Long before the opening kickoff at this Sunday’s Super Bowl, Daniel Lurie has been quarterbacking his own big game: a Super Bowl of giving.
Lurie, 39, is chair of the host committee for Super Bowl 50. Host committees pay for all of the swanky private parties and public events, such as the fan village at San Francisco’s Embarcadero, but traditionally they also raise money for charity — big money.
After the NFL awarded the Bay Area rights to host the golden anniversary of America’s biggest sporting event, Lurie and his committee decided they would try to make this the most philanthropic Super Bowl ever.
To date, the committee has raised more than $12 million for charity, just shy of the $13 million raised for the 2014 Super Bowl held at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. But Lurie’s host committee has done New Jersey one better, dedicating to charity 25 percent of all funds raised. Some $7.3 million already has been granted to 140 Bay Area nonprofits, with the rest to be disbursed after the game clock winds down.
It was bound to happen with Lurie as chair. He’s the son of a longtime activist rabbi, a father of two and director of Tipping Point Community, the anti-poverty nonprofit he founded in 2005.
When San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York approached him nearly three years ago to ask if he would chair the host committee, Lurie knew it would have to be “about more than just a game.”
“I had no interest in being involved in something solely focused on football,” said the lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan. “I wanted to see how we could have this benefit the Bay Area, [rather than] the big circus comes to town, the cleanup is the next day, and then it’s gone. I wanted this to be something we can all be proud of. We said this has to be about putting our community first.”
Focusing on youth development, community investment and the environment, the philanthropic 50 Fund already has distributed grants to nonprofits such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, the Ecology Center in Alameda, the SF-Marin Food Bank, the San Jose Conservation Corps and many more.
There’s also a literacy initiative called the Re(a)d Zone, which has raised $700,000 and will put 50,000 books into the hands of low-income families so their kids can get up to grade-level reading.
“A lot of people get caught up in the pageantry,” said Joe D’Alessandro, a colleague of Lurie’s and CEO of the San Francisco Travel Association. “Daniel has been focused from the beginning when he said he wanted this to be the most giving Super Bowl ever.”
Exciting as it may be to have the eyes of the nation on the Bay Area, not everyone is happy about the financial burden San Francisco has taken on to host a week’s worth of events leading up to the Feb. 7 game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
With the city spending $5 million for police overtime, transportation alternatives and other services associated with Super Bowl week, some are complaining that the NFL should be responsible for those costs — especially since the organization is fully reimbursing Santa Clara for its outlays. San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim last week proposed a nonbinding resolution demanding reimbursement.
Lurie understands the frustration but noted that the host committee is bearing most of the expenses of events held in San Francisco. “The city will absorb the cost of expanded city services as it would for any large public event, such as Chinese New Year, Pride or Fleet Week,” he noted. “The overall [positive] economic impact of the Super Bowl is expected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Meanwhile, as that dispute plays out, Lurie and his host committee colleagues — more than 40 prominent business leaders, politicians and entrepreneurs — have been seeking donors who will give big to the 50 Fund: individuals as well as corporate partners such as Apple, Yahoo, Google, Intel, Stub Hub and the Gap. The NFL kicked in $1 million.
“Our board is made up of a lot of philanthropic leaders who run great nonprofits throughout the region,” Lurie said. “As I’ve learned at Tipping Point, our community is a generous one.”
Raising money for a good cause is something Lurie has plenty of experience doing. Tipping Point Community, which he founded 11 years ago with the aim of reducing poverty in the Bay Area, has raised more than $100 million, doling out grants to support housing, education and employment of the underprivileged and underserved. It in some ways resembles a Jewish federation, serving as a central address for philanthropic donations that are then disbursed to nonprofits.
As the son of Rabbi Brian Lurie, former CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and one of the community’s longtime leaders, the younger Lurie saw firsthand the importance of giving back and how to do it effectively.
“I was taught by my parents that saving one life is like saving the world,” he told J. of his work with Tipping Point. “We’re trying to do that every day here. We’re expanding the values of the Jewish tradition of giving back.”
On Sunday, 100 million Americans will sit on their couches, consume mass quantities of pizza, guacamole and beer, and focus on the greatest competition of the year: deciding which Super Bowl commercial is best. (Hint: It’s Doritos. It’s always Doritos.)
Oh, and the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers will also face off for the NFL championship trophy.
During the game itself, Lurie predicts he will be pacing back and forth somewhere in Levi’s Stadium. His nerves are on edge not over the final score, but rather whether years of host committee planning will pay off without a fumble.
“Almost three years in, it’s hard to believe it’s here,” Lurie said last week. “But it’s become crystal clear that the world’s attention is starting to focus on our region, which is incredibly exciting. The adrenaline has kicked in, the host committee is on all cylinders, and we’re ready. I’m ready.”
In addition to its philanthropic goals, the host committee also coordinates the more prosaic aspects of the event: transportation and public safety, coordinating with local officials, the NFL and the Department of Homeland Security. Logistics have changed since the last time the Bay Area hosted the big game. That was Super Bowl XIX in 1985, when Joe Montana led the 49ers past the Miami Dolphins 38-16 at Stanford Stadium.
