TAMPA, Fla. -- High above Tampa Stadium, in a grim counterpoint to children cavorting on the field in a pre-game extravaganza, anti-terrorist police in camouflage and black uniforms patrolled the roof.
In the twilight before the game, Super Bowl XXV seemed secured.
Yet the elaborate precautions stemming from the Persian Gulf war were cut back an hour before game-time because of the bottlenecks created by extra-cautious screening of each fan.
A huge force of yellow-jacketed young men and women used hand-held metal detectors to check every person coming in.
"What happened was that their bags were checked when they entered a fenced-off area and then again when they had to show their tickets," said Steve Cole, a spokesman for the Tampa police.
"That slowed people down. Finally, we opened up additional gates and we told them, 'Check them and let them in.' People were waiting 30 to 45 minutes."
Cole said there were no threats received, and no guns or other weapons were found.
Three and a half hours before game time, the guards were taking up to a minute to clear some people.
When a car pulled up to the press entrance, the occupants were asked to get out. "Pop the trunk and hood," the driver was told.
Several guards examined the engine and the trunk while another ran his hands under the fenders, searching for explosive devices.
Still, only about 500 cars were permitted. There were, however, 73,813 fans.
"It's just taking too long," a Tampa police officer said an hour before the game. "They'd never get the crowd in on time, so they just stopped being as thorough with the metal detectors.
Until then, some people waited on line for about 30 minutes. But the guards started to move the "wands" more quickly.
And the searches of the bags became more perfunctory. Forty minutes before the game, the stadium was virtually filled.
"It took me a good 45 minutes to get from the hospitality tent to the gate," said Reggie Williams, a former Cincinnati Bengals linebacker and now general manager of the New York Knights of the new World League of American Football.
Two men from New York, standing next to each other, had contrasting experiences. Although each was searched with a metal detector, one was asked to open his bag and the other wasn't.
Super Bowls always have a huge behind-the-scenes security force. This was not the first time explosives-sniffing dogs have been used, but the public and private security force of 1,700 exceeded anything at a previous Super Bowl.
Perhaps because of the police, or simply because things were quiet, it seemed like business as usual to Glenn Eickhoff, supervisor of the Budweiser Clydesdale horses.
"This is a piece of cake compared to Mardi Gras," he said.
At the Budweiser compound, guests were asked to show blue-ribbon wrist bands. No wrist band, no free beer.
As the lines started to swell, there seemed to be little shoving or complaining.
"I felt like a sardine," said Bonnie Ciardi of Tampa.
"On the other hand," said her companion, Jim Starks, "we made lots of new friends."
"I haven't seen anyone who was annoyed," said one fan, while another complained that "the ABC people came in and the officers parted the crowd for them."
Georgia Cogwell, a ticket-taker since the stadium opened in 1976, described the crowd as "beautiful."
The Giants had an uneventful trip getting in. They had a siren-blaring, light-flashing police-car escort from front and back.
They were joined on the team buses by two private security guards.
"The most exciting thing that happened was that a car came down the road from a local strip joint and the people inside started to advertise," Cole said.
The Super Bowl games that were undecided until the final minute:
* Super Bowl V -- Jim O'Brien kicked a 32-yard field goal with five seconds remaining to give the Baltimore Colts a 16-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
* Super Bowl X -- Glen Edwards intercepted a pass from Roger Staubach on third-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 38 on the final play of the game to preserve a 21-17 victory over the Cowboys.
* Super Bowl XIII -- Rocky Bleier recovered an onside kick with 22 seconds left to preserve Pittsburgh's 35-31 victory over the Cowboys.
* Super Bowl XXIII -- Joe Montana threw a 10-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left to give the San Francisco 49ers a 20-16 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
* Super Bowl XXV -- Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field-goal try with four seconds left, preserving the New York Giants' 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills.