Frankie Morales has been traveling through Europe this month celebrating his 30th birthday. He mingled with the locals in Ireland, toured Amsterdam, and indulged in all the various tastes of Paris.
Normally, it would be a trip of a lifetime for Morales. But it pales in comparison to what he did earlier in February: he and his girlfriend McKenna Crilley spent the Saturday night before Super Bowl LI in a specially customized Courtyard Marriott room in NRG Stadium in Houston.
"It's great to be here in Europe," said Morales from his hotel in Paris. "But you see all the people taking their pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower. Anybody can do that. We're the only ones who got to sleep in the Super Bowl stadium the night before the game. Nothing can top that. That's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Morales still is buzzing ever since he won Courtyard's Super Bowl Sleepover contest. Throughout the season, thousands of fans submitted photos showing their passion for their favorite NFL team. As the winner, Morales, a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan, won the ultimate slumber party at the Super Bowl. It included being greeted by former Dallas great Daryl Johnson upon his arrival on Saturday night and being served breakfast in bed by Cowboys tight end Jason Witten the following morning.
Courtyard created a custom-made room in one of the suites at NRG Stadium. The view was truly unique, overlooking the field that would grip America's attention on Super Bowl Sunday
The campaign is designed to highlight Courtyard's association with the NFL. The contest was such a success at Super Bowl 50, Courtyard was inspired to do it again.
"As the official hotel of the NFL, we want to be the brand that delivers exclusive experiences for ambitious fans," said Callette Nielson, vice president and global brand manager for Courtyard. "The number of fans entering the contest grew this year. We were really pleased that so many people wanted to have this experience."
"I didn't know I had that much stuff," said Morales, who included smaller photos of him attending various Cowboys games. "I was thinking, 'Man, I have a problem.'"
"Frankie's photo took the sleepover concept to another level," Nielsen said. "It felt so authentic. From talking to him, without a doubt he was the most passionate NFL fan in the building during the Super Bowl."
Morales' adventure began when he learned of his victory in an unconventional way. Thinking he was going to a local club on a Saturday night in January, he walked into a room that included his friends and former NFL receiver Miles Austin, who informed him he won the contest.
"I'm like, 'What is Miles Austin doing here?'" Morales said.
Then Saturday afternoon, they were taken to NRG Stadium and ushered to their room. Another surprise awaited him.
"When we opened the door, there was Daryl Johnson," Morales said. "It was mind blowing."
Nielsen said it took months of logistics to work with the NFL in order to transform the suite into a signature Courtyard room. The view, though, was atypical. From his room, Morales could see the NFL Network doing their shows and workers engaged in last-minute preparations to the field.
Then it felt even more surreal, he said, around midnight when everyone left for the night.
"They kept the lights on in the stadium, but it was completely empty," Morales said. "There was an eerie quiet. You could hear a pin drop. It was a strange feeling because you knew tomorrow you wouldn't be able to hear a thing in here."
Morales and Grilley put on their special Courtyard pajamas and tried to get a few hours of sleep. But it was most to no avail.
"The adrenaline was pumping," he said. "You kept wondering what was going to happen next."
Activity in the stadium started again around 6 a.m on Super Bowl Sunday. Shortly after 7, there was a knock on their door. Now it isn't every day you get served breakfast in bed by Whitten, one of Morales' favorite players.
"I'm going, 'What's happening?'" Morales said. "He's so humble. He's one of the coolest guys I've ever met."
The couple left after breakfast. The room then was quickly transformed back into a suite for Marriott's guests later in the day. Meanwhile, Morales and Grilley returned to the stadium to watch the game from their seats at the 45-yard line behind the New England bench.
From Courtyard's perspective, Nielsen called Morales "a terrific winner." He is one of the reasons why Nielsen said Courtyard will do the contest again next year.
Morales savored every minute, calling his trip "one crazy experience."