- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 26, 2003

SAN DIEGO A week of intensifying excitement, partying and caution culminates today with Super Bowl XXXVII.
The game between the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers provides a compelling cap to the week and the 2002 NFL season, even though the game almost gets lost amid the preceding spectacle.
Boosted just as high as the hype is the security. In the post-September 11 paradigm, security is omnipresent in the city and this afternoon at Qualcomm Stadium, where nearly $9 million was spent on a security plan.
Security is not quite as tight as last year in New Orleans, when the Super Bowl was designated as a "national security event." Still, "Operation Game Day," which is a widespread screening of area people for immigration violations, is in place. Today's precautions include a seven-mile no-fly zone over Qualcomm, a sophisticated system of high-powered surveillance cameras and more than 4,000 local, state and national law officers.
Police locked down the stadium until game day after completing security sweeps that included searches by bomb-sniffing dogs, San Diego police spokesman Dave Cohen said.
"You can't get inside, can't get inside the grounds or parking lot without a ticket," Mr. Cohen said. "We have got a lot of people who are going to be working in the Gas Lamp area [the citys downtown], and we will have lots of people inside the stadium."
Despite terrorism concerns, visitors clearly are enjoying themselves.
The fun starts with the sun, which has been shining most of the week and keeping temperatures near the mid-70s. By kickoff (6:25 p.m.), spectators should be basking under clear skies and in 80-degree weather. It's an enviable contrast to the subfreezing temperatures that have plagued the East Coast all week.
Downtown began swelling in earnest Thursday night with fans of both teams, nonpartisan partyers, NFL and media types, and assorted wannabes.
Cheering, laughing and a thumping bass rippled through the packed streets of the Gas Lamp Quarter.
The nightly cavorting in the Gas Lamp wasn't among the real parties, though. Those exclusive events began Friday night with the NFL's annual Super Bowl bash, known as the commissioner's party.
Attendance there was limited this year because of long lines for food and drinks in the past. Admission to the enormous hangar at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar where NFL owners mixed with sponsors, former players and even Bucs coach Jon Gruden was one of the week's toughest tickets.
Not as tough, though, as last night's ballyhooed extravaganzas sponsored by two men's magazines, Playboy and Maxim. The twin blowouts at Balboa Park and a converted factory downtown were prepared to push the line on indulgence.
Celebrities seen around the city late in the week were expected to headline those get-togethers, people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, Derek Jeter, Don King and Shania Twain. Even pseudo-celebrities like the cat-fighting Miller Lite girls were seen on the town.
Of course, entertainment stars aren't the only ones to get special treatment this week. Conspicuous consumption gets new meaning at the Super Bowl. Fat cats can be seen driving around in Ferraris and luxury SUVs. They get waved into the hottest nightclubs while lines of regular folk snake down the street.
Mixed heavily into the crowd is Raider Nation, the legion of football fans known for its Halloween-on-hallucinogens costumes, propensity for rioting and fervor for the Raiders.
Counterbalancing them are Raider Haters a mix of Bucs fans and San Diego residents, the latter group having built up a decided antipathy for the team that has moved from Oakland to nearby Los Angeles and then back to Oakland in the last two decades.
All groups will converge this afternoon either at Qualcomm or in various San Diego-area bars for the big game.
Subplots abound, from the first Super Bowl matchup of a top-ranked offense (Oakland) and a top-ranked defense (Tampa Bay) to the specter of Mr. Gruden coaching against the Raiders, whom he coached from 1998 through 2001 and lifted out of mediocrity.
Reality returns tomorrow morning when the retreating visitors go home, and a war on Iraq and President Bush's State of the Union address dominate people's thoughts.
For now, the fun, the festivities and the game rule.


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