It’s been an unbelievable run for Ben Buchnat since he graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln eight months ago, but one thing hasn’t changed.
All he’s looking forward to is a nice, long nap.
This time, it’s not after band practice or a shift at one of his several part-time jobs that he held throughout college. Instead, it’s after working over 50 hours per week for an organization that just won the Super Bowl.
2020’s Super Bowl was the first since 1993 to not feature a player that had previously played for Nebraska. But despite the historic streak ending, Buchnat was one of several people on the sidelines that still gave “The Big Game” a small dash of “The Good Life.”
After three years of working the cameras for every sport UNL had to offer, Buchnat’s gamble on taking a seasonal position with the Kansas City Chiefs paid off in a big way, as he rode the highs and lows of their storybook season, which ended with him assisting team photographers on the field during and after Super Bowl LIV.
Buchnat’s story is one synonymous with the collegiate experience: entering the formative years of one’s life fairly confident in their purpose, only for life to intervene and lead them down a different path.
Buchnat came to UNL with dreams of becoming a music critic. Almost immediately after moving to Lincoln from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, Buchnat started writing for the culture section at The Daily Nebraskan. He primarily reviewed albums, which led to several cyberbullying attacks from teenage girls who were upset about his critiques.
After two years with The Daily Nebraskan, Buchnat realized he should broaden his horizons and see what other opportunities were out there. So he applied to HuskerVision, UNL’s multimedia production studio.
With HuskerVision, Buchnat started by filming crowd reaction shots for the Nebraska Football crew during the 2017 season. His only prior experience with camera work was at Glenbard West High School sporting events as part of his high school’s broadcasting club.
Despite limited experience, he learned the ropes of the job through what he called a “low-pressure situation” in football. While he still worked for The Daily Nebraskan and also as an intern at a pop culture publication, he slowly began to realize that his calling had changed.
Over the next two years with HuskerVision, Buchnat worked with almost all of UNL’s athletic programs. If he wasn’t on the sidelines with a camera, he was in a video control room. By his senior year, he was a director for basketball and baseball games, and he realized working in a control room is what he ultimately wanted to do in his career. He also expanded his horizons and worked in similar roles at a pair of other local companies.
“Honestly, in this business, you can train as much as you want, and like go through stuff in the classroom, but honestly just going out there and doing it trumped all of that,” he said.
After graduating in May, Buchnat was like most other college graduates: applying for any and every possible job. Every day after graduation he was filling out at least one job application per day. Given the competitive nature of the industry, only a few companies gave him an interview.
Luckily for him, one of those companies was the Kansas City Chiefs.
According to Buchnat, the Chiefs were without a doubt his most enticing opportunity. Not only was he confident in how that interview went, but he was a lifelong football fan. The position the Chiefs offered was for only the 2019-20 season, but he accepted the role as a seasonal production assistant and moved to Kansas City in July.
It didn’t take long for Buchnat to realize he was walking into a special workplace. The Chiefs had fallen several plays short of reaching the Super Bowl in the 2018-19 season, losing in overtime to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Despite the heartbreaking finish, hopes were high for the upcoming season. After all, they brought back reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and most of the team that finished with the best record in the AFC.
“The vibe was pretty infectious,” Buchnat said. “Everyone was just really excited to see what this team could do.”
Buchnat traveled to road games at Pittsburgh, Green Bay and Chicago, but most of his work was done for home games. When the Chiefs played at home, he would work in their control room helping play back content on the large video boards. Throughout the week leading up to games, Buchnat would edit other content to be used on the video boards, stream press conferences and assist in the production of pre and post-game shows.
Buchnat and the rest of the production team for the Chiefs worked in a separate office from the actual team, but they still went through the same highs and lows that the team and its fanbase went through.
“It feels like maybe some of the things you did in the stadium are kind of wasted because the fans still had a good time even if the team doesn’t win,” Buchnat said. “But you kind of get that on the opposite, too, because winning kind of erases some of the sloppy mistakes.”
Undoubtedly, the mood was never lower than it was after the night of Oct. 17 when Mahomes injured his right knee in a Thursday night win over the Denver Broncos. Suddenly, the chances of the team avenging its heartbreaking loss that ended the previous season were potentially gone, and the fanbase went from enthusiastic to dejected.
The injury to Mahomes proved to be a turning point for Buchnat and the production team, though. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were coming to Kansas City the following week for a primetime showdown on Sunday Night Football, and it was up to his team to help keep the crowd energized no matter who was starting at quarterback.
“That was probably the longest week that I worked that whole season,” Buchnat said. “I just put my head down, avoided outside noise and did my job, and it paid off. The game was close in the fourth quarter, and we were prepared for all of the possibilities.”
“You can’t just take weeks off because the team is losing or get down in the dumps because the team is going through a rough stretch,” he said. “You never know when you’ll be back in a close game.”
