The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Mike's Super Bowl XLIII Experience: Part 1

On Sunday I attended my very first Super Bowl (as you know if you've been reading the recent entries). While the Cardinals lost, it was a heck of an experience. Before the details start to get fuzzy for me, I thought I should write down the highlights. So that's what this is. At first I thought I could bang it all out in one sitting, but there's a lot. This is the first part. It doesn't deal with any of the on-the-field stuff. Just the experience of getting to and from the stadium and what it was like for me aside from the game.

While I haven't been to too many major sporting events, I think I've been to my fair share. I've been to the World Series, the BCS Championship game, other bowl games that were de-facto championship games, the NLCS (in 1987, 1997, and 2003), the NLDS, and plenty of playoff games (NFL and mostly NBA). But none of those compare to the Super Bowl.

Laura and I left for the stadium around 1:15. Yes, more than 5 hours before kick off. And we did this under the assumption that we wouldn't be able to tailgate in our assigned parking lot.

Traffic on the way to the stadium wasn't bad. We made our way smoothly. What was odd were the road closures and freeway exits. Signs were posted on the freeway indicating which exit to take (depending on the color code for your assigned parking lot). Fortunately this was all indicated on our parking pass. Still, it was odd to see standard street signs covered up (apparently to hide the actual location of Raymond James Stadium).

All told we probably had to go 7 – 10 extra miles to arrive at our assigned parking lot. Once we arrived we found that we could have tailgated if we had wanted (but we didn't have any supplies, since we were informed that we couldn't). We didn't though as the lot was crawling with Steelers fans.

Also, despite being told that parking would be limited to fans with game tickets, we found no check point for that. This was the lone hole in security that we saw during the day.

So we left the car and headed towards the stadium, hoping to visit the NFL Experience again, as we optimistically hoped that the store would be restocked with Cardinals gear.

Approaching the stadium was no easy task. The four streets that surround the perimeter of the stadium (and/or its parking lots) were blocked. There were fences and concrete barracades everywhere. Surprisingly, fans were not allowed to walk down the blocked off streets. Instead we were only allowed to cross at designated barriers. This made for very lengthy walks to and from the stadium (not to worry though – NFL VIPs, like Mike Singletary – who we saw, received escorts in golf carts; I'm not sure what happened to folks in wheelchairs or who were otherwise disabled).

Eventually we made it near the stadium (near the pirate ship end) and received conflicting information as to whether we could walk through the stadium to the NFL Experience. Since we weren't sure, we figured we'd walk around the stadium and enter through the NFL Experience.

I'd talk about the state of the port-a-potties we encountered, but that would make me throw up in my mouth... a lot. It was disgusting. You'd think that they could bring in nicer set ups like you see at golf tournaments and tennis tournaments. I know that's a little frou-frou, but this is a high priced event and there are long lines everywhere. They could provide decent bathroom facilities. End of rant on that...

Back to the journey to the stadium: by this point we'd already been approached by half a dozen "Christians" who were either talking over a loudspeaker, handing us pamphlets or cards, or who wanted to talk to us about something. Some folks even sent their children up to us to try to hand us propaganda. I've seen this sort of thing at other events, but nothing was at the level of the Super Bowl. I felt bad for the kids, they seemed to be brain washed – and they were clearly forced by their parents to approach us.

Side note: I took the bait from one of these folks and took a business sized "trivia" card from one of these folks. He claimed the questions were of Cardinals trivia. They were – at least the first four questions. The fifth said, "What do the Arizona Cardinals, you, and everyone else have in common?" The answer was, of course, death. From there it went into a lengthy religious script…

On a funnier note, one random guy standing in the street "congratulated" Laura and I on being fans of the first baseball team to reach the Super Bowl. That cracked me up for whatever reason. Maybe it was because the guy could have been genuine.

To reach the NFL Experience we had to walk around literally half of the stadium. For most of the walk we were on the far side (relative to the stadium) of Dale Mabry, which is a main thorough fare in Tampa. Take whatever the most recognizable, highly trafficked street is in your area (other than a freeway) and imagine it as Dale Mabry. Now shut it down for a day and a half. That's what was happening in Tampa on Super Sunday.

Eventually we reached the line for the NFL Experience. While you had to have a ticket to the game to enter the NFL Experience on game day, the line was still exceptionally long. To get into the NFL Experience you had to go through the full security check (which thankfully we didn't have to go through again to get into the game as we stayed in the secure area at this point).

The queue for security was difficult to describe. It was a long winding maze that took a long time to get through (I wish I had timed it). While a large truck was brought in with a video board that was playing a live feed of NFL network, you could only see it half the time you were in line. The rest of the time you were forced to tune out the preachers and to avoid taking their handouts.

Eventually we walked inside of a fenced area, but the queue continued. Now there were large dumpsters around us. Apparently it was time to dispose of our water bottles, food, and other contraband. Keep in mind that contraband includes camera cases, bags, and purses larger than a certain size. Fortunately we were aware of the restrictions. Many folks apparently weren't. There were hundreds of nice camera cases, bags, and purses discarded in the pre-security check area. Had someone been willing to walk an armful back to their car, they could have made a small fortune by reselling the items later (probably enough to pay for their tickets). We saw Coach purses, Nikon camera bags, and dozens of other high quality things.

To no surprise, the NFL somehow managed to get people to discard these things in an area where folks without a ticket couldn't get. I doubt the security folks working the area had the opportunity to claim the discarded goods (to take home or to sell). Instead my (cynical) guess is that the NFL takes the merchandise and donates it or sells it on their own for a profit.

