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Urbaniak well-equipped for biggest task

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Today, countless football fans will switch on their televisions, view Super Bowl XLVII, and pick apart every dropped pass, missed tackle or flubbed snap.

Steve Urbaniak will be watching, too. But he will be looking for every torn jersey, busted chinstrap or missing Gatorade bottle.

Urbaniak, a 1994 graduate of Lowville Academy, is the head equipment manager for the San Francisco 49ers, who are playing the Baltimore Ravens in annually the biggest television event of the year. In his 14th season with the 49ers, Urbaniak has stressed to his staff how the Super Bowl can magnify the smallest detail.

“Everyone in the world is watching,” said Urbaniak pausing for effect after “everyone” and “world.”

“That’s what I keep telling my guys. You have to be very detailed with it. People will see everything. Every stitch in the jerseys.”

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Urbaniak and his six-person staff — two full-timers and four interns — have worked 16-hour-plus days to make sure the players and coaches are as prepared as possible for the biggest game of their lives.

While “equipment manager” conjures images of people picking up dirty laundry, Urbaniak and his staff are responsible for so much more. Equipment staffs do everything from operating the game clock to helping run coaching drills, to acting as a middle man between a player and his equipment sponsor. Urbaniak and his staff stock food and drink for coaches, make sure the radio in the quarterback’s helmet is operational, and work the down-and-distance chains.

“We’re like a concierge service,” said Urbaniak, talking from his office a week ago as his washing machines buzzed in the background. “We do everything in practice for them, to help them do what they need to do. We help them with the drills, keep the players and coaches moving on to the next drill. Here at home, we make sure the toiletries are stocked. Packing-wise, we make sure each guy has what he wants, if he wants certain socks, certain shoes.”

Urbaniak, 37, is working his first Super Bowl as head equipment manager, but he’s a veteran of big-game operations. Since his arrival as an assistant in 1999, he has watched the NFL expand in virtually every way.

“It’s grown a lot,” he said. “When I first started, the offseasons were true offseasons. Now, it’s 12 months all year. The responsibilities have become more, the staffs have grown bigger, the coaching staffs have grown bigger. So there’s more uniforms, more equipment.”

And although his jack-of-all-trades job definition includes making airline arrangements and typing up locker room nameplates, laundry is never far away. Uniforms are the most time-consuming task. Urbaniak is required to know every player’s preferences, from shoes to helmet.

“The biggest one is their jersey and pants,” he said. “Shoes, some want specific styles or colors, but the jerseys and pants are the big ones. The pants, you have to make sure they’re the right length — if they want elastic in it, so they don’t have to tuck it in. The sleeve lengths, defensive linemen want a real tight jersey, so offensive linemen can’t grab them.”

Urbaniak’s staff makes the jerseys and he requires that every person on the staff knows how to sew.

This is actually Urbaniak’s second Super Bowl. The former Lowville split end, who started his equipment managing career after a freak knee injury forced the end of his punting career at East Carolina University, worked Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami. Urbaniak told the Times in 1999 that during the game, as an intern with the Miami Dolphins, he spent the entire time in a room guarding game balls while the Broncos defeated the Falcons. Shortly after that, he won a job as an assistant with the 49ers.

“I was interviewed by Bill Walsh,” said Urbaniak of the Hall of Fame coach. “That was kind of intimidating, sitting down with Bill Walsh.”

By then, Urbaniak was certain that this is what he wanted to do with his life. The job appealed to him immediately, mostly because it rewarded attention to detail, a trait that Urbaniak values.

“(My) mom will tell you I spent hours organizing my baseball cards,” he said.

For Urbaniak, the 80-hour weeks and the pressure of a 16-game, one-game-a-week season are worth it because of the payoff in his job.

“(I like) having to be really organized and efficient with everything,” he said. “And problem-solving. I love problem-solving. There’s a finished product that you can see that you did that. I like having a finished product.”

And Urbaniak has seen equipment decisions affect plays in the game.

“Unlike basketball, hockey and baseball, where there are so many games, in football there is only one a week,” he said. “One game can be the difference. It can be the difference on whether you make the playoffs.”

Equipment mishaps have played a part in past Super Bowls. During the 1992 game, when the Bills played the Redskins, Buffalo running back Thurman Thomas famously misplaced his helmet and missed the first two offensive plays for the Bills, who went on to lose the game.

“We had that happen this year, a guy just put (his helmet) in a different place,” he said. “It happens. You just run around until it’s problem solved. It goes back to problem-solving.”

Today, Urbaniak will be problem-solving on that same massive stage, looking to make sure that a player’s “wardrobe malfunction” doesn’t cost his team.

His parents, Tony and Linda, will be watching in the Superdome in New Orleans, having flown down on Wednesday. His wife, Lindsey, won’t be in attendance as she is expecting the couple’s first child in a few weeks.

And, when fans turn on the game to watch, maybe they’ll see Urbaniak, who grew up a Giants fan, on the sidelines, adjusting a player’s facemask or playing catch with a player.

“Hopefully, I’m smiling,” he said. “And I’ll take a few moments to take it all in.”







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