it, “Is a diesel truck that has been converted into a motorhome type of coach.”
When the NFL season culminates on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis with Super Bowl LII, Rushing and his partner will have driven 26,000 miles through 38 states, amounting to more than 370 hours behind the wheel.
“We travel throughout the United States to every single Sunday Night Football game providing a fan experience for all the fans that attend the game and little events prior to the game,” Rushing said. “Basically, we drive from one state to another. That can be East coast to West coast, no matter what.”
Those events, referred to as “activations” by the Sunday Night Football bus team, usually take place on Thursday through Saturday on a given week at different sites throughout the Sunday Night Football host city. The bus then rolls into NFL stadium parking lots on Sundays.
Since its debut in 2013, the bus has stopped at an eclectic mix of pre-game sites. According to Alexandra Coutu, a marketing and consumer engagement representative at NBC Sports, the sites this season have included youth football games, high school football games, ice skating rinks, American Hockey League and National Hockey League games and even a bacon festival.
“We always go to the stadium on game day, but before that we try to pick places around the city where we can catch fans who don’t necessarily have an opportunity to go to the game and have access to the bus,” Coutu said. “Usually from Thursday to Friday, up to Sunday, we’ll be at different places, and then we’ll have local affiliates come and do hits for the bus and let people know where it’s going to be.
“The best attendance we’ve had all year, and this is ironic because I didn’t know how people would react to the bus, was at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston.”
When the bus pulls up at various sites, or arrives at NFL stadiums on game days, fans are elated to climb aboard, Coutu said. Now, those same fans have the opportunity to enter SportsEngine's Comin' Home Sweepstakes, with the winner sending the Sunday Night Football bus to the high school of his or her choice and receiving $2,000 in cash.
The outside of the bus is decorated with decals featuring the Sunday Night Football logo and pictures of NFL players. The inside features the Vince Lombardi trophy, a replica of the Sunday Night Football desk, a life-size player wall and four screens that offer the perspective of what different cameramen see on the field.
“(The bus) definitely gives fans an experience to be closer to a sport that they love,” Coutu said. “This year we have the Vince Lombardi trophy on there, which is a really big hit. People freak out over that.”
When the bus stops for events, Rushing’s duties include setting up and taking down the bus for fans, a 90-minute task, and tours of the spectacle on wheels.
During these tours, roughly 15 people are let in at one time to experience and take pictures of the bus’ interior. Around 150 can view the inside of the bus in a given hour, and the average game day usually includes 500-750 fans boarding the bus. Scheduled events, and even random instances at truck stops to grab fuel, have provided ample opportunity for Rushing to interact with fans from all over the country.
“We’ve had pretty much everything,” Rushing said. “We’ve had die-hard fans that have come to see this bus every year since its inception. We’ve also had some NFL players that have randomly walked up to the bus that were past Super Bowl champions.”Rushing said the rowdiest fans have included supporters of the Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys.
As the season winds down and the bus makes its last stop at the Super Bowl, so too will the seemingly endless miles driven by Rushing and his partner. Their longest trips have included drives from Pittsburgh to Seattle, Seattle back to Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh to Oakland. Travel from Pennsylvania to Washington state and vice versa took three days each way and amounted to a whopping round-trip total of more than 5,000 miles.
Those lengthy trips mean long hours behind the wheel. While Rushing and Woods have been fortunate enough to largely avoid the traditional pitfalls of road trips, including inclement weather, accidents and speeding tickets, the early mornings and late nights have proved difficult at times for the duo.
“The biggest challenge has probably been driving through the night,” Rushing said. “Sometimes the drives get long and we have to put in some extra hours, but it’s all worth it in the end. We have an area in the back of the bus where we are able to relax, and we do stop along the way and stay in hotels every night.”
“We haven’t had any speeding tickets or accidents. But because of the nature of the bus and the graphics all over it, we tend to have a lot of people trying to video record it or snapchat it, which can be pretty unsafe.”
People are constantly coming up to us and asking about the truck, and it just makes you happy to bring so much joy to so many different people.
- Wayne Rushing, NBC Sunday Night Football bus tour manager
With the challenge of long hours comes the rewards of watching the most popular spectator sport in America -- and bringing smiles to the faces of fans. Following game day tours and events, Rushing gets to attend each Sunday Night Football game.
Rushing, who is originally from Atlanta, watched his beloved Falcons battle the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 22nd. Despite the loss for the Falcons in a rematch of Super Bowl LI, it still was Rushing’s favorite game of the season. Rushing will also be one of the lucky attendees at this season’s Super Bowl.
Even with the game-day perks, Rushing’s favorite part of the job remains his interactions with fans.
“Seeing their happy faces and seeing their excitement is great,” Rushing said. “I get approached all the time. … People are constantly coming up to us and asking about the truck, and it just makes you happy to bring so much joy to so many different people.”
While it remains to be seen where the bus will stop in the days leading up to Super Bowl LII, one thing is for sure: Fans in Minneapolis will have the first look at a brand-new bus design.
“We’re going to re-wrap the bus and give it a whole new look for the Super Bowl,” Coutu said. “The past two years the bus hasn’t been present at the big game. This will be just its second time.”