They have the best view at the biggest game.
Pretty cool, right?
Indeed. But for Nebraska natives Jamie Schnakenberg and Mark Gubser, Super Bowl LI also is a work day.
Their Lincoln-based company, Gubser & Schnakenberg LLC, will again play a part in the Super Bowl, this time Sunday in Houston. It’s their digital system that will allow coaches to communicate with quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, as well as the linebackers who call out the defensive plays during a game that will be viewed by more than 100 million people.
“It’s unique to think that you’re able to do business with the National Football League and to see the figureheads that you watch on 'SportsCenter' is pretty neat,” Schnakenberg said Friday from Houston. “It is surreal to know that you are part of something that is very popular. Being the most-watched sporting event in the world and to be part of that, we’re truly grateful for that.”
It was more than five years ago when the NFL looked for a more efficient way for coaches to relay plays and information to quarterbacks. GSC, founded by Gubser and Schnakenberg, eventually developed a system that has been used in every NFL game since the start of the 2011 season. This is GSC's fifth Super Bowl.
"There was a need for that by the NFL," Schnakenberg said. "We were able to do it. So we walked away and everybody knew who we kind of were in the industry as the headset guys. And we turned around and created a new helmet system for them to use that was more reliable."
NFL rules only allow one player on offense and one player on defense to be able to receive sideline communications. Their helmets are equipped with receive-only devices.
Gubser and Schnakenberg will be on opposite sides of the field for Sunday’s game, positioned behind the benches.
“We’re actually monitoring the quality to make sure the plays are going to the quarterback,” Schnakenberg said. “(We’re) on about the 50-yard line, so if there are some issues, we can quickly rectify them. To this day, it usually doesn’t become an issue. The way we design our system has been really dependable.”
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GSC consists of three full-timers — Gubser, Schnakenberg and Alex Shada, the director of operations (they rely on part-time technicians in all 32 NFL cities for regular-season and playoff games). The three were on site at NGR Stadium on Thursday and Friday, making sure equipment was operational and running through scenarios.
Schnakenberg said there is one piece of equipment that is hard to retrieve immediately after the game — the device from the helmet of the winning quarterback, who may be celebrating well into the night.
Sunday’s game will mark the 20th consecutive Super Bowl for Schnakenberg, who currently lives outside of Wahoo (Gubser lives in Lincoln). He was working for Telex (it later became Bosch) in 1998 when the company provided wireless headset communications for the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers in the 1998 Super Bowl. This will mark Super Bowl No. 16 for Gubser.
Their first Super Bowl as GSC was in 2013 in New Orleans, which featured the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. The lights went out during the second half, but their system ran without a hitch.
"There were more butterflies in that game, but it was a memorable Super Bowl," Schnakenberg said. "The first one always is, right?"
Still, to this day, the magnitude of the game creates some nerves.
“I definitely still get butterflies when the kickoff happens because you never know what the situation or how the game is going to turn out,” Schnakenberg said. “So there is stress there, but I would say, based upon having done 19 of these, it’s how you control that stress. That’s the neat thing about it. It’s the biggest game of the year. It’s the most visible game of the year, yet it’s one of the games in which I’m the calmest at.”
Calm and full of pride. The GSC crew, headed by a pair of small-town guys — Schnakenberg grew up in Deshler and Gubser in Palisade — remains grateful for the chance to work side-by-side with one of the world's most powerful businesses.
"I would say the most thrilling part about this job, working with the National Football League, is working with these athletes, the quarterbacks and linebackers, as well as the personnel that runs the business," Schnakenberg said.
GSC's digital devices are now being used on the practice fields of college programs, including Nebraska, USC, UCLA, Alabama and Florida State. They're also introducing the equipment at the high school level. The devices were used at last year's Nebraska Shrine Bowl.