Off-field excess permanent part of game plan

January 25, 1998|By JOHN STEADMAN

SAN DIEGO -- No event in modern history, or maybe even going back to when the Romans were promoting live scrimmages with lions, offers the gaudy overkill of the Super Bowl. Records continue to be set for -- and here's the only description that fits -- intoxicating excessiveness.

The Super Bowl is all about taking a reasonably good idea, playing a football game, and beating it into the ground. But America is enthralled with what it sees. No complaints, accusations or protests. Instead, universal acceptance. Pile high the hoopla. There can never be enough; an insatiable desire for more.

At last count, 3,504 sportswriters, broadcasters and network technicians, a veritable mob scene, have credentials that permit them to cover the ultimate of American sports shows. It'll be televised into 187 countries, in 17 languages and for the viewing pleasure of an audience estimated to reach 800 million.

If you're an advertiser, you'll be paying $1.3 million per 30-second segment of commercial time. In San Diego, the Super Bowl has been calculated to mean $230 million to the city in fresh money spent by 100,00 tourists who show up in a holiday spending mood, even if 35,000 of them are here to be a part of the party and won't even get to see the game, except on television.

Most of the tickets in the 71,500-seat stadium cost a minimum of $275. The place where the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers are to play used to be called Jack Murphy Stadium, after the late sportswriter/gentleman of the San Diego Union, who was instrumental in bringing major-league sports to the community.

Murphy's name, after 16 years, came off the facility, however, when a wireless communications company wrote a check for $18 million so it could have the right to affix its corporate title of Qualcomm to the enlarged stadium. The politicians needed the money to pay for the renovations, and a deceased sportswriter's memory just didn't count.

The Super Bowl, now number XXXII, is the ultimate extravaganza. But, again, that descriptive word, excessiveness, is synonymous with all aspects of the presentation. So many perimeter goings-on seem important to the NFL, apart from the game, that you hope the teams won't forget to kick off.

Representatives of the NFC have won the past 13 Super Bowls. That's excessive, too. And, likewise, Denver being here four times and going for the collar. From a spectator's standpoint, the game has undergone vast economic changes. Prices keep accelerating, but the public doesn't seem to mind.

A quick look back at the first Super Bowl, 1967, offers a staggering contrast. Nothing stays the same, but the seat prices then were $6, $10 and $12. A program, now $12 a copy, sold for $1. Oh, for the good old days, when actual fans, and not the affluent figures of business and industry, were able to obtain tickets and could afford them.

It's estimated 1,000 private jets are flying into San Diego with game guests and that 800 limousines will be providing ground transportation for the convenience of the visitors. The San Diego Convention Bureau contends that 60 percent of the 100,000 crowding into this scenic Southern California city are enjoying the benefit of being on corporate expense accounts.

Sal Giametta, vice president of the bureau, says the Super Bowl has evolved into a weeklong celebration. A case in point is Steve Siemens, a Packers backer from Moline, Ill., who said he's in San Diego to merely have a good time and knew he had no chance to buy a ticket.

"Even if I could have access to a ticket, I couldn't afford it," he says. "That doesn't really matter to me. This is a party, and I wanted to be a part of it. I'll find a bar to watch the telecast and I'll have as much fun as the people at the game."

The NFL goes the limit in hiring security for the game. It engages a highly professional organization known as Contemporary Services. The men and women are trained to guard against gate-crashers, but their main responsibility is to be prepared for any and all emergencies, earthquakes, explosions, the stands collapsing -- just any eventuality.

The main story line of this Super Bowl, which will occur on the field, has to do with John Elway and the frustrations he has known in being the quarterback for three of Denver's four losses in the game. That's also excessive.

A former Broncos linebacker, Karl Mecklenburg, says that Elway has taken too much criticism for those failures of the past. "You must consider that if John wasn't with us, we never would have gotten to those Super Bowls we lost. It wasn't his fault. This is a better team. Before, we had only four or five really outstanding players. Now there are 13 or 14. The talent is much better now than then."

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