“When it was here 30 years ago, it was not of this magnitude,” Lurie said. “To be honest, the 50th is unlike anything they’ve done. It’s a huge anniversary.”
No visitor to downtown San Francisco right now could miss the hubbub around Justin Herman Plaza, but for Lurie the best part of the Super Bowl is taking place behind the scenes.
For months, the host committee’s 50 Fund has been busy giving grants to scores of local nonprofits. Though most fall in the $10,000 to $40,000 range, five larger grants have been made to Fresh Lifelines for Youth in Milpitas, Juma Ventures and Summer Search in San Francisco, and La Clinica de La Raza and First Place for Youth in Oakland, each of which received $500,000 “game changer” grants.
That much money makes a real difference.
Sam Cobbs, CEO of First Place for Youth, was thrilled to learn his organization had been awarded the grant and said it will be used to expand services across the Bay Area. First Place for Youth helps teens and young adults transitioning out of foster care. It provides career counseling, housing, tutoring and a safe place to test the waters of the adult world.
Cobbs knew something big was up when he saw Lurie and the 49ers’ York declare on ESPN that the Bay Area Super Bowl promised to be the most philanthropic in history. Cobbs applied for the grant as soon as he could.
“We knew there were going to be five grants for $500,000 in unrestricted dollars,” Cobbs said. “So we shot for the moon.”
Cobbs and Lurie have known each other for more than 10 years, and First Place for Youth has been a recipient of Tipping Point grants over the years.
“Daniel personifies one of my favorite quotes: ‘To whom much is given, much is required,’ ” Cobbs said. “He exemplifies that in his ability to give back to his community. Philanthropy for him is like a family business, a responsibility, a requirement.”
This being the Super Bowl of philanthropy, it is no surprise charity-minded football players wanted to take part, too. One is former Oakland Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck, who with his wife, Lauran, founded Tuck’s R.U.S.H. for Literacy, which supports community reading and literacy programs.
The two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants, who announced his retirement from football this week, loved the idea of pairing his charity with the 50 Fund.
“You’re piggybacking on one of the greatest events that takes place in this world,” Tuck told J. “It gave us a lot of leverage, considering how well Daniel has done with Tipping Point and the relationships he’s made through that. I thought it would be smart to incorporate anything my wife and I could do. It’s right up our alley.”
Tuck’s charity donated $250,000 to the Re(a)d Zone, with the money going to local reading programs such as First Book, Imagination Library and Read for the Record.
“I don’t think he gives himself enough credit,” Tuck said about Lurie. “He’s done great work, and every time I talk to him he’s looking to do more, to engage Tipping Point or something like [the 50 Fund]. He makes people feel that the work is definitely making a difference, that people can make this world a better place.”
With the countdown to the big game ticking louder every second, Lurie is confident his game plan will be successful. And even though no one considers the Super Bowl a Jewish event per se, the rabbi’s son can’t help but see a connection.
“When you make an effort to make your community better and stronger, and you try to lift people up, that’s the essence of being Jewish,” Lurie said. “This is an effort we can look back on and be proud of the work we’ve done.”
nate bloom | j. correspondent
The list of Jews who have played in the first 49 Super Bowls isn’t long. But it comprises an interesting group of men who defy the stereotypes that Jews aren’t athletes and that football players are usually inarticulate jocks.
No. 1 in shattering those two categories might very well be former San Francisco 49ers tight end John Frank — now Dr. John Frank.
Frank, 53, joined the 49ers in 1984 but an injury prevented him from playing in the Super Bowl in 1985, the 49ers’ 38-16 win over the Miami Dolphins at Stanford Stadium. In the next three seasons, he really came into his own, earning a starting spot and playing in the Super Bowl in 1989.
About his early football days in western Pennsylvania, Frank said his parents were chagrined on two levels: first, it competed with their wish that he get an afterschool Jewish education, and second, his mother was terrified he’d get injured.
“I almost had to forge [my parents] signature on the authorization form [to play high school football],” he recalled. “My mother couldn’t bear watching me [play] and always pleaded with me not to go in.”
Frank went on to become a football star (while also excelling academically) at Ohio State. He said that during his college days “I always assured my mother I wasn’t going to play forever and would be focusing my attention on being a doctor or lawyer.”
Sure enough, he stunned a lot of fans when he retired after the 49ers’ 20-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1989 Super Bowl in Miami. He then went on to finish earning a medical degree and became a board-certified ear-nose-and-throat doctor, specializing in hair transplants. He has clinics in New York and Ohio.
He was 26 years old at the time he left football, making $357,500 a year and due for bigger riches, but he’d already played with broken ribs and a concussion, and a broken left hand in the 1989 Super Bowl. In a 2013 Sports Illustrated article, Frank talked about concussions and spinal injuries in the NFL — and how he got out at the right time.
Frank said he enjoyed his time with the 49ers, which included a very rare bonus for a Jewish NFL player: a Jewish teammate, in this case, offensive lineman Harris Barton. “He and I bonded immediately from the moment he arrived [in 1987]. Even though he was a few years younger, he was more mature than most guys on the team and he had a delightful, legendary sense of humor,” Frank said.
