Rhode Island officials expect up to 30,000 New Englanders to pack T.F. Green State Airport in Warwick Monday afternoon to see the New England Patriots leave for New Orleans and the Super Bowl.
Both the Patriots and the Chicago Bears are expected in New Orleans Monday afternoon to begin the week of activities leading up to next Sunday's 5 p.m. EST kickoff.
"We're looking at this as a kind of festive occasion for all of New England," Rhode Island transportation director Herbert F. DeSimone said. "The Patriots are leaving from Rhode Island and we're proud. You can't ask people not to come to the send-off."
The state plans to set up large flashing signs that say "Patriots" on Interstate 95 leading fans to the Warwick airport.
More than 160 police officers from Warwick, Providence and the state police will be assigned for crowd control, according to Transportation Department spokeswoman Lila Mahoney.
Gov. Edward D. DiPrete, Secretary of State Susan L. Farmer, Warwick Mayor Francis X. Flaherty and the 175-member Portsmouth Patriots Band will greet the team, and a flatbed truck will be set up for the Patriots to face their fans.
Adding to the anticipated size of Monday's send-off crowd is that school children are off for Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.
"We're going to have a big mess," said Warwick Police Chief John F. Coutcher.
In Champaign, Ill., the Bears concluded their half-week of practice at the University of Illinois and defensive tackle Dan Hampton said the club is not overconfident.
"I think we've done a great job of taking care of business week in and week out. We don't overestimate or underestimate anybody. I think anytime you do that you're selling yourself short," he said.
The Bears practiced Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning under an inflatable dome at the University of Illinois football field. The club, unavailable to reporters Saturday, was to have today off in Chicago before leaving Monday.
Bill Curl, spokesman for the Louisiana Superdome, said all four 19,000-square-foot ballrooms will be used Sunday for private pregame festivities, all 64 private suites will be packed and all seats have been sold out.