The Associated Press January 28, 2002
Super Bowl security no leisurely stroll for NFL
By Mary Foster
At this year's Super Bowl, even the high rollers will be walking. So much in America has changed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and America's biggest sporting event is no exception.
Security is priority No. 1 in New Orleans this week. It means the limousines that normally overtake a Super Bowl city, shuttling the hordes of big names and big spenders who infiltrate each year, will be parked on Super Sunday. That includes the guy who's throwing the party. "No one drives up to the game," said NFL vice president Jim Steeg. "Paul Tagliabue is walking. If the commissioner is walking, everybody's walking."
That's just one example of the extra measures being taken to protect the 65,000 fans who will fill the Superdome for Sunday's game between New England and St. Louis, and the thousands more who will be in New Orleans to celebrate.
The Super Bowl has been designated a National Special Security Event, with none other than the Secret Service overseeing the operation. Remember no-fly zones in Iraq? They now have one near the Superdome, duplicating the measures taken at the World Series, and at a number of sporting events in the direct aftermath of Sept. 11.
And if fans thought the searches were inconvenient at those games, or the airport in the post-9-11 world, just wait 'til they get to the Super Bowl. NFL security director Milt Ahlerich is suggesting fans get to the stadium several hours early. Fans, vendors, media and VIPs will all be subject to thorough searches that could include X-ray machines, metal detectors and pat-downs.
Workers began erecting the eight-foot-high fences and concrete barricades to form a barrier around the Superdome weeks ago. As a result, the closest some cars can get to the Superdome is about two blocks, and many fans will have a longer walk.
"This will be a secure event, a safe event," said Ahlerich, an ex-FBI agent. "Everything is being taken into consideration." A task force of state, local and federal officials has been working on the security plan for months, but part of the goal is to make the games look "normal."
"We don't want security to be the focus of the game," said Jim Mackin of the Secret Service, which will oversee security. "The ordinary fan may see an increase of security around the game, but the majority of what we do won't be seen by fans."
Yes, the number of police and security personnel surrounding the dome will be nearly doubled over a normal game - about 2,000 will be present. And yes, the traffic patterns will change. But many of the security workers will be in plain clothes. Some will be sitting in the stands.
Nobody in charge of security will divulge the exact plans. But there were snipers visible on the roof of Yankee Stadium, and there's no reason to believe they won't be around again for this game.
The thought of a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl is nothing new. The idea first went mainstream in the mid-70s, when the movie "Black Sunday" came out. In that movie, a terrorist threatens to kill fans at a stadium with a blimp loaded with thousands of darts. Such a plot might have seemed outlandish decades ago. Today, it's the center of the NFL's thinking.
"The point of terrorism is to get on television, to have the event seen by as many as possible," defense analyst John Pike said. "If you think how much people play for Super Bowl commercials, you know it's certainly the most watched event there is. If someone is going to pull something, what better place?"
One thing that will be missing from this year's game are the cameras used to scan the faces of people at last year's Super Bowl. All those cameras are in Salt Lake City, being rigged up for the Olympics. "We're not that big a company and just can't send crews to both New Orleans and Salt Lake City," said Nick Abaid of Graphco Inc., the Pennsylvania company that makes the system.
The lawmen will, however, have a new piece of computer software that will allow police to run on the spot background checks from federal, state and local databases. "These devices put the information at our fingertips without having to go through the radio or a cell phone," said Sgt. William Davis. "You can get the information almost instantly."
If any city is up to the security challenge, New Orleans is it. This is the Crescent City's ninth Super Bowl. On Jan. 1, the city went through something of a practice run when the Sugar Bowl was played. Ahlerich said that game went off without a hitch.
"It's a unique job in that we're putting in all this work in hopes of doing nothing," said Michael James of the Secret Service.
Copyright 2002 The Associated Press