JERSEY CITY, N.J. – To all football lifers, no matter what the level, nothing beats the Super Bowl.
"It's why we're in this job," said Lehigh University graduate and Seattle Seahawks Northeast area scout Todd Brunner, who also once worked for the Philadelphia Eagles. "After 18 official years and 23 unofficial years, it's a great feeling to finally be here."
Brunner is the same age, 46, and has the same experience level of Tom Heckert, the former Eagles general manager who last spring landed in Denver to become the Broncos director of pro personnel in time for their finest season since the John Elway era.
Heckert's Broncos and Brunner's Seahawks meet tonight for the league championship in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Heckert been to this game before, though. As vice president of player of personnel, he helped Andy Reid build the 2004 NFC championship squad that fell to New England in the Super Bowl. He became general manager in 2006 until leaving for the same job in Cleveland in 2010.
But after a lifetime in the game and presiding over some drafts that gave the Browns some significant building blocks, Heckert was fired at the end of 2012 by new owner Jimmy Haslam, who turned his franchise over to another former Eagles front-office executive, Joe Banner.
Banner replaced one ex-Eagle employee with another in Michael Lombardi, and Heckert soon was on the street.
But not for long. Elway, now Denver's executive vice president of football operations, not only saw enough in Heckert to hire him but to keep him after Heckert was arrested for drunken driving within two weeks after being hired.
Since then, Heckert, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has kept an extremely low profile. He came back from a one-month, unpaid suspension and quietly went about his job. Besides, other than in-season adjustments to the bottom of the roster, this Broncos team was assembled before he arrived.
That doesn't mean Heckert isn't ecstatic to be a part of the Super Bowl again. From the time the Broncos clinched their berth with a win over New England in the AFC Championship Game, Heckert has been posting messages and photos of their trip to Jersey City, site of the team hotel.
Saturday, he wrote on his wall: "Peyton just made fun of me for wearing my fluorescent green north face jacket! (Seahawks colors) Oops, obviously wasn't thinking clearly today. I told him I was trying to intimidate him!"
As much fun as Heckert appears to be having, Brunner has him trumped.
"It's phenomenal, this experience," Brunner said in a phone coversation on Saturday. "It probably hit me on Tuesday when we came up here, like, 'Wow, we're in the Super Bowl.' ''
That he barely had to drive an hour from his home outside of Trenton to the team hotel made it that much sweeter.
"I was saying to my wife how it's great that the first Super Bowl I make, it's in my home state," said Brunner, who was quarterback at Lawrence High before moving on to Lehigh.
Guys like Brunner and Heckert never knew life outside of football.
Heckert's father, Tom Sr., was a scout for the Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.
Brunner sort of has him trumped there as well. His childhood household not only included his father John, who was on the coaching staff of many college and NFL teams, but his older brother Scott, who would go on to become quarterback the New York Giants.
"There were five of us brothers," Todd said. "Four of us played football, and my father coached forever."
Getting to the Super Bowl over his former team is extra special.
Brunner spent 13 seasons scouting the same region of the country for the San Francisco 49ers. When his contract expired after the 2012 NFL Draft, he was contacted by Seahawks senior personnel executive and former 49ers general manager Scot McCloughan about switching teams.
Naturally, the Niners went to the Super Bowl as soon as Brunner departed.
But now the Seahawks are the undisputed NFC's best after beating the Niners fair and square.
"Any time you can beat a former team, it's fun," Brunner said. "This is a big rivalry, and it was real fun that it came down to that game. It's like Lehigh beating Lafayette, only to more of an extreme."
The Super Bowl has always been just as important to Heckert and Brunner and so many others we never see on the TV screen on Sundays as it is to the ones we do.
Finally, after a career following alternate paths, Heckert's and Brunner's are meeting spectacularly.