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It's More Than a Game

All the best performers, best quotes and best moves weren't found on the field or in the locker room at the Georgia Dome

I did not talk tothe man with the sign that read SIX MONTHS TO LIVE, NEED TWO TICKETS, LASTWISH. I thought...I don't know what I thought. I also did not talk to the manwith the sign that read WILL WORK FOR TICKET. Not funny. I did talk to the manwho was wearing a dress.

"I bought itat the Rescue Mission in Syracuse, N.Y.," the man said. "I went inthere and told the lady I'd be trying on some dresses, if that was all rightwith her. She said it was fine. Do you know what I found? I had to go to thefull-figure shop. I'm an 18½ in a woman's size."

That man's namewas Tom Mueller, and he said he worked for a volunteer literacy program inSyracuse. His grand idea was a takeoff on the Wavy Lay's potato chipcommercial, featuring Buffalo Bill defensive end Bruce Smith, which was createdto dominate the airwaves during the NFL postseason. In the commercial, Smithforces actor John Ratzenberger, formerly of Cheers, to wear a dress. Muellerwore his dress, the $5.99 price tag still attached, and carried a sign thatread BRUCE MADE ME WEAR THIS.

Mueller had hopedat first that someone from Frito-Lay would notice him and say something like,"Hey, great idea, why don't you be our guest at the game?" That had notworked. He had even called Frito-Lay headquarters, where he'd receivedencouragement, but no ticket. He still wore the dress, a simple blue shift witha white print, everywhere he went in Atlanta. He no longer thought that he wasgoing to be given a ticket, but had found that a dress is a fine conversationstarter when worn by a man.

"One woman,though, saw me two days in a row," Mueller said outside the Georgia Dome onSunday as strangers stopped. to take his picture. "She told me that if Iwas going to be wearing a dress every day, I'd better buy more than one. Shesaid if I wore the same dress two days in a row, people would talk, startcalling me a slut or something. She probably had a point."

"So what didyou think about the Super Bowl?" you ask. "Terrible about those sadBuffalo Bills, huh? Poor Thurman Thomas. Poor Buffalo. Do you think the DallasCowboys are a dynasty in the making? Do you think Emmitt Smith is the new RedGrange?"

"I wasn'tthere so much for football," I say. "I was there for the otherstuff."

"The otherstuff?" you ask.

I stood in thelobby of the Hyatt Regency hotel, the media headquarters, and overheard a womanfinish a sentence with the phrase "...and then he put an entire cigaretteup his nose." I went to a party where a man asked what the white meat onhis plate might be and was told it was giraffe. He said it tasted like pork. Iwalked the downtown streets of Atlanta, site of the 1996 Summer Olympics, andstood in lines and then more lines. The streets seemed ready to burst. Therestaurants and taverns seemed ready to burst. The people, many of them, seemedready to burst. I saw one burst directly into a bag of souvenirs he hadpurchased for the folks back home.

"The mostimportant thing about the Super Bowl is that it gets the people of Atlantathinking about the Olympic Games," Bob Brennan, press chief of the AtlantaOlympic committee, said. "Until now, the Olympics have been sort of a vaguekind of thing. This is an idea of what the Olympics are going to be. There willbe 17 days of this."

I saw the clearedland next to Fulton County Stadium, where the Olympic Stadium will be built. Isaw a huge balloon of Izzy, the Olympic mascot, inflated again after a perilousride through the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. I saw peopledressed in inflatable Coca-Cola cans walking the streets.

"We'll havecans outside the Georgia Dome for the game," said can-person Joan Wildy, anadministrative assistant for Coke. "1 heard we had a couple of cans outsidethe Hard Rock Cafe the other night during a Pepsi party, just to give 'em alittle grief."

The Hard RockCafe. I missed Magic Johnson's party there—the crowd was limited to 550,including Michael Jordan—but I did see Magic play basketball the next night inthe Deion Sanders Prime Time Shoot-Out celebrity classic. The game was held atGeorgia Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum, matching a team of baseball playersagainst a team of football players with celebrity ringers inserted into eachlineup. I saw Magic pass the ball to Hammer, true fact, Number 2-Legit on theprogram. Hammer passed back to Magic, who passed to rap star, accused murdererand quick forward Snoop Doggy Dogg. Snoop buried a three-pointer over worldheavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield. Baseball beat Football 116-113.Snoop, it must be said, could play.

