hortly before 9 o'clock, the sun peeked through the gray clouds here and the sigh of relief that surely must have come from NFL officials, local police and 80,000 fans on their way to the Super Bowl probably could have kept the bubble on the Silverdome inflated for weeks.
The greatest fear before this first Super Bowl in cold country was that of heavy snow that would snarl traffic and create chaos on the highways leading to this stadium. They didn't need the 5,000 tons of salt that was on hand to keep the roads clear, the hundreds of men to shovel and plow.
But there were major traffic problems. A press bus caravan left the media center at 12:30 p.m. with a police escort. The buses arrived two hours later on a normal 40-minute drive, and the police escort took several wrong turns before finally arriving.
This was an early-arriving crowd. Parking lots began to fill up shortly before noon, despite a charge of $10 for cars and $20 for camper-vans. The lots were generally cleared of snow, but fans had to slosh through slush and slip-slide on ice before they were safely inside the 72-degree comfort of this indoor stadium.
Inside, a crush of photographers jockeyed for position as Vice President George Bush arrived, accompanied by his wife as well as Penn State Coach Joe Paterno, former Washington Redskins running back Larry Brown, former New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley, Transportation Secretary Drew Lewis and his wife, and Vic Gold, a political adviser and writer. Bush said he was rooting for the Bengals.
The stadium was bedecked with hundreds of banners, including one that said: "Hi kids. Send money. Lost it all betting on Cowboys."
Outside, many fans wandered the frigid perimeter of the stadium searching for tickets at close to face value, $40.
Earlier in the day at press headquarters in Dearborn, a man with a 50-inch waistline and a wad of bills to match was plying his trade in the lobby with some success.
He sold one fellow 14 tickets at $100 each, although he took great offense when one customer tried to take the tickets before the cash had changed hands. "You touch my tickets you make me very nervous," he snarled. The man paid anyway.
Outside the stadium a few hours later, Bill Dyer of Cincinnati was trying to buy three. You could tell he was from Cincinnati because his face was painted orange, with black stripes. He had left home at 4 a.m. for the 300-mile drive north, and had been working the parking lot since 11 a.m. with little success.
"I coulda bought a couple for $150 each, but that's crazy. I'm not that crazy. If I don't get any, I get in the car, go down the road to a bar and watch there. I'd kinda like to get inside. I think I can get on TV."
That was also the hope of Sondra Fortunato from Toms River, N.J., who insisted she was Miss Super Bowl by virtue of winning the Miss Body Beautiful Contest, USA last year.
Today, she was dressed in white wool skirt, low-cut sweater, high white boots and cowboy hat, and she said she's been in the movies a few times, too. "I'm just here to add a little excitement to the game," she said. "That's right, I once stopped a Ranger game in the Garden a few years ago . . . I like people."
A few minutes later, she was posing for a picture with Dan Harrington, a San Francisco teamster who spent $570 to get a charter flight to Detroit plus two nights in Michigan, no game ticket included.
Harrington, a 280-pounder with ham-hock arms that never quit, said he had no problem getting a ticket, nothing like the time he spent three nights in line earlier this season to see the playoff game against the Cowboys.
Bengal fans far outnumbered their 49er counterparts, if only because Cincinnati is only a four-hour drive away. There were 2,100 charter buses in the parking lots, many from Ohio, and most of the drivers were congregated in a hospitality garage provided by the Cigar Association of America.
They were given free box lunches, all the pickles and chips they could consume, and watched the game from one of 1,500 seats provided in front of a big-screen television.
The nattiest man in the room was Red Austin, in a black three-piece suit and shiny dark shoes. He had parked his Lincoln Continental limousine a few yards away, and talked about the man he had been driving around the last four days.
"I'm Bobby Layne's chauffeur," he said of the former Detroit Lion quarterback who tossed the coin before the game. Layne, of course, is well-known for his good-time approach to the game, and Austin said that was no exaggeration.
"The man doesn't like big crowds of people," he said. "But we have been everywhere. Mostly I've taken him to a lot of small bars. He's definitely a good party man. It's been no shortage of good times, I can tell you that."