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Tampa scores before game

Reviews leading up to game day have been favorable, an improvement over Tampa's last tour as Super Bowl host.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001


TAMPA -- At the end of it all -- the parties, the parade, the banner-hanging, the charity events, the tsunamis of hype -- there comes today's contribution to Super Bowl week: 60 fleeting minutes of football.

However the matchup between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens unfolds, Tampa will have survived a stretch in the world spotlight like no one can remember. The last time the game came to town, in 1991, worries about the Persian Gulf War muted the carnival atmosphere, and the cancellation of the Gasparilla parade after a racial controversy left sourness.

Not so, this time. As they gear up for game day, local organizers seem barely able to contain their giddiness. How have things gone? Smooth, they say. Attendance at NFL-related events is good, and -- apart from massive traffic snarls -- nothing huge has gone wrong.

"I am amazed that you can have a project this large and not have something major fall through," said Barbara Casey, spokeswoman for the Tampa Sports Authority, which runs Raymond James Stadium. "Definitely it has gotten so much larger. It's so all-encompassing. I've never, at the other Super Bowls, seen this much traffic or interest at the stadium."

"Truly, after last year in the ice in Atlanta, we look great," said Casey, referring to Super Bowl XXXIV.

The weather has held up, too. Dick Fletcher, chief meteorologist for WTSP-Ch. 10, said game-time temperature is expected to be 64 degrees with a light wind, and will drop to about 59 by midnight.

Jim Steeg, the NFL's vice president of special events, said game day is the real test. "Everybody seems to be happy, but (today) is the day," Steeg said. "This is the one time that 70,000 people come at you at once."

The game has given Tampa an unprecedented chance to advertise its charms to tourists and would-be investors, but the city is also auditioning for the NFL in hopes of drawing future Super Bowls. In the months to come, Steeg said, the NFL will evaluate fan mail and owners' assessments to determine how the city held up.

Steeg said the atmosphere surrounding the game has proven "dramatically different" from the 1991 game, played at Tampa Stadium under high security. Saddam Hussein is not blighting the fun this time around, for one thing, and game day events have boomed, requiring more room for equipment storage and setup.

"I'm not sure we could play this game now in the old stadium," he said.

For Krista Soroka, director of special events for the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Task Force, game day is the reward for interminable workdays. "The game just becomes the time to sit back and enjoy the entertainment and look back on the last week and say, "That was all worth it,' " she said.

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