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Welcome to Tampa; sell us your tickets

As fans flood the airport on the way into town, they hold onto their tickets and consider their surroundings.

[Times photo: Ken Helle]
Larry Romyns of Newton, N.J., waits for his luggage at Tampa International Airport Thursday afternoon. He says he has been a Giants fan for 40 years and wanted to see them in the big game.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD and SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 26, 2001


TAMPA -- As they poured off planes into Tampa International Airport on Thursday, even before they could claim their luggage, holders of tickets for Super Bowl XXXV were besieged by offers to part with them.

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"We're like, it's not worth it," said John Hosta, 41, who flew in from Chicago with his 12-year-old son, Josh. He said they got an offer for their pair, which his son won in an essay contest, for $5,000.

"Say I sold them for five grand. I'd look back, and what would the five grand be worth to me?" said Hosta, standing at the airport's NFL merchandise stand. "What's really cool is to say, "I got something, and I was there."'


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As the city works itself into an increasingly frenzied Super Bowl froth, with the big game only two days away, the airport has become, predictably, one of the places its presence is most vivid. Gale Sayers, former star running back for the Chicago Bears, was autographing photos there Thursday. Squads of volunteers were greeting people and handing out programs. A local rap group called Uptown rapped about football.

The festive mood suited Cincinnati police officer Joy Ludgatis, 38, who had flown in for the game, just fine. "The Super Bowl is such a big part of America," Ludgatis said. "I think the Super Bowl should be hyped up. You come in and there's a rap group. If you came and you didn't see anything, it would be just like going anywhere else."

For Pete Kakel and his wife, Lois, Ravens fans just in from Baltimore, the game had big stakes. It was a kind of redemption for their hometown, which had endured for more than a decade without the NFL before the Ravens came to town.

"It's a once in a lifetime thing," he said.

His wife agreed, though she wasn't sure how much she would enjoy the tumult surrounding the game. "It's great to do it once," she said. "I'm not sure we'd want to do it again. We'll see."

On the hunt for tickets were Debbie Carter and boyfriend Mike Messerian, Giants fans who decided to fly in from New York and take their chances. "I'll get 'em, I'll get 'em," Messerian said. "The question is how much I want to spend."

"We love the Super Bowls," Carter said. "It's something we do. We get a ticket every year."

In Orlando, where hotels are filling up with people who couldn't book a room in Tampa, John and Heather Bailey were thanking their lucky stars to be 70 miles east of the hubbub. They awoke to headlines in their local newspaper, The Gazette of Montreal, proclaiming Tampa a city of sin where even the law can't keep nude dancers 6 feet away from patrons.

"It was right there on the front page of the sports section and I thought, "Tampa must be a dangerous place,"' said Heather Bailey, a 49-year-old housewife.

Her husband suspected hyperbolic journalism. But just the same, he said, one day in Tampa for the big game will suffice.

"Who knows, maybe it is that bad," said John Bailey, 49, a marketing executive with Molson Inc. whose company, like dozens of others, was footing the bill for an Orlando weekend of golf and tennis, with a detour to Tampa for the Super Bowl. "If so, we're better off (in Orlando)."

Kathy and George Scherer of Mahwah, N.J., were among the early arrivers the Marriott Orlando World Center. Thursday afternoon, they had few gripes about being a hour away from the Super Bowl epicenter.

"I left the kids with my parents and the sun is shining and Tampa is just a bus ride," said George Scherer, a roads department employee clad in a Giants hat and a Super Bowl shirt from his visit to the Atlanta bowl last year.

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