The Super Experience

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Everything starts with XLII in this city, except for the stuff that begins with $.

Super Bowl XLII — 42 for the Roman numerically impaired — is a four-hour football game today that will end a seven-day period of parties, concerts, traffic jams, red carpets, booked hotels, fashion shows, celebrity appearances, police escorts and $1,000-a-plate dinners held across the vast desert valley that spreads from Scottsdale to Buckeye.

“You can’t live anywhere in the community that it doesn’t touch you. There’s so much more than just a game,” said John Richardson, whose home in Goodyear, Ariz., is just a few miles from University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, where today’s game will be played.

Richardson is the executive director of the Peoria Diamond Club, the organization that provides the volunteer force during spring training when the Seattle Mariners are in town. He also is heavily involved in other big sports events in the Phoenix region, including the Fiesta Bowl at the same stadium where the Super Bowl is being played, so he speaks with a perspective on the immensity of this undertaking.

“If you go to the bank, you see Super Bowl stuff. Go to the store, there’s Super Bowl stuff. Go to church, they say there isn’t Mass at 5 o’clock Sunday because of the Super Bowl,” Richardson said. “I have to give the NFL a big kudo. They really mastered this thing.”

The past week, it’s been difficult to drive down any major street or go past a building without seeing some sign of the Super Bowl.

Sky Harbor International Airport welcomes football fans with banners and Super Bowl souvenirs at almost every shop in every concourse.

Small signs on street corners in Glendale, where the game is played, and surrounding towns of Peoria, Sun City, Avondale and Goodyear urge residents to rent their homes to football fans for anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per night.

Fans at the Washington-Arizona State men’s basketball game last week in Tempe returned to their cars to find flyers from organizers of the NFL Experience who needed workers for the souvenir stands at the week-long exposition at the stadium.

The NFL Experience itself was a massive event, a football amusement park occupying nearly all of the stadium parking lot with interactive exhibits, games, clinics, autograph sessions and even a giant Ferris wheel and a nightly fireworks display.

Fans could party hard or just get a taste of the Super Bowl — for a price, of course. A ticket to the NFL Experience cost $17.50; a ticket to the game was running between $1,500 and $5,000.

The Phoenix region expects an economic impact of $300-$400 million.

Reporters by the busload

About 3,500 credentialed media criss-crossed the city every day last week, traveling in police escorted bus caravans from the media center in downtown Phoenix to daily news conferences in Glendale to the west, Scottsdale to the east and Chandler to the south.

The Phoenix Convention Center was the media hub, with working areas for print journalists and broadcasters, plus a lounge stocked with drinks, eats and games.

There was “radio row,” where personnel from more than 100 stations around the world set up their talk shows in temporary studios that ranged from elaborate sets to utility tables.

All of them, from the nationally syndicated radio shows to those from small towns, got air time with some of football’s all-time greats. Of course, many of them were there for a reason.

Marshall Faulk espoused the benefits of eating avacados. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stopped by, pushing a sports nutrition supplement.

“I was talking to my son and he asked, ‘Who’d you have on the show?’” said Jeff Aaron, who hosts an afternoon sports talk show on KRKO in Everett. “Let’s see, there was Jimmy Johnson, Barry Sanders, Fred Taylor, Archie Manning, Jim Nance.

“It’s so bizarre to think that our little radio station in Everett can get these guys you’d never be able to rub elbows with anywhere else. I mean, I’m sitting there arguing with Mercury Morris about the 1970s football.”

Aaron made a bold prediction on his show last week, picking the Giants to beat the Patriots 27-13.

“Kellen Winslow agreed with me,” he said.

Amid the media horde, there are strange sights. At media day Tuesday, a woman wearing a wedding dress proposed to Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

“It’s almost like a freak show anymore, just so some of them can get attention,” Aaron said. “A guy was dressed as Howard Cosell, walking around in a yellow ABC blazer. The Burger King king was here, and there was a guy walking around with a puppet show.”

Volunteers make it go

The Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee put together a force of 10,000 volunteers whose duties ranged from greeters at the airport to those who’ll comprise the stage-side audience for Tom Petty’s halftime performance.

Burnill and Diane Clark of Woodinville will be in that made-for-TV audience, but their duties go far beyond cheering for Petty during his 12-minute set.

When the first-half game clock reaches 0:00, they will help push a large floodlight into the stadium for the halftime show. It’s one of 56 pieces of equipment that must be rolled into the stadium, and then rolled out.

They practiced the halftime show setup and teardown several times last week.

“We will be a part of the performance, standing on the sideline and pretending we are cheering for Tom Petty,” Diane Clark said. “When it’s over, we’ll push the gear back out.”

The Clarks, and all other halftime show volunteers, won’t see a second of the football game live.

They will gather early today at a staging area in Sun City West and travel the 15 miles in buses to the stadium. When their work is finished, they’ll re-board the buses and go back to Sun City West, leaving the big game behind them.

“We enjoy getting to see behind the scenes what it takes to put on a show like this, which is pretty complex,” said Burnill Clark, who is the former president and CEO of KCTS Channel 9, Seattle’s public television station. Now retired, he and his wife spend much of the winter in Arizona and also volunteer at Peoria Stadium during Mariners spring training games.

The Mariners’ spring training site, in fact, served an important role for the Super Bowl. The parking lot at Peoria Stadium has been the home base for about 350 large buses transporting volunteers, media, dignitaries and others to functions throughout the region.

Transportation companies set up temporary offices in the press box and auxiliary baseball clubhouse at Peoria Stadium.

“They park (the buses) at the ballpark at night, then dispatch them throughout the day,” said Richardson, director of the Peoria Diamond Club.

Many of those buses also are used this weekend at the FBR Open golf tournament, which has drawn daily crowds of more than 100,000 to the TPC Scottsdale, about 30 miles from the Super Bowl stadium.

All spread out

This Super Bowl has required a well-organized transportation system because events throughout the week were spread throughout the valley.

While the game and the NFL Experience are on the west side in Glendale, many functions were on the east side in Scottsdale or downtown in Phoenix.

“They talk about all the parties being in Scottsdale, but we spend lot of time in Glendale and Peoria, and there have been a lot of parties there every night,” Burnill Clark said.

Those who’ve attended several Super Bowls aren’t enamored with the activities spread over such a wide area. Two years ago, when the Seahawks played the Steelers in Detroit, most events were held in the downtown core.

“In Detroit, everything was centrally located, but this Super Bowl is different and the Patriots fans aren’t mixing with the Giants fans,” said Aaron, the KRKO radio talk show host. “This is a nice city and they can handle a great event, but as a Super Bowl city, it’s totally lacking in the camaraderie, and even the trash talking, of having the fans from both teams together. Here, there is no one place where everybody congregates.”

Finally, a game to play

For most of the past week, the top story on the nightly local news hasn’t been the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama buildup for Super Tuesday, or Arnold Schwarzenneger’s endorsement of Arizona Sen. John McCain in the GOP race, or the anguish on Wall Street.

It’s often been an interview with Paris Hilton from Scottsdale. Or a shot of Mary J. Blige at her concert in Glendale, or the scene at the NFL Experience.

Today, years of planning and a week of international attention on the Phoenix region reaches its crescendo with a four-hour football game. Then the valley will return to its sunny self, only to become the center of attention again in a few weeks.

Pitchers and catchers report for spring training on Feb. 13.

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