How Puka Nacua helped send a Rams fan and Air Force veteran to the Super Bowl

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua, center, poses for a photo with Rams fans Michael Grabow, left, and Jim Sullivan, right, at the USAA lounge inside the Super Bowl Experience at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. Sullivan, an Air Force veteran, was gifted a trip to the Super Bowl through USAA and brought Grabow, also an Air Force veteran, with him to attend the Super Bowl.

LAS VEGAS — Jim Sullivan is a big fan of the Los Angeles Rams and the team’s rookie wide receiving sensation, Puka Nacua.

It’s fitting, then, that Sullivan, an Air Force veteran, was gifted a trip to the Super Bowl and met Nacua in the process.

Sullivan will be in Allegiant Stadium on Sunday (4:30 p.m. MST, CBS) when the Kansas City Chiefs take on the San Francisco 49ers in the 2024 Super Bowl.

No, his beloved Rams won’t be there, but Sullivan is ecstatic nonetheless.

Nacua teamed up with USAA and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association of America (NCOA) to gift Sullivan and his friend Michael Grabow the Super Bowl trip.

“I have two family members ... who were in the National Guard as well, so when the opportunity arose that I was presented, I jumped on it as fast as I could,” Nacua told reporters on Saturday, minutes before meeting Sullivan and Grabow for the first time.

“That’s a huge honor for me to be able to honor the people who serve our country that allowed me to do what I love to do, play this game of football, so I was super excited.”

It’s something USAA has been coordinating with other players around the league as well.

“When we were notified — it started last November, our organization, the Non-Commissioned Officers Association, notified me that I was selected from the NCOA to go forward through the USAA vetting process, if you will,” Sullivan told the Deseret News in an exclusive interview on Thursday.

“And I didn’t hear anything for several weeks, then finally was about three weeks ago when USAA called me, set up a Webex and that’s when they shared the news that I was selected.”

The timing of finding out he was heading to the Super Bowl helped soften the blow when the Rams lost to the Detroit Lions in the wild-card playoffs.

“His name’s Gino, this was the Wednesday after the Rams were eliminated by Detroit and he opened the conversation with, ‘Jim, sorry the Rams aren’t gonna be in the Super Bowl,’” Sullivan recalled.

“But then he went through the whole thing and says something like you’re gonna be there anyway, type of a thing, and that was just incredible.”

After Nacua participated in a Q&A session at the USAA lounge inside the Super Bowl Experience at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Sullivan and Grabow got their chance to personally shake his hand and thank him for his part in making their Super Bowl trip happen.

Sullivan, who now lives in Sacramento, served in the United States Air Force for 23 years, retiring at the rank of chief master sergeant.

During his service, he was stationed throughout the U.S., as well as in Greece and Germany, and worked supporting supply and logistics for the Air Force.

Grabow, like Sullivan, is a fellow Air Force veteran who retired at the rank of master sergeant.

The pair have developed a passion for the Rams, traveling to training camp and becoming season ticket holders when the franchise moved to their current home in SoFi Stadium.

“We both retired out of McClellan Air Force Base from the Air Force here in Sacramento. He and I have been friends for about 30 years. We’ve both been in our NCOA organization for 30 years and we’ve actually been season tickets for the Rams since they went to SoFi,” Sullivan said.

“So when they came back from St. Louis, he and I went to several games a year in the Coliseum, and then they were moving to SoFi, and we said, ‘You know what, let’s just throw down. Let’s just go get the tickets,’ so we did that.”

Their fandom for Nacua began in earnest with one of those training camp trips.

“We did go down this year, Puka was down there — UC Irvine is where Rams training camp is. We watched him for several hours, and the whole drive home, about six hours, he was pretty much the topic of conversation because he was just incredible,” Sullivan said.

“And we were talking about how excited we were because now (Matthew) Stafford’s healthy, Puka’s coming in and he’s just incredible.”

In addition to attending Sunday’s Super Bowl, the visit for Sullivan and Grabow includes stopping by the USAA’s lounge at the Super Bowl Experience, where the pair will have the opportunity to meet other NFL players such as Jimmy Garoppolo, TJ Watt, Tua Tagovailoa, CJ Stroud and Bijan Robinson, as well as former star tight end Rob Gronkowski.


“We take off out of Sacramento (Friday) at 8 o’clock, we get in Vegas about 9:20ish. We’ll check into the Bellagio is where they’ve got us set up as part of this package, and then at 3 o’clock is when what they call the Super Bowl Experience and the USAA lounge,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan is no stranger to meeting NFL players, but he’s relishing the opportunity to do so again.

One of the former Rams stars he met and had sign a trading card was the late Merlin Olsen, the Hall of Fame defensive tackle who was born in Logan.

“I was stationed for four years in Southern California and, of course, that’s when the Rams were playing in Anaheim,” Sullivan said.

“Obviously, Merlin was retired at that time when he was at a function I went to and that’s when he signed that one for me. That’s pretty cool.”

Sullivan even recognized a former NFL star and snapped a picture a few years back.

“Eric Dickerson, four years ago, I went to watch the Rams in Colorado, in Denver, and Eric Dickerson was walking through the parking lot, kind of incognito, he had a hoodie on and I’m the one that stopped them,” Sullivan said.

“And I said, ‘Eric, you’re not going to slide through here that easy,’ and he started laughing and he says, ‘You want a picture, huh?’ And I did. And of course, then people started gathering around kinda, you know, so he ended up probably taking 50 pictures. Those things are kind of cool, you know?”

Sullivan is looking forward to the entire trip and what the Rams can accomplish next season after Nacua broke several rookie NFL records, including receptions (105) and receiving yards (1,486) as a first-year player.

“The whole thing wouldn’t have happened without our Non-Commissioned Officers Association and our relationship with USAA. That’s a huge thanks to them. Then of course, Puka himself and I’ll personally thank him on Saturday when I see him. That’ll be pretty cool,” Sullivan said.

“... It’s gonna be incredible, and like I say, just looking forward, I’m already watching things, people predicting the Rams to have another good year, and (Puka) will be a big part of it, obviously.”