I saw 24 radiostations from around the country broadcast sports talk shows from a singlehallway of the Hyatt. A line of tables was covered with electronic equipmentand backed by shouting, gargling hosts, who handed out opinions each day duringdrive time in their respective time zones. Guests moved from show to show,producers scrambling for voices to fill air time. Is there no end to theseshows?

"The wholething seems to grow exponentially," said Harvey Greene, the NFL official incharge of the area. "Three years ago there were maybe five. Now, 24. Youbring a guest in there and it's a feeding frenzy, everybody fighting. If I dothis job again next year, I'm wearing a helmet when I go in there."

In an alcove offthe hallway were five elevators and a row of pay phones. A young real estateappraiser named Ross Melamed was on one of the phones, calling his brother,Elliot, in Miami, when former NFL coach Hank Stram, now a broadcaster and atalk-show guest, tried to catch an elevator. Ross had a favor to ask.

"Hank,"he said, "could you talk to my brother, Elliot?"

Hank took thephone. "Elliot," he said, "how are you?"

"The otherstuff is the best part of the Super Bowl," I say. "The game is a bore.Everybody says so. Everybody said Buffalo-Dallas was boring last year, andeveryone says Buffalo-Dallas was boring this year. No one says the other stuffwas boring. The other stuff grows and grows. This was the best year ever forother stuff."

"Thebest?" you ask.

"Absolutely,"I say.

I went to pressconferences. I went to a press conference announcing that Pat Summerall andTerry Bradshaw had joined John Madden as part of the Fox Network's new footballbroadcast team, everybody making a lot of money, everybody smiling broadly. Itall seemed quite important. Ed Goren, who was hired by Fox to produce, itsfootball telecasts, said he had "climbed Mount Everest, ridden in a hot-airballoon and raced sled dogs to Nome, but no challenge in my life will evermatch the challenge beginning now."

A man in thecrowd, supposedly a reporter, asked Summerall if he planned to "make a newcommitment as far as children in the community are concerned." Summeralldidn't seem to understand the question. No one else did either. Bradshawfinally said he thought the man was asking if Summerall was going to be "arole model."

"Yeah, I'mgoing to be a role model," Summerall said. "But I don't know what therole is."

I went to a pressconference that featured Bart Starr, the former quarterback and coach of theGreen Bay Packers, talking about recycling. (Recycling is good.) I went to apress conference to hear Howie Long, the Los Angeles Raiders' Pro Bowldefensive end, announce his retirement. (Howie wants to spend more time withhis three boys and wants to leave the game without walking funny.) I went to apress conference at which Stevie Wonder, the musician, talked about workingtogether to end poverty. (We can do it if we try.) I went to a press conferencewhere Joe Namath talked about the New York Jets' Super Bowl win 25 years ago.(The Jets didn't like the Baltimore Colts and the Colts didn't like theJets.)

I went to a pressconference featuring the talent for this year's pregame and half-timeextravaganzas. Natalie Cole and Kris Kross sat at the same table with TanyaTucker, Clint Black and Travis Tritt. There was much mention of the7,000-square-foot stage and the 1,650 volunteer performers and the 350stagehands. It also was mentioned that Michael Jackson had been the performerat halftime a year ago.

"Is MichaelJackson a tough act to follow?" a reporter asked Black.

"Maybe not,these days," Black replied.

I spent some timewith a 29-year-old ticket scalper who was working the streets. He said this wasthe toughest ticket he could remember, the price holding strong around aninflated $1,000. He told tales of scalping everywhere, of briefcases with$20,000 in cash brought through metal detectors, of payoffs made to "peopleyou wouldn't believe." He said he would scalp tickets to anything anywhere.He was even scalping tickets to the NFL Experience, the fan-participationexhibit at the Georgia World Congress Center near the stadium. He was hoping toscalp the postgame NFL party by bribing a busboy to let people enter throughthe kitchen. He said he had scalped hairdresser conventions, tractor pulls andgolf tournaments.

