His feelings were as real as his tears and just as raw, too, Anthony Lynn later describing himself as being “emotionally ambushed” and “hijacked” by the experience.
The 60 seconds were the most sincere, most captivating of Super Bowl LIII. And they had happened weeks earlier. In a firehouse. In Pasadena.
“Everybody in the place was crying,” Lynn recalled. “I was like, ‘Damn, this is a real downer. You guys screwed up the whole damn thing.’ ”
Lynn was part of a Super Bowl television commercial honoring first responders, a heart-seizing tribute more dramatic than anything that happened during a game still tied midway through the fourth quarter.
“Once they convinced me it was going to be about the first responders, that’s all it took,” Lynn said. “I didn’t care if I was on TV crying and looking foolish, as long as those folks got the recognition they deserved.”
The advertisement was part of an NFL-themed campaign by Verizon designed to highlight the work of those who save lives.
Lynn’s spot was based on the 2005 incident in which he was struck by a drunk driver in Ventura and left with temporary paralysis and life-threatening injuries that eventually would require four surgeries.
He never had met the police officers or paramedics who aided him that night and never really pursued it.
A few years ago, Lynn was back in Ventura for a wedding and tried to find the spot where the accident occurred but didn’t try too hard.
“I felt really weird just being in that area,” he said. “I think I’ve tried to put that incident in the back of my mind, like it never happened. If I focus on that too much, I think about a lot of things. I think about, you know, I shouldn’t be here.”
When he was first approached about doing the commercial, Lynn declined. His Chargers were fighting for a playoff spot, and an NFL coach’s attention in season is something that rarely is willingly divided.
But those involved in producing the campaign continued to encourage him, noting that several NFL players also would be taking part.
“I thought about it and I thought about what the first responders meant to me,” Lynn said. “I decided, ‘You know, if I’m going to be distracted by anything, this is probably something that’s worthy of it.’ ”
The idea was for Lynn to be featured speaking to a group of police officers, paramedics and firefighters, sharing his story as a way of thanking them for their commitment.
No one ever mentioned to him that the group would include the four individuals who arrived first on the scene of his accident.
Peter Berg never had met Lynn face-to-face before everyone gathered in Pasadena to shoot the commercial. They had talked on the phone once.
The director knew Lynn mostly from Chargers telecasts, Lynn’s stoic but undeniable presence strong enough to be felt through the images on a TV screen.
“I knew he was someone not to be taken lightly,” Berg said. “He’s a big man in size and confidence and spirit. Coach is a formidable gentleman.”
A couple of years ago, Berg was involved in a similar ad campaign that reunited unsuspecting soldiers with their families.
So he understood the fleeting nature of attempting to catch a significant moment of realization and all the emotion that was likely to explode in every direction as a result.
He also understood that Lynn, perhaps feeling duped and suddenly awash in the memories of a night he has tried to forget, might take a swing at him, cameras rolling and all.
“I still had no idea what might happen going into the actual shoot,” Berg said. “Coach could get mad. He could come at me. He could just walk off. It was a real adrenalized experience.”
As Lynn was addressing the group, Berg suddenly shouted “cut,” the exact thing Lynn had told him to not do. He had asked Berg to leave him alone and allow his thoughts and words to just flow. Lynn explained that he preferred to talk to the group as if the first responders were his players.
Now, instead, he was being repositioned on a spot marked with an “X” as the red light of another camera came on.
That’s when policemen Jim Brittle and Craig Kelly and paramedics Skyla Bosco and Dave Mendoza came forward and introduced themselves to Lynn as the ones who had saved him.
In an instant, there were hugs and tears and more hugs, and an overwhelmed Lynn was the one telling the cameras to stop. He eventually retreated to a trailer just off the set, where Berg found him.
“Yeah, I was a little pissed off,” Lynn acknowledged. “Then, when they told me a while later they wanted to use that in the commercial, my first reaction was ‘Hell, no. That’s too personal.’ ”
Again, he was convinced to change his mind when told how well the spot would reflect on first responders.
For about three hours after the shoot was completed, Lynn sat in that trailer with Brittle, Kelly, Bosco and Mendoza reliving what happened back in 2005, so much emerging that Lynn never had heard.
“I could have had some popcorn because I was really into it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Tell me more. Tell me more.’ At that point, the emotion was gone. I was just trying to get the details of what happened.”
Lynn’s wife, Stacey Bell, also was sitting there, mostly crying.
He plans to meet more with the four first responders, a ride-along with Kelly targeted for some point this offseason. They’ll revisit the spot of the accident.
“These first responders, man, they’re doing it on a whole other level,” Lynn said. “You talk about selfless …That’s one of our core values around here. Those have to be some of the most selfless people on planet Earth.”