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Big crowds, big spenders

Super Bowl XXXV proved to be a battle of bucks with fans shelling out thousands each for tickets and area residents trying to cash in on the game.


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 29, 2001

TAMPA -- Baltimore Ravens fan Mike Bullard wanted a ticket to the biggest show in town. He fanned out 20 $100 bills in his left hand and another 20 in his right.

"I need a ticket," he yelled within sight of Raymond James Stadium. "And I've got the dough."

Five minutes later, Bullard walked away with his prize in one hand, a smile on his face and $2,900 less in his pocket.

Capitalism was the game outside Raymond James Stadium before the Super Bowl on Sunday, greenbacks the ticket to play.

Longtime Tampa fans noticed the difference between Sunday's spending spree and the more subdued scene outside the stadium for Super Bowl XXV in 1991. Back then, the Gulf War was on, and the country was struggling through a recession. Peace and nine years of prosperity loosened the purse strings. Conspicuous consumption was in.

Nattily dressed men and women stepped from hundreds of stretch limos pulled up outside the stadium. Wads of cash were flashed without a thought. Many, like Bullard, were willing to part with the equivalent of a few mortgage payments to get into the stadium for the four-hour game.

"The money floating around here is incredible," said Himes Avenue resident Rhonda Gretchen. "We didn't see that the last time."

For a piece of the action, car ports were temporarily turned into kitchens to put out $5 burgers and crab cakes. One guy set up a grill in a shopping cart and wheeled around selling hot dogs for $1. Vendors hawked T-shirts, three for $20. Spectators could get their faces painted team colors for a small donation. One woman did a steady business kneading the knots out of the backs of tired revelers at $15 a pop.

Not all the would-be entrepreneurs made out so well.

The three-card monty and shell game players on Himes were shooed away several times. Later, police made several gambling arrests. Some of the vendors said Ravens gear wasn't selling so well, especially compared to Giants merchandise.

And homeowners who dreamed of big paydays for renting out parking spaces came up short. Apparently, too many homeowners had the same idea, even those who don't normally rent out spaces for Buccaneers' games.

Even with thousands of ticketless people flocking to the area to soak up the atmosphere, spaces for $10 to $40 were available within three blocks of the stadium minutes before kickoff.

"Bust city this year," said Jason Griffin, who sat in his half-full lot on Lincoln Street.

If all the consumerism became too much, the corner of Tampa Bay Boulevard and Himes Avenue provided a pitch of a different sort.

A chorus of boos and several choice words greeted Rudi Lopez as he urged film director Spike Lee, who was shooting footage outside the stadium, to find Jesus and "do the right thing."

"I know you are excited about the Giants being in town,"Lopez bellowed into a bullhorn at a crowd of blue-shirted New York fans. "But are you excited about Jesus? Worship Jesus not the Giants."

A stone's throw away, an ad hoc speakers' forum cropped up. Right-to-life activists debated partial-birth abortion. Others wanted the federal government out of their lives.

Bill Craig of Rye, N.Y., ranted about the rights of Vietnam vets still listed as missing in action. He wondered allowed about what the nations' new president -- "Another stinkin' draft dodger" -- would do about the problem.

"Listen up folks, they could be your sons, your fathers," he said. "By the way, go Giants!"

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