Maricopa resident and United Airlines pilot Craig Puleio got to fly home the charter flight for the Denver Broncos after their recent victory in Super Bowl 50. Before the plane took off, he got a chance to pose with the Vince Lombardi trophy.
MARICOPA — He may not have been on the field for Super Bowl 50, but Maricopa resident Craig Puleio got an up-close experience with the Vince Lombardi trophy just hours after the Denver Broncos won the NFL’s biggest game.
Puleio, a pilot for United Airlines, was the charter pilot for the team after the game, taking them from San Jose, California, back home to Denver. Normally a pilot who flies to and from Europe from the U.S. for United, Puleio put in to fly the charter flight for the Broncos and found out he was selected shortly before the big game.
He described a scene of intense security, which included a thorough sweep of the plane by FBI agents, before the team — trophy in tow — boarded the aircraft.
“Once we got everything squared away, one of the players came up to the cockpit and asked if we wanted to see the Lombardi Trophy,” Puleio said.
He didn’t just get to see it but also hold it and get a picture with it in the cockpit.
“Just hours before, this was the trophy Peyton Manning was hoisting in front of millions of people watching,” Puleio said.
He made the most of the experience, talking with Broncos team President and General Manager John Elway as well as head coach Gary Kubiak for a few minutes. Company rules prevented him from taking any photographs with the players or staff or getting autographs from them, but just the experience alone was extremely satisfying, he said.
Puleio, a pilot for 11 years who is a native of New Jersey and a lifelong New York Giants fan, said he began rooting hard for the Broncos in the Super Bowl once he found out he’d be flying their plane home. He said it certainly beat flying home the Panthers after Denver beat Carolina 24-10 in the upset.
“It was intense,” he said of the trip. “Everyone was just happier than happy.”
The trip ended with more pomp and circumstance at Denver International Airport, where fire trucks were on hand to fire water cannons over the plane in salute to the returning victors.