After the 49ers won the 1989 Super Bowl in the final seconds, “… during the media frenzy on the field, we embraced and Harris lifted me high onto his shoulders, and that moment was captured on the cover of the New York Times sports section. I was now on par with my hero [former Pittsburgh Steelers star and Jewish player] Randy Grossman.”
As the game ended, Frank had already decided to retire. “My first [post-game] phone call was to my mother. I told her she could finally relax and not worry about me getting injured. I was retiring to become a doctor. After a brief pause, she sternly admonished me for leaving after I just had ‘made it,’ and she urged me to stay for a while and enjoy it — and play a little longer.”
Here’s a look at the other Jews who have played in the Super Bowl:
Harris Barton, 51, San Francisco 49ers, offensive tackle. During his 12-year career, he played in Super Bowls in 1989, 1990 1995 — all 49ers’ victories. An All-Pro two times, he has long worked as a venture capitalist, partnering for a time with ex-teammates Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott. Through the fifth grade, he attended an Atlanta-area Jewish day school, and in 2011, he spoke at an event put on by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the same year he was inducted into the New York-based National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Bob Stein, 67, Kansas City Chiefs, linebacker. He was a rookie in the 1970 Super Bowl, then put in six more years in the NFL, earning a law degree concurrently. He went on to become a sports agent and attorney, and was the first president and CEO of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. In college, he sat out a game on Yom Kippur, and is a member of the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. “It’s a big honor being recognized by your people,” he said upon induction. “[I was] never extremely religious … but I always had pride.”
Ed Newman, 64, Miami Dolphins, offensive guard. He played in Super Bowls in 1974, 1983 and 1985 during a nice career in which he made the Pro Bowl four times. After the NFL, he was an attorney for seven years before being elected in 1994 a Miami-Dade County judge, a position he still holds. He’s been an observant Jew his whole life.
Sam McCullum, 63, Minnesota Vikings, wide receiver. He played as a rookie in the 1975 Super Bowl, then joined the expansion Seattle Seahawks in 1976 and caught the first pass in franchise history. An African American who was raised Baptist, McCullum married a Seattle Jewish woman and converted. Their two sons, Jamien and Justin, were both bar mitzvahed, both graduated from Stanford and played football there, and both now have good careers (in high tech and business).
Randy Grossman, 63, Pittsburgh Steelers, tight end. Embraced by Pittsburgh’s strong Jewish community, Grossman played on the “Steel Curtain” teams that won four Super Bowls: 1975, 1976, 1979 and 1980. He caught a TD pass in the 1976 game, a 21-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. Raised in a Conservative Jewish home, he went on to become a certified financial planner.
Lyle Alzado, deceased, Los Angeles Raiders, defensive end. Alzado was an NFL star for three teams from 1971 to 1985. With the Los Angeles Raiders, he got a trip to the 1984 Super Bowl (a 38-9 win over the Washington Redskins). Alzado was famous for his ferocious style of play, which may have been partially fueled by steroid use. Before he died from cancer at age 43 in 1992, he blamed steroids for giving him the disease. He once told a synagogue men’s club: “Many groups have tried to claim me. The Italians say I am Italian and the Chicanos say I am Chicano, but I am a Jew through and through … my bubbe and zeyde would have been thrilled to see me get this award.”
Andre Tippett, 56, New England Patriots, linebacker. A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he started in the Super Bowl in 1986. An African American who was raised Baptist, he married an observant Jewish woman in 1993 and converted four years later. His daughter had her bat mitzvah in Jerusalem. Conversion, he once said, “was probably one of the easiest things I had to do in my life. It was fun. It was an opportunity to learn about a new culture and history … [I go] to synagogue and enjoy fasting on Yom Kippur … it’s good for the body”.
Josh Miller, 45, New England Patriots, punter. A solid NFL punter from 1996 to 2008, he played in the 2005 Super Bowl, helping the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 with two great punts. Raised in a Conservative home, Miller recently said he loves speaking to Jewish kids’ groups about “embracing their Jewishness.” He’s now a radio sports talk host in Pittsburgh.
Nate Ebner, 27, New England Patriots, safety. He played in the Super Bowl last year and has been a good special-teams player with the Patriots since 2012. His late father was a Jewish religious school principal, and Ebner has talked about the Jewish and ethical values his father imparted to him.
Other player notes: Redwood City native Julian Edelman, star wide receiver of the New England Patriots, who played in Super Bowls last year and in 2012, is often referred to as Jewish, but of his eight great-grandparents, only his paternal great-grandfather was Jewish. Still, he was last month named the fourth-best Jewish football player ever by the American Jewish Historical Society. Edelman has called himself Jewish, he’s visited Israel and, the last two years,’ he’s attended Yom Kippur services … Two Jewish players, Alan Veingrad (Dallas Cowboys) and Antonio Garay (Chicago Bears) were on teams that played in Super Bowls in 1993 and 2007, respectively, but neither man played due to injuries.