Neal Olkewicz will spend his Super Bowl day wearing the home uniform of the Washington Redskins. He expects to become sweaty and muddy.
So why is this man smiling?
"This is everything I've always thought about," said Olkewicz, the Redskins' emotional middle linebacker. "I'm getting really excited. Besides, I know I'm going to be on television a lot. And I don't want to be embarrassed."
On television frequently?
"Yeah, I read where the television people are going to key on Miami's center, Dwight Stephenson," Olkewicz said. "And guess who he'll be blocking most of the day? Me. I don't want to spend the day on my butt. A lot of people are going to be watching this game and if he beats me a lot, I'm going to take a lot of abuse for years."
Sunday, of course, is Game Day. Ninety-eight players will suit up for Super Bowl XVII. In the Rose Bowl stands, 101,925 will look on. And an estimated 100-110 million will watch it on television.
It is the biggest event in U.S. professional sports, far overshadowing even the World Series in television ratings and media coverage. The game lasts only about three hours; the day seems to go on forever.
It is a day of parties, of traffic jams, of crazy fans, of heroes and goats, gushing announcers and the most expensive commercials in television ($400,000 per 30 seconds). It is a media event, it is a chance for two cities to strut their pride for a national audience, it is everything a college bowl game is--and much, much more.
"One of the reasons I have so much pleasure in being here," said Miami Coach Don Shula, "is that this team has a lot of young players who grew up reading about the Super Bowl, watching it for years on television, dreaming of what it would be like to play in it. And now they are here. It's a once-in-a-lifetime event no one should miss."
Both Miami and Washington will begin The Day in hotels near the Rose Bowl. The rest of the week, they had been housed 2 1/2 hours away from the game site, but the NFL doesn't want to risk having the players get caught in a massive game-day traffic jam. So Saturday night, they will pack up and move to Pasadena.
The players will arrive in their locker rooms Sunday about two hours before kickoff. They will dress and have their ankles taped, and then they will go through a precisely scheduled pregame ritual of group and team warmups. For them, the hours preceding kickoff won't vary much from even an exhibition game routine. Except they might seem longer.
"You can't expect any great differences just because it is the Super Bowl," receiver Charlie Brown said. "We know how important it is, but that doesn't mean you suddenly change.
"We'll get up, have a breakfast like always and go over in buses, like always. Coach (Joe) Gibbs says he wants to keep things on an even keel, just like we always do them. But I know everyone is going to be very, very excited. We'll just want the game to start."
Those team buses (the Redskins use three: one that leaves early, one that leaves 15 minutes later and another that carries staff members) will have a police escort. That was the only way San Francisco and Cincinnati made it through the mad traffic mess at Super Bowl XVI last year in Detroit. And the traffic problems for Super Bowl XVII could be just as bad.
It may be fashionable to arrive at games just minutes before kickoff, but anyone who tries that Sunday most likely won't get in before the second-half kickoff. The league expects as many as 75,000 out-of-town ticket holders for the game, and these fans' lack of familiarity with Pasadena and the Rose Bowl creates special problems.
The Rose Bowl is at the foot of postcard-like mountains. But what you don't see on television are the nearby houses and subdivisions. That means there are only two major access roads and a lot of narrow, limited secondary streets. And that means three or four cars can start a backup.
The Rose Bowl never has had enough parking, and this year that situation has become even more desperate. By noon, the immediate parking areas around the bowl will be jammed. Heavy rains earlier this week made the grass on a bordering golf course so wet that the Pasadena police department has ruled out parking any cars on the fairways. And normally the golf course accommodates 10,000 cars.
Where will they wind up? Parked four or five deep, the police say, on six designated streets near the Rose Bowl.
As many as 2,000 drivers (buses, taxis, limos, vans) are expected to carry patrons to the game. So a national cigar organization is putting on what is billed as "the world's largest tailgate party" for these drivers, so they can watch the game on a 30-foot screen in a pavillion near the stadium.
This also is a day of fan crazies, those lovable zanies who aren't content just to pay up to $350 for a particularly well-situated seat to see the game. They want to be seen as well. In best Super Bowl tradition, this game will bring out the greatest number of zanies of any athletic attraction imaginable.
Mickey Richards, alias Chief Redskin, is a zany. Richards, of course, is a Redskin fan. He also likes to dress up. In Indian war paint and an Indian head dress and beads and bracelets. That will be his basic attire for The Day.
"I want people to know I am a fan," Richards said in a game-level shout. "I've been waiting 10 years for this day. I'm going to enjoy every minute of it."
At halftime, Richards and the other 101,924 ticket holders will be asked to participate in what the NFL is calling a KaleidoSuperScope, a first-time attempt at a spectacular intermission rainbow. Spectators waving colored fans will create all sorts of colors, coordinating their moves with some 12,000 high school students on the field.
After the game, all those students, all those fans, all those zanies, all those cars have to somehow get out of the parking lots and the streets and, possibly, the mud, to get home. It will take hours.
But at least the teams won't have to worry about catching a plane. Win or lose, the Redskins' charter doesn't return to Washington until Monday morning.
"You got to hope," Olkewicz said, "that there is a reason to celebrate on that plane."