Being prepared for anything and everything during games was a keystone habit for the production team. They never wanted to repeat a video during a key moment late in the game or, even worse, not have a video ready at all. Sometimes, only 20% of the videos prepared for a game were used, according to Buchnat. Regardless, because of their exhausting preparation, the control room was constantly ready late in the season when the team’s unbelievable run began.
Going into the final weekend of the regular season, Buchnat and the crew were getting ready for a potential Wild Card Weekend game the following week. The Chiefs were 11-4 but still one game behind the New England Patriots for second place in the AFC and a first round bye in the playoffs.
Instead, the Patriots lost in shocking fashion to the 4-11 Miami Dolphins. Suddenly, Buchnat and the Chiefs had an extra week to prepare for a home playoff game.
“That was crazy,” Buchnat said about learning of the first round bye. “I just got to be creative for a whole week and just make stuff. You want to make the coolest stuff for the playoffs because these games matter more.”
They would need every extra bit of time they received.
Two weeks after shockingly stealing second place from the Patriots, the Chiefs hosted the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs. By the second quarter, the home crowd was stunned silent after Houston jumped out to a 24-0 lead. Inside the control room, Buchnat said the drop of a pin could be heard.
It was yet another moment his bosses had prepared the team for.
Throughout the season, one of Ben’s bosses made sure the entire production team stayed focused on their jobs over the emotions of the game. He told them if the crowd was taken out of the game, it was up to them to snap them out of the funk and get them cheering again.
As Houston kept piling on the points, and as Mahomes struggled to find his rhythm, the production crew kept trying to re-energize the crowd with music videos.
“It kind of felt like what happens when Nebraska plays Ohio State, and that first quarter gave me a way too familiar feeling,” Buchnat said. “I tried to stay as calm as I could and focus.”
Shortly after, the tide turned entirely. The Chiefs rattled off 41 consecutive points. By the time Harrison Butker’s 24-yard field goal split the uprights to give the Chiefs a 51-31 lead, the stadium had run out of fireworks to set off. Thanks to their exhaustive preparation, the control room still had enough original videos to make it through the action-packed game.
However, the AFC Championship provided a completely different challenge. The top-seeded Baltimore Ravens went into the playoffs having won 12 consecutive games, and it appeared destined to host the AFC Championship after the sixth-seed Tennessee Titans upset the New England Patriots and faced the Ravens next.
Instead, the Titans dominated the Ravens 28-12, and the Chiefs production crew had just one week to prepare another set of original content after emptying most of their rounds in the previous game.
Despite a stressful week of preparation, the group was able to pull off the home finale without any hiccups. Although a lot of original video was used during the game, their afternoon ended with the simplest graphic of the entire season: 2020 AFC Champions.
“That was almost more surreal than the actual Super Bowl,” Buchnat said. “It was a really cathartic moment, and it was really cool to have all of your own fans there. Seeing that stage on your field and not on someone else’s field felt incredible.”
Up in the control room, the group had a champagne toast to celebrate that night, but it was back to work on Monday morning. During the bye week before the Super Bowl, Buchnat found out he was traveling to Miami to work at the game, but his role would be completely different.
For the big game, Buchnat would be assisting the team’s photographers as a runner. He held extra lenses, ran cards, switched out cameras and helped with anything the photographers needed.
An entire season of working in a control room suddenly changed to being on the field, within shouting distance of mega-celebrities Kevin Hart, Alex Rodriguez and NFL Legends Brett Favre and Tom Brady. He also had a field-level view for the halftime show performed by Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.
Buchnat was also on the field to see some of his own work get played on the video board. On the Wednesday afternoon of Super Bowl week, he found out he had to turn in a music video the following day to play during the game. For those curious, the song used in the video was “Rocket Fuel,” a song by De La Soul off of the Madden NFL 20 video game soundtrack.
“It worked well with the vibe that we were trying to go for with the video,” Buchnat said about the song. “Which was basically that this team is fun, and you should like them because they’re fun and good at football.”
The Chiefs were good enough at football to erase a 20-10 deficit against the San Francisco 49ers during the game itself, and, afterwards, Buchnat’s job wasn’t over. He continued to assist the photographer on the jam-packed, confetti-littered field during the celebration and then had to return to Kansas City to prepare a video to be played at the team’s championship celebration parade three days later.
Before returning to work, Buchnat did get to celebrate with the entire organization at an after-party, and he went to the beach the following day before catching his flight.
“It was great,” he said. “We got to celebrate with everyone that you were working really hard with all season. It’s really nice to be able to enjoy yourself with people that you’re sweating with and working these long, crazy hours with.”
One week later, the parade came and went. The champagne bottles are all empty now, but Buchnat’s job isn’t finished yet. He is still logging video from the season, and he is helping prepare content to be used at the team’s award show coming up.
However, once that is finished, Buchnat’s work is complete. He plans on moving temporarily back home to Illinois, where he will figure out his next move, which he hopes will be in sports.
But first, he wants to rest.
“I don’t currently have anything planned,” Buchnat said about future opportunities. “The only thing that I’m planning to do is take a very nice nap.”