With an eye on war, NFL struggles to set security in Tampa

January 24, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

TAMPA,FLA. — TAMPA, Fla. -- National Football League officials, warily keeping one eye on the war in the Persian Gulf and the other on security at Tampa Stadium, said this has been their most difficult Super Bowl as they braced for the influx of fans starting today.

Because most hotel reservations for Super Bowl weekend are for a minimum of four days, the majority of the fans will start arriving today, but they won't find the festive atmosphere that has been associated with the first 24 Super Bowls.

Not only can't the league guarantee the game even will be played, but the emphasis also will be much more on security than on parties.

"It has been the most difficult [Super Bowl], no question about it. As the game approaches, we are still sensitive to the possibility of changes, depending on what happens in the Persian Gulf," said Don Weiss, the league's director of planning, who has been involved in theproduction of all 25 Super Bowls.

It's highly unlikely the game actually would be postponed, but the possibility can't be ruled out until Sunday. The kickoff could be delayed for a war update on ABC-TV, and the length of the timeouts could be increased for updates.

"We will take events in the Middle East into account up until kickoff," said Joe Browne, the league's vice president for communications and development.

Once the game starts, it will be up to ABC News to decide whether to break away from the game.

Meanwhile, there is unprecedented security for the game.

"Security has surely been an overriding concern, but Bob Smith [Tampa public safety administrator] and his coalition, along with the FBI here, are on top of everything and [are] very, very impressive," Weiss said.

Yesterday, in the latest security directive from Smith, the Federal Aviation Authority's regional office in Atlanta notified the FBI that there will be a ban on all air traffic up to 3,000 feet, except for takeoffs and landings, within five miles of Tampa International Airport from noon until midnight on Super Bowl Sunday, including ABC's blimp.

Smith also added beepers to the list of items that have been banned from the Super Bowl, a list that already included radios, television sets and cameras.

All the fans will be inspected by hand-held metal detectors that are so sensitive they can detect a hatpin in someone's clothes from an inch away.

The result may be long lines going into the stadium. When the members of the media were screened by the detectors Tuesday TTC while going into Tampa Stadium for photo day, the left knee of Orlando Sentinel writer Jerry Greene kept setting off the detector.

Greene had to roll up his pant leg so a guard could examine his knee before he was allowed to enter.

Former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann also set off the detector because a rod had been inserted in his leg after Lawrence Taylor broke it in 1985.

Damon Zumwalt, the president of Contemporary Services, a Los Angeles company hired to handle the detectors, said his employees are trained to detect the difference between noises from keys and from a weapon.

In addition:

* There will be dogs sniffing for explosives and bomb experts on hand, but Smith said that is normal for a Super Bowl. The metal detectors are a first.

* Concrete barriers have been installed to prevent vehicles from crashing inside and a six-foot chain-link fence has been installed aroundthe stadium to add another perimeter.

* The trunk of every car parking outside the stadium will be examined.

* The employees working at the stadium this week must wear color-coded bracelets with the colors restricting access to certain days.

When Smith was asked if all the security was Tampa's idea or the league's, he said it was a "collective decision."

Greg Aiello, an NFL spokesman, said, "We're just taking every precaution the professionals think is necessary."

Smith declined to say how much the extra security is costing or whether Tampa or the league is paying for it.

There is great sensitivity to security in the Tampa area because the U.S. Central Command, operational headquarters for U.S. military activities in the gulf, is based at MacDill Air Force Base.

Despite all the concern, Smith said there have been no credible threats made relating to the game.

You better, you better, you bet

The Super Bowl is a celebration of many things American, among them betting. Especially betting that, to the uninitiated, might seem a little silly.

So far, there are no reports of heavy action on the first hamstring pull proposition, though many bettors are taking the over on the instant-replay timing. Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy opened at 4-1 to catch a cold from that Gatorade dousing he got last week, but some big money from a pharmacists' convention in Las Vegas has lowered the odds to 3-2.

OK, there aren't really any propositions on hamstrings, instant replay and colds -- at least we don't think so. But here are some other oddities -- as supplied by Keith Glantz and Russell Culver of Sports Features Syndicate:

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