Longtime ASU groundskeeper to help paint logo for Super Bowl LVII
TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- If art is truly everywhere, would you let the NFL’s greatest athletes walk all over it? For one Tempe man, his masterpieces have been torn up by the end of every Super Bowl since 1996. And he’s just fine with that.
“Back when I started at ASU in 1984, I really had no training at all. They just put a paint gun in my hand and said go paint the field,” said Brian Johnson. “I don’t have that many talents or skills in life. Groundskeeping is one of them so, fortunately, I found my calling.”
In this manicured world of beautiful Bermuda grass, that might be the understatement of the last thirty years. Johnson is the now-retired, but always moving former head athletic groundskeeper for Arizona State University. He and his team have been responsible for iconic endzones and midfield logos for the Sun Devils since the mid 80′s. He’s known across the field-painting industry as one of the all-time greats. “There’s a lot of talented groundskeepers that can paint really well; I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time,” Johnson said.
And that time was Arizona’s first foray into the big game when the NFL came for Super Bowl XXX back in 1996. His boss Don at the time saw something in him. “Don put in a good word for us, and when the NFL got there, they realized they needed a little extra help. So there were a couple of us on the crew that they said, ‘hey can you help us work the Super Bowl?’ and I’m like, sure! I can do that! You know, it doesn’t get any better than that, really!”
He’s painted every field for every Super Bowl since then in his own unique way. “We don’t even use a stencil to outline the endzone letters. We kind of take a paintbrush and tape measures, strings, and kind of outline all our letters. Then just one guy keeps it inside the lines and fills it in, and I usually follow around and trim the letters. Without a stencil, just kind of freehand. But you know, you do something so long over the years and you get pretty good at it. I feel like I could trim an endzone blindfolded!” he explained.
Retirement hasn’t been boring. The league kept him busy this season doing every game overseas and even the Cardinals game down in Mexico. “I love to paint football fields and I love to travel, so to be able to combine those are very enjoyable,” says Johnson.
He’s also painted pitches for international soccer matches. And then there was that time he did a big favor for the Diamondbacks! “He came and painted the World Series logos in 2001 for us. He painted the center field logo for the for the All-Star game in 2011,” said Grant Trenbeath, head groundskeeper for the MLB team. “The league has started sending out stencils but way back then in ‘01, we did it by hand. There are people around here locally that have worked for him and nicknamed him the GOAT. And just the fact that he’s consistent day in and day out with what he does in his approach and in the way he deals with people.”
In all, does Johnson have a favorite Super Bowl memory? He says it was in Miami, and it wasn’t the field or the game. But it was his role in the memorable halftime show starring the one and only Prince. “I just happened to be right next to the stage because they needed a firework blanket laid on the ground. I put that out, and I was just right next to the stage, so I looked up, and it was raining purple rain while he was singing ‘Purple Rain.’ And I think that’s one of those moments in my life that I’ll never forget,” he said.
Johnson’s retirement will once again be put on hold. He will again be part of the grounds crew painting the field at State Farm Stadium for Super Bowl LVII. But what’s still left on his bucket list after the big game? He says he would love to paint the iconic rose midfield for the granddaddy of all the college bowl games — The Rose Bowl.
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