TAMPA, JAN. 27 -- They played the silver anniversary Super Bowl today wrapped in the tightest security blanket in the history of the game, complete with bomb-sniffing dogs, metal detectors at every entrance and black-uniformed SWAT teams scanning the stadium from the roof high above the press and luxury boxes.
And yet, despite long lines at security checkpoints, by kickoff time Tampa Stadium was almost filled to capacity, and a National Football League championship game between the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills went off as scheduled. The Giants won the closest Super Bowl ever, 20-19.
When it was over, the league had every reason to celebrate, with perhaps the most thrilling Super Bowl finish, punctuated by Scott Norwood's miss of a 47-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining, allowing the Giants to escape with victory.
League officials were ecstatic over the dramatic finish and the effectiveness of the security plan in and around the stadium. With war in the Persian Gulf as a backdrop, and local officials concerned about the possibility of the game being a terrorist target, no precaution was spared.
Security officials first checked fans for tickets, scanned them with metal detectors and examined everything they carried into the stadium, confiscating radios, televisions, cellular telephones or any other items that concerned them, to be returned after the game.
"Hats off to Mr. Smith," said Warren Welch, the NFL's director of security, referring to Bob Smith, the Tampa law enforcement official who coordinated Super Bowl security.
"I was in the security booth," said David Cornwell, the league's assistant counsel, "and we had absolutely no incidents. We had FBI, local police, NFL security people in there, even some Air Force people, and we had no problems tonight."
Super Bowl Sunday has become a national holiday of sorts -- a winter Fourth of July, says NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. And at game sites over the years, the day always has had a celebratory, circus atmosphere, with more than a dash of public patriotism courtesy of NFL officials who like to spice pregame and halftime shows with parachutists floating into the stadium, flyovers by military jets and flocks of doves released.
Today the tone seemed muted. It was eerily silent at some checkpoints, and the gravity of the situation was clearly on many minds.
Two hours before kickoff, lines at two checkpoints at each of the stadium's entrances snaked for hundreds of feet. Officials said they encountered almost no complaints, and many fans said they had no problem with the extraordinary measures being taken.
Members of the media were subjected to the same lines, and reporters and photographers put their portable computers, cameras and videotape machines through an airport metal detector, then were subjected to a full-body frisk with a hand-held metal detector. As they waited in line, media representatives also were met with the harsh glare of a man from the Tampa Police bomb squad.
"I've had fewer problems today than at anything we've ever had here," said David Haley, a security supervisor at the press gate. "People understand, everyone's been patient. We've had no problems."
Many fans echoed the same notion.
"We got here when the gates opened at 3 o'clock and it took about 25 minutes to get into the stadium," said John May, from Chapin, S.C., sitting in his seat on the 40-yard line.
"We got swept with a metal detector, that was about it. It was not an imposition at all. Everyone moved through. . . . As long as it's safe, no one minds."
"It took me 16 minutes," said George LaFlere, a Giants fan from Lindenhurst, N.Y. "The procedure went real nice. I guess people might get a little nasty if they can't get in for the kickoff, but hey, we're New Yorkers, we're used to waiting in line."
Before the 1982 Super Bowl in Pontiac, Mich., the last-minute arrival of then-Vice President Bush created a traffic jam that diverted fans for so long that many arrived during the second quarter. There was no such problem today.
There were other security measures in place on the grounds of Tampa Stadium. A chain-link fence ringed the complex, with concrete barriers installed to prevent a car or truck from crashing into the inside.
Only police helicopters buzzed above because air space already had been ordered cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration, eliminating the blimps and planes that peddled products at previous Super Bowls.
The atmosphere on the outside also was more subdued than in previous years. There were fewer bizarre costumes, painted faces and boisterous demonstrations of support for the participating teams.
Many fans carried American flags into the stadium, and with red, white and blue the official colors of both teams, those colors were prominent everywhere. With the crowd singing along and waving flags, Whitney Houston sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" against a backdrop of red, white and blue umbrellas forming the American flag on the field. She received a thunderous ovation when she finished. Jets flew overhead, yet another grim reminder of the war. At halftime, the end of the Disney-produced show included a message from President and Mrs. Bush and a red, white and blue display on the field and in the stands.
Said one man's button: "Squash All Despots, Dictators And Madmen," the first letter of each word spelling out the name "Saddam."
Several vendors dressed in Uncle Sam uniforms did a brisk business in American flag and Desert Storm pins, charging $3 each, or two for $5.
"Wear it with pride," said vendor Steve Back of Tampa, handing out the pins. "Sales are definitely excellent, yessir. It's capitalism, Bubba. That's what it is, yessir."
But the serious business of capitalism was going on in a corporate tent -- 400,00 square feet in size -- near the stadium that played host to approximately 30,000 fans, the invited guests of 40 companies.
The corporate area also was heavily secured. A six-foot-high fence, surrounded by vinyl windbreakers, prevented outsiders from peeking in, and uniformed and plainclothes security people, including 40 members of the Florida Highway Patrol, were assigned to protect the huge space occupied by NFL Properties, the marketing arm of the league.
"We're all off duty," said Sgt. Donald Smith, in full uniform. "But we're all prepared to get on duty in a hurry if we have to."
Lt. Randy Latimer of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department, patrolled nearby on horseback, one of 20 mounted police around the stadium.
"We've got more security than I've ever seen at this place," he said, "and a lot more people are in the area. They don't have tickets. They just wanted to see what was going on. It's a very quiet crowd. I expected a lot more noise."
Corporate America also was making its presence felt. The people from Diet Pepsi set up stages in parking lots at opposite ends of the stadium and invited people to sing Pepsi's new theme song for a video camera, with two free tickets to next year's Super Bowl in Minnesota offered as prizes in a drawing.
The NFL also put up a tent and invited sports card and memorabilia businesses to set up shop. Fans could purchase an original Ty Cobb hickory bat for $4,500, a set of three early 1900 leather football helmets for $2,500 and a game jersey allegedly signed by Joe Montana for $495.
Super Bowl tickets were also pricey, with buyers outnumbering sellers. Three hours before kickoff, scalpers were getting $500 to $750 for tickets that cost $150, and by kickoff, many fans who had hoped to get a bargain were scurrying home to their televisions.
As one nervous scalper asking $600 for two on the 40-yard line said: "With so many cops out here, you don't see too many guys doing it. . . . No one wants to watch the Super Bowl from a jail cell."