The New England Patriots and Chicago Bears made the trip of a lifetime yesterday, carrying with them cheers and good wishes from thousands of fans who expect their respective heroes to return from New Orleans in a week's time as Super Bowl champions.
The Bears and Patriots, both traveling to their first Super Bowl, flew to a city already crowded with the buildup to professional football's No. 1 event.
Reporters awaited the arrival of the champions of the AFC and NFC, as did the Chicago and New England backers who chose to make a week of it and reached town before the teams.
Springlike weather greeted the two squads, with generally warm conditions expected throughout the week before Super Bowl XX is played Sunday. Forecasters said some midweek showers could dampen the teams' workouts.
For many players, including stars such as Chicago's Walter Payton and New England's John Hannah, this Super Bowl is a first. But Patriots center Guy Morriss came to the Super Bowl the last time it was held in New Orleans as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles five years ago.
He had some advice for his colleagues who were entering the maze for the first time.
"I don't think you can realize ahead of time what it will be like," said Morriss. "Even if you think you know, it is more than you think.
"When I came before I knew it was going to be big. But I didn't know how big it was. It was really quite surprising and almost frightening."
Bears quarterback Jim McMahon is hobbling from a bruised buttock sustained in the Bears' NFC championship victory against the Los Angeles Rams.
"I'm hoping it's going to be all right," McMahon said. "I've been undergoing acupuncture treatments and I expect to have a couple more before Sunday. They've really helped."
Said Bears Coach Mike Ditka: "You've seen him. He always gets ready for a game."
Ditka said the only Chicago player questionable for Sunday's game is flu-ridden fullback Matt Suhey.
The first 75 persons who bring teddy bears into a downtown Chicago TWA ticket office this morning will receive free roundtrip tickets to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, TWA officials said. The round trip is worth $528, a TWA spokesman said.