It doesn't always take a star athlete to make a career in the NFL. Just ask Rochester High School alumnus Stacey James, now preparing for Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston as executive director of media relations for the New England Patriots.
James acts as a liaison between the media and the Patriots' players, so the week leading up to the Super Bowl has been a busy one for him. He said it was some time ago that he realized he wasn't going to get to the Super Bowl as a player.
"I played football and some basketball when I was in high school," said James, a 1986 Rochester grad who went on to get a degree in business and marketing at Washington State University.
"My senior year in basketball, the coach pointed out to me that he needed a stats person, and I knew my athletic career was pretty much over."
By that time, however, James had already decided what he wanted to do with his life.
"I had been following the Seahawks since about 1978, the Zorn-to-Largent magic," said James. "That was the source of my early passion for football. It became something I really wanted to be a part of. I saw myself as one of those guys sitting in the stands with his body painted the team colors.
"I felt like it was a compliment when people told me I was fanatical about football."
At Rochester, James got his chance to try playing the game he loved so much.
"I played tight end and outside linebacker," said James. "I wasn't much of a player, though I'm sure I thought at the time I was a lot better than I really was."
With reality having intruded during his prep career on any dreams he might have had to be an NFL player, James decided upon a different angle of attack on the sport once he got to college at WSU.
"I applied for a job in the sports information department," said James. "I wasn't sure what that was, but the sports part appealed to me. When I found out you could actually get paid to keep statistics and follow the game, I felt I had found my calling."
In the summer of 1989, James worked for the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA, and that fall he got an internship in the Seahawks media relations department.
"I worked with Gary Wright, who is still there," said James. "Being able to work for that organization was just a dream come true for me, and that eventually led to some wonderful opportunities."
James completed his degree in 1990, then began a search for a career path connected to football.
In the spring of 1991, he toured Europe as a media relations representative for the World League of American Football. That fall he worked in sports information for the University of Washington when the Huskies won a share of the national championship.
The following spring he was back in Europe, having secured the post of media director for the WLAF's Birmingham Fire, and in the summer of 1993 he returned to the U.S. and got an assistant's job in the media relations department of the Patriots.
"They (Patriots) started the season 1-11 that year," said James. "The owner was from St. Louis, and the thinking was that the team would probably be moved there. I took that job with the expectation that soon I'd be somewhere else.
But in 1994, Robert Kraft bought the game. He was a New England resident and guaranteed the team would stay where it was.
Season ticket sales doubled from 20,000 to 40,000, and the Pats have now sold out 104 straight games and occupy a glittering new stadium. With the team's newfound stability, James was able to remain with the organization to this day.
"We're now enjoying our third Super Bowl appearance in the last eight years," said James. "I feel truly blessed. I was pretty dedicated to what I wanted to do, even though there were some long periods of inactivity for me.
"My family and friends thought I was crazy at times, but I was determined to do whatever I could to make a career in this field."
If his parents, Dwight and Sylvia James, had initial doubts about their son's career choice, they have overcome them. They left Rochester Wednesday to board a flight to Houston, joining their son at Super Bowl XXXVIII.
"My brother is coming in too, but my sisters weren't able to make it," said James. "But I'll have half my family with me here, anyway.
"Working for an NFL team, I've had the chance to attend seven of the past 10 Super Bowls," James said. "They are the best sports spectacle on earth. Every other major sports league championship (in the U.S.) is decided in a series, so there's really nothing to compare to the Super Bowl — especially a two-week Super Bowl like this one, with all the hype and buildup.
"For a kid out of Rochester who grew up rooting for the Seahawks, I would have paid good money to do the job I have. I still can't believe I'm getting paid to do it."