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Posted: Monday, February 2, 2009 12:00 am

TAMPA -- Attending the Super Bowl is a unique and marvelous experience.

Having been in Tampa to cheer our Arizona Cardinals on Sunday I realized the experience is quite different for various segments of the attending population. For the advertisers, football dignitaries and lucky locals, it's all about the hype, glitz/glamour and ceremony of the game and parties that accompany it.

For the true fans of participating teams, it's fun, but a passion-filled investment. It costs a load of cash to buy a ticket (ours were in the corner "club" level at $1000 each, face value). Add airline, hotel, meals and requisite memorabilia shopping and cha-ching -- it adds up quickly. As season ticket holders from the beginning of their tenure in Phoenix my husband (Brad) and I, along with his parents (Jim and Nancy Markins) were fortunate enough to be drawn for tickets and are blessed to have enough in our bank accounts to make this memorable trip, especially if we sacrifice another vacation later in the year.

The monetary investment, however, paled in comparison to the emotional output during the game. We watched with dread as the Steelers dominated the first half. Then when Larry Fitzgerald scored our lead-taking touchdown in the fourth quarter, our spirits soared. We were two minutes and 30 seconds away from "shocking the world." But that thrill was short-lived when the Steelers answered with a scoring drive to win the game. It all happened so fast Cardinal fans felt like the stunned victims of a mugging.

Aside from the game itself, the host city is nice. Weather is identical to ours with an ocean view. We had a lovely, albeit pricey dinner, at Oystercathers at the Hyatt, where the Cardinals made their temporary home. We did the tourist thing at Ybor City, Tampa's counterpart to Tempe's Mill Avenue. Same rowdy bar crowds and exuberant football fans exchanging friendly trash-talk as they pass on the street. This proved a bit intimidating around town and at the game as Steelers fans outnumbered Cardinals fans about 20-1. Yikes! We heard many people exclaim, "You're the first Cardinal fans we've seen!"

Raymond James Stadium has nothing on University of Phoenix Stadium. The "club level" concourse was carpeted and a bit nicer than other areas. They had various vendor stations set up with more upscale offerings, but mostly it was presentation that made the difference from any average game. The Patron tequila bar constructed from blocks of ice was pretty impressive! The lower level concourse was concrete floors where they sold expensive hotdogs and bottled beer. I felt like I was at Sun Devil Stadium.

The Super Bowl Experience was an extravaganza designed mostly for kids with games and lots of over-sized football trivia. Costumed performers threaded through the crowd on stilts for random photo ops. My father-in-law commented that he once paid more than the $12 he shelled out for a bottle of beer, but it was in Paris.

The experience was truly memorable and worth the time, money and effort expended to make it happen. But there was something missing (aside from a Cardinal victory).

Tradition. Steelers fans have songs, chants, established greetings and the "Terrible (yellow) Towels" they waved so boldly at the game. Cardinals fans wanted to bond and cheer in a united front but didn't have an established routine. We're babies when it comes to fan tradition, especially since so many people are just beginning to catch Cardinal Fever.

The Steelers had no cheerleaders, yet the fans knew how to support their team in a collective effort. The Cardinals cheerleaders were visual candy for some men and six-year-old girls but did nothing to bring fans together or encourage the team. They did many versions of pole dancing (sans the aperatus) but never proffered signs saying things like "Go Cards!" or "De-fense!" We could have used some people to, I don't know, lead cheers?

Let's hope that as this team continues to draw fans and build a legacy, the Cardinals organization wraps it's arms around us and helps us to present a more united front. We have nothing to be embarrassed about. Our players did the unimaginable. They took Arizona to the Super Bowl. We have a football team to be proud of and a growing base of passionate fans to cheer them on. I'm going to start saving; maybe we can see them play in next year's game!

 

Twenty-five year Ahwatukee Foothills resident Diane Markins is a writer and conference speaker. Read more from her at www.WordsInHighDef.blogspot.com.

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