UCLA senior Joe Piechowski told his captors that he was simply looking for a parking space. Piechowski had known all along that this scheme might trip an alarm, but he had no idea he had just entered...The Security Zone.
On Wednesday of Super Bowl week Piechowski parked his gray Pontiac on the third deck of lot number 6 on the UCLA campus, which happens to overlook Spaulding Field, where the Dallas Cowboys were holding a closed practice. Piechowski was no spy, just a fan. Soon after he pulled into his space, he was approached by a security guard who ordered him to leave his car or move it. Piechowski protested. Ten seconds later the NFL's version of a SWAT team swooped down on Piechowski's Pontiac in a minivan. Piechowski left his car.
"What exactly are they afraid I'm going to tell the Bills?" Piechowski asked a companion. "That the Cowboys are going to hand the ball to Emmitt Smith and throw the ball to Michael Irvin?"
The SWAT team was part of a platoon of 50 troops the league had hired to patrol the sector around Spaulding Field. (A similar force was mobilized for the Buffalo Bills at USC.) Whenever a curious UCLA student paused to peer through a gap in the fence, he was rousted within five Mississippis. One student resorted to hiding between cars and peeking through a two-inch space beneath the fence. Security busted him, too. "We've got every nook and cranny covered," boasted one guard. "There are no cracks."
Almost. Never underestimate the resourcefulness of a dedicated college student. After his garage gambit was foiled, Piechowski quickly cased the area and said, "I bet you can see the whole field from the top floor at Dykstra Hall." Sure enough, a 10th-floor hallway window at Dykstra, some 200 yards from Spaulding Field, provided a better view of the action than spectators in end zone seats would have at the Rose Bowl on Sunday. A few students took turns at that dorm window on Wednesday. "What do you think Marv Levy would give for this perspective?" said senior Paul Chrisopoulos. "This is like reading the Cowboys' playbook."
Dykstra Hall remained the week's best-kept scouting secret even after unabashed Cowboy fans had discovered it. "It looks like they're simulating the Bills' no-huddle offense to see if our defense can keep up with it," said senior Chris Schneider, making no secret of his fealty. "Uh-oh, they just beat Kevin Smith deep with the out-and-up."
Five players on the field could have alerted security to the strategic vantage point in Dykstra. That is the number of UCLA alums on the Dallas roster, all of whom had lived in Dykstra, which for years has served as the Bruins' lodgings during summer drills. "I guess Troy [Aikman] never mentioned this place to the security guards," said Schneider, laughing. "Boy, I bet all those cops down there would be ticked off if they knew we had a better view than the blimp."