After discarding things, it's on to the security check. Men and women are separated and patted down. There seemed to be profiling going on here (which worked to our benefit, I suppose). Laura's patter-downer noticed something "hard" in Laura's sweatshirt… when Laura said it was a hat and scarf she was allowed to pass through (without showing the hat or scarf). After that we were allowed to meet back up and go through the metal detectors together. This was pretty much like at the airport, except that we were able to keep our shoes on. I somehow set off the metal detector, but they let me through without further investigation (I'm still not sure if that made me feel safe or not).

Finally we were through to the point where someone was prepared to scan our tickets. Now the moment of truth hit me: had we bought counterfeit tickets? While the guy we bought from looked like a reputable ticket broker, there was no way to be sure. And the ticket pick-up process was an experience in itself (probably worthy of it's own story on another day). We wouldn't know until the guy scanned our tickets… fortunately there was no surprise. We were in.

So here we are, hours before kick off still (we left plenty of time just so that we wouldn't be late). The process was by no means fast, but it didn't take as much time as we'd feared either.

We had time for a bite to eat, so we went to one of the stands near the video boards at the NFL Experience. Amazingly, they didn't have things like hot dogs and corn dogs ready. Why set up booths and let thousands of people inside and not have food to sell? Were they hoping to sell food on Monday, after everyone left town?

Anyway, we settled on something to share. A sandwhich, soda, and bag of chips set us back $21. Nice. And the soda was warm.

From there we went to the NFL Experience store. When we visited the day before (taking in the whole NFL Experience with friends) we were disappointed in the available selection of Cardinals gear. While Seahawks and Falcons gear was readily available, there was hardly any Cardinals gear – Super Bowl or otherwise.

That was unfortunate, as I was prepared to spend practically every dollar I have to get anything in red with Cardinals on it.

That was Saturday. Like with all things on Sunday, we started with hope. And we were rewarded… kind of. There were a few new things – like jerseys. The men's jerseys were the Cardinals road jerseys (white with red sleeves). No Super Bowl patches on them (which was correct – since the Cards Super Bowl jerseys were red). I thought it was odd that there were only four jerseys (Warner, Fitzgerald, and Boldin were givens) and that the fourth one was Tim Hightower. I really like Tim Hightower and I think he has a great future ahead of him, but I was surprised to see his jersey.

Laura considered a women's jersey, but they were white on white (on red anywhere other than the numbers and letters – which were in the correct font). They pretty much looked like practice jerseys. There were a few hats, but they were all crappy. So we passed.

We walked through the NFL Experience a little bit and took some pictures. We saw Dan Patrick in the NBC booth and took a last look at the Lombardi trophy (or a facsimile of it – I'm really not sure). After meandering a little more, we started to make our way to the stadium.

As we did that, we realized it was getting chilly and we weren't sure that we'd be warm enough after the sun went down. So we started scoping out souvenir stands. While there wasn't much Cardinals merchandise to be had, there were NFC Champs blankets at nearly every souvenir stand. I guess I have to give the NFL credit for knowing that Cardinals fans don't do well when the weather gets even slightly cool. So we scooped up a blanket for $65. All things considered, that was a relative bargain.

After that we went to grab a bite to eat. That was when we ran into MC Hammer. Seriously. This was before his commercial for Cash4Gold (or whatever) aired. Hammer was a really nice guy. He took a picture with Laura and talked to us for a minute.

At this point it had been well over two hours since we left the car and it was an hour and a half or so (maybe a little bit more) until kick off. So were nowhere near the game having started and I've already written over 1,700 words. Concise I am not.

So let's skip ahead to the pre-game stuff. I was overwhelmed by Faith Hill's rendition of "God Bless America" and Jennifer Hudson's singing of the national anthem. Finding out later that both were lipsyncing was a huge disappointment. As soon as Hudson finished, the (unannounced, but expected, but forgotten at the moment because the song was so good) flyover took place. The Thunderbirds were very cool (and we walked down the ramp with them after the game).

During the game Kim Kardashian's mom stood in front of our seats and taped a segment for Enetertainment Tonight (or some program like that). Kim's sister was there too (the one that doesn't look like a horse). They were both nice (Laura had a conversation with both of them, of course, and took a picture).

Meeting MC Hammer and some of the Kardashians was interesting to me. Before the game Laura and I wondered what the crowd would be like. Given how many celebrities and athletes seem to be in town pre-Super Bowl, I figured we'd run into some famous people. They can't all sit in luxury boxes. So we met three celebrities (pseudo celebrities at least). If we'd walked around the concourse a little more my guess is that we would have seen a few more.

Getting back to our car was not a problem, although the religious freaks were waiting for us -- with their microphones still blaring. I should have asked those religious freaks if Larry Fitzgerald was god or a god and if so why he didn't have his team win the game. People tried to say things like that to these zealots, but they would respond with something like, "You sir are filled with spirits -- and not the Holy Spirit -- sober up and come back to talk to me..." Which was pretty funny and disturbing at the same time.

Once we got to the car though, it was a mess. We pulled out of our space, started to merge into traffic, and then... stopped... for almost two hours. By the time we started moving there was no traffic on the roads, so we got back to the place we were staying pretty fast. But it was a mess. I've never seen anything like it.

So that's the recap of my gameday non-game Super Bowl experience. While it's long, believe it or not I left out a lot of the fun.

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