We get in on one of the biggest events in sports.
By Hannah Wallace
I know it’s no MLB spring training workout, but hey, if we can’t have the NL Central’s fourth-place Cincinnati Reds playing a split-squad game in February, then I guess the Super Bowl will have to do.
Yeah, I know, it’s all the way up there in Tampa, but Sarasota can’t have everything. And an hour-long drive really isn’t horrible to see Tampa’s three pro sports teams; I imagine there are people who live in Chicago who can’t get to Soldier Field that quickly. (And when you run into every single person you’ve ever played hockey with at any given Lightning game, well, it does make Tampa feel like part of your immediate community.)
Still, taking advantage of these not-quite-so-close opportunities does require a bit of planning—not my strong suit. Thankfully, CCB can put things into action that I can only put into words. After seats on the glass at the Forum and in the outfield for the ALCS, he again outdid himself with one of my Christmas presents this year: tickets to the carnival-like NFL Experience (think Medieval Fair for football fans), as well as its after-dark incarnation, anchoring a “staycation” weekend just over the Skyway.

Oh, and he also got me this handy Flip HD video camera—perfect for capturing the action. Check us out at the field-goal booth last Saturday. That’s the stadium in the background (and that’s also my dumb ass failing to turn off the camera).

The NFL Experience: Wide Right from Hannah Wallace on Vimeo.

The quarterback accuracy challenge was my favorite—despite my not looking very Steve Young-like in this go-round. But I’ll have more chances at the “after hours” event Thursday evening (when there’ll be fewer pubescent boys to school me at the distance-throwing challenge).

Now, to be clear, these are not tickets to the actual Super Bowl game itself. As CCB noted, $5,000 for nosebleeds to be at the game doesn’t sound like near as much fun as pizza and hot-tubbing at the Harribles’ house, watching the game. But the NFL Experience, in the shadow of Raymond James Stadium, does bring home just how cool—and close—the massive event is this year.
And Suncoast football fans aren’t the only ones who benefit from the proximity. They’re saying this year’s Super Bowl won’t be quite the local economic boon it usually is (yeah, well, boons ain’t what they used to be), but I like to think there’s some local payoff. At the very least, back in November, in a search for the closest available hotel rooms for Super Bowl fans, the Ramada in Ellenton was the top of the list. No, it’s not the same as bringing people and teams right into a Sarasota venue. Still, I’ll bet if you’re flying in from Arizona to go to the Super Bowl, an hour-long drive from your hotel room doesn’t sound bad at all.
So if we’re close enough to experience the buzz and maybe attract some expendable income to this side of the big bridge, without dealing with the traffic nightmare currently haunting the Dale Mabry, then the Super Bowl is a pretty sweet deal for Sarasota, right? Heck, we didn’t even have to pay for the stadium.