"I oncescalped the NCAA lacrosse championships at Brown University in RhodeIsland," he said. "That was my favorite. Syracuse against JohnsHopkins. The ticket was $15, but they let kiddies in for $6. We went to thewindow and said we were from the Cranston YMCA. We wanted two adult tickets and90 kiddie tickets. We did that a lot--a lot of guys did. We stood at the backof the line and sold the kiddie tickets for $10 apiece. Crazy stuff."

I went to the NFLExperience and watched people stand in line forever to attempt field goals,watched people purchase $25 T-shirts and $3,000 Peter Max football helmets. Imissed the Frank Sinatra concert and the Ray Charles concert and the Billy Joelconcert, but I did meet two men who had shaved their heads, painted them silverand pasted blue stars on top.

I went todemonstrations against the Georgia state flag and for the flag. The issue wasthe half of the flag, added in 1956, that replicates the Confederate battleflag. The demonstrators against the flag, mostly black, called it racist andoffensive. The demonstrators for the flag, a smaller group, all white andmostly wearing motorcycle jackets, said it was a tribute to their Confederateancestors.

"That flag ispathetic," Joe Beasley of the Rainbow Coalition said. "And morepathetic than that is the 3,000 homeless people in Atlanta, mostly black,ancestors of slaves, right here."

I walked with thecrowd past the demonstrations, through the security. I went to the game.

"The otherstuff is what you talk about when you go home from a Super Bowl," I say."The excess. The political debates. The passion and the nonsense. The moneybeing thrown into the air and just earned away on a beer-soaked cloud. Thecelebrities. The buzz. The game is the same in all reports. Dallas again.Everyone brings back his own story about..."

"The otherstuff," you say.

I watched part ofthe game from a front-row seat on the 10-yard line. The ticket, $175 at facevalue, had been purchased from a broker—supposedly for $1,300—by a largecorporation. The woman who was supposed to sit in the seat was late because shewas still at a party where she was talking to Dean Cain, the actor who playsSuperman on television. True fact.

I watched anotherpart of the game high in the stadium; better perspective, harder to feel theemotion. A woman in back of me, seeing the players go into a huddle, asked ifsomeone was hurt. She also asked what those "things" were that theofficials used to measure for a first down. Had her ticket also cost$1,300?

I watched the endof the game on a TV in the media workroom. The game obviously was arout—reporters leaving early for the press conferences, pictures shown ofCowboy coach Jimmy Johnson being drowned in Gatorade, congratulations allaround—but one piece of important business still had to be settled. I watchedwith a betting man. The Bills were on a save-face drive, moving to the Dallas22, fourth-and-17 with 10 seconds remaining. A Buffalo touchdown and conversionwould make the score 30-20. The spread was 10½.

"How manymillions of dollars are at stake here?" the betting man asked. "Itwon't even be mentioned, but how many guys are flipping around their livingrooms at this very moment? This is the biggest play of the game."

A final pass fromJim Kelly was complete to wide receiver Don Beebe, but Beebe steppedout-of-bounds at the 13. No first down. The spread held. I moved with the crowdout of the Georgia Dome. In my right hand was a souvenir seat cushion thatcontained, among other things, a flashlight used for the halftime ceremonies. Aman stopped me near the exit. "Do you want to sell the cushion?" heasked.


"I lost mycushion," he said. "I collect them, every year. Someone took mine. I'llgive you $100 for your cushion."

He pulled out aroll of bills, the way gamblers do in the movies. A hundred was on top. Hepicked it off with two fingers. I handed him the cushion. What the heck.Research. I was not there for the football.



Moods in Atlanta: Olympic fever and football-ticket frenzy (opposite), plus (clockwise from top left) boredom on media day, flagging passions, joy in TV land, mascot silliness, fun at NFL Experience and a hoot for country and western singers Tritt (far left), Tucker and Black.



[See caption above.]



Hammer (far left) and Snoop Doggy Dogg (with towel) played for laughs, but Deion (right) took his Shoot-Out seriously.



Dallas quarterback Troy Aikman loomed large before the game.