TSA’s top noses were in full sniffing mode for Super Bowl LVII.
Over 100 canines from around the country were called into action to support Super Bowl transportation security efforts in Phoenix.
Just like the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles fans who traveled to Arizona to get a little rowdy for the big game, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX) had its own Rowdy – Rowdy the canine.
PHX is home for Rowdy and his handler Jacob Fellner, who said his team in Phoenix planned for this event over the last year.
“As soon as we found out the Super Bowl was being hosted here, we started our prep,” said Fellner. “We prepped last year at State Farm Stadium. We went there for different training opportunities in and around the stadium, in the stands and behind-the-scenes field level and the (loading) docks.”
Fellner said canine teams from all over the country, from the East to West Coast, came to Phoenix to protect the traveling public in and out of the airport setting.
“They all got to screen vehicles, inbound cargo, freight as well as buses and the hotels for the players,” he described. “They had a good time helping us out.”
Nicholas Goyak and his two-year-old German shorthaired pointer partner, Dina, made the trip from Las Vegas to Phoenix to help, and Goyak called it “a lot of fun.”
“We worked in a lot of different areas, doing a lot of vehicle screenings, different sweeps,” said Goyak. “It was a good time getting (Dina) out of the airport. Anytime we have the opportunity to get the dog in new areas and work with new people, I’m all for it.”
Goyak applauded the organized planning to bring the many TSA super sniffers to the site of the Super Bowl.
“A lot of teamwork and dedication is needed to run these dogs in different areas and a ton of coordination and communication, especially when you’re running a multiagency event,” Goyak noted.
From Croatia to Los Angeles to Phoenix – that’s the route canine Walter took to get to Super Bowl LVII. Walter, who regularly serves at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and was born in Croatia, traveled with his handler Damon Weathersbee to Arizona to lend their support.
“We worked at the stadium, the convention center where the NFL Honors awards ceremony was held, a couple of vehicle sweeps near where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had meetings,” said Weathersbee. “We were all over the place.”
Weathersbee and Walter have only been a team for a year, and Weathersbee appreciated the experience working the Super Bowl.
“We got to bond with the local law enforcement agencies here,” Weathersbee said. “They set up great training and searches for us that we normally would not get at LAX on a normal basis. It was just a great experience for both of us as a new team together for one year.”
On the day after the Super Bowl, the many canine teams focused their efforts on airport operations to make sure PHX was secure for the traveling public and sports fans flying out of Phoenix.
Matt Boynton felt lucky to get the call to support Super Bowl transportation security operations. Boynton and his canine partner Raya came from California’s San José Mineta International Airport. The dynamic duo spent five days at the NFL headquarters screening all the cargo vehicles coming in the front and back entrances.
“We had to be really flexible, being at multiple events, conducting large area sweeps of the entire convention center, hotel resorts and their accompanying buildings,” Boynton described. “It was a lot of very hard work and long days and nights, but I enjoyed the heck out of it. It’s fun getting out of your own airport, meeting and greeting other people from all over the country as well as supporting a large scale event like this.”
For most of the canine teams, it was their first time supporting the Super Bowl, but for Ty Bilton, it was his third time on TSA’s frontlines for a Super Bowl in his hometown of Phoenix.
“It’s really exciting,” proclaimed Bilton, who has been with TSA for nearly 17 years and worked this Super Bowl with his canine partner Bona. “The Super Bowl is always a huge international security event. It’s always a time with a lot of buzz, and it’s a pleasure to work hard for the traveling public and keep everybody safe and reassured that they’re going to get home safe.”
Bilton appreciated all the extra paws called to action.
“We’re thankful for the extra hands and paws that came here to assist us in Phoenix,” he said. “Most of these guys are very experienced and very professional, so we have fun working with them.”
Tricia Votta and her canine partner Archy-Arch, named after 9/11 victim firefighter David Arch, made the trip from San Francisco to lend a helping paw. After working many different venues prior to the Super Bowl, Votta and Archy-Arch joined forces at the PHX checkpoint during the busy travel rushes on Monday.
“He was happy to be there after having different shifts at different times,” said Votta. “Being back in the checkpoint is his bread and butter, and he loves it. He’s super happy, really good getting the decoys. It was nice to be here, and I hope we get asked to come back.”
It took quite the work to coordinate TSA’s Super Bowl canine operations, and Sandy Whitehead was at the forefront of that effort. Whitehead oversees the canines at Phoenix and said her team started work on selecting the canine teams two to three months before the big game.
“It’s a long process, especially for the credentialing and to get everything certified for each of the teams,” said Whitehead. “Then, you always have last minute changes, so you have people who are on standby.”
The goal was to have no incidents, and they accomplished that.
“We want everything to go smoothly,” Whitehead emphasized. “We build relationships and networks with different teams at different airports, and they know that eventually we’ll come support them. We all know each other, and we all support each other.”
By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications & Public Affairs