At the center of it all
At Super Bowl ground zero, everything's a blur
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- At every major sporting event in America, there is a center. It is where the rich and famous and well-ticketed collide with the autograph hungry and ducat needy.
At the Super Bowl this year, ground zero is somewhere around the marbled lobby of the Marriott Waterside in downtown Tampa. A walk there is a hand-shaking, under-the-counter deal-making, star-gawking, photo-taking experience.
Let's take a stroll, eh?
"I heard someone say they were asking $2,500 a ticket," says John, a burly Tampa cop who is patrolling the lobby of the Marriott. "Twenty-five hundred. Can you imagine that?"
A Super Bowl ticket is a funny thing, though. It's impossible to get one from a scalper at face value -- they wouldn't be scalpers then, would they? -- but patient buyers, especially those hanging around Raymond James Stadium in the moments before Sunday's game, probably won't have to pay into the four figures to buy one.
"I heard you could get them cheap outside the stadium," says John. "But then there's the counterfeits, too. What about that? Get two for $1,000 and they're fake."
It'd be tough to fake a Super Bowl ticket, though. The real ones have an elaborate, 3-D plastic piece on them this year. Can't reproduce that.
But if you don't know what the real ticket looks like ...
Super Bowls bring out all sorts of athletes. Current and retired, from just about all sports. Lots of them come for the party. Some come for appearances tied to commercial endorsements. Some just come to be seen.
Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, in town for some television work, among other purposes, is around somewhere. Other athletes slip through the throngs in the lobby. Hands go out, hugs are exchanged.
More phones ring.
The Super Bowl is a great place for agents. Lots of business is conducted, if not all of it above-board. Acquaintances are renewed -- Dan Rooney of the Steelers walks through the lobby and, a while later, so does George Young, ex of the Giants and now with the NFL front office -- and friendships are forged.
"That's the guy from TV ... what's his name," says a guy with a mini-helmet and a Sharpie.
Celebrity is part of the sportscaster's resume these days. Buoniconti, of course, is a legitimate autograph target this week, and not just for his HBO show. His playing past with the Patriots and Dolphins has landed him on the list of Hall of Fame hopefuls. And potential Hall of Famers don't walk by all the time.
He'll find out Saturday whether he made the Hall.
Former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason does a guest appearance in a tent along the river outside the Convention Center. Back in a corner of the Marriott lobby, ESPN does a radio show with Dick Schaap, among others. He's a fan favorite, too.
The Marriott lobby is crowded now. All the seats are taken. The beer, too, is beginning to flow.
And it's only the middle of the afternoon.
The two men lean close. It's a clearly private conversation -- a private conversation in the middle of the biggest circus this side of Mardi Gras.
More beer is poured. Voices get louder. A cell phone rings.
Super Bowl Scene will appear every day through Sunday's game.