It's come to this: 21,700 people showed up at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium on Saturday. They weren't there to watch a game, attend a concert or participate in a religious revival. No, they were there to watch the grass grow.
Well, not really, but close. For a week now, the city and the NFL have opened the stadium to allow local residents without Super Bowl tickets--which is most everybody--to see how the place has been gussied up for today's big game.
On Saturday, the stadium was opened for the final time for 3 1/2 hours, and people came, breaking the previous record of 15,000 set Thursday. They had their cameras, they posed for photographs, they lined up for a special post office Super Bowl post cards.
What they saw while standing on the plaza level Saturday were stadium workers attaching the last bright-red souvenir cushions on the stadium's 74,500 seats, people touching up the NFL logo on the field, others laying boundary chalk along the sidelines and 88 grand pianos that will be used during today's half time show hugging the field.
Outside, souvenir vendors were doing smashing business, as people stood four or five deep in places to buy their Bronco T-shirts, Redskin hats and Super Bowl pins.
"It's really kind of hectic," said stadium manager Bill Wilson. For Wilson and his staff Saturday was a day of doing all the "last-minute things you do to get the place cleaned up" and ready for guests. They were not alone, though.
From the erection of police barricades around the stadium to the preparation of gourmet food being readied for the game's VIPs, the emphasis Saturday was on making sure that the months of planning behind the Super Bowl would not be undone by some overlooked or unattended detail.
At the stadium, that meant workers were checking lights, speakers, the phone system and repairing the field, which was trampled on by performers rehearsing for today's halftime spectacle. Apparently the wheels of some of the vehicles used in the show left ruts in the turf, sending grounds crews scurrying to fix the damage.
"What we're doing is double-checking all our systems," explained Wilson.
As of midday, about 250 motor homes had arrived at the stadium, parking on the adjacent Chargers' parking lot. They thereby become the Super Bowl's first official tailgaters.
"Everything is in pretty good shape . . . we just want to make sure" that things are where they're supposed to be, said Jim Steeg, the NFL's director of special events. Steeg and other league officials conducted a final "walk-through" of the stadium in the afternoon and, among other things, made a final round of checks on the halftime show.
San Diego police had to wait until late Saturday to place its barricades around the stadium. "Otherwise," said Capt. Dave Hall, "they'll get ripped off."
"Everything is planned and we feel ready, so what we'll be doing is going back over everything, the bus routes, what the taxis will be doing, that sort of stuff," said Hall on Friday.
For the San Diego Super Bowl Task Force, the group of civic leaders responsible for preparing the city for the game, Saturday was a day for fine-tuning. Gus Zemba, the task force member in charge of transportation, said on Friday that he would spend Saturday making sure all requests for charter buses--the backbone of today's traffic system--are being met with more buses.
"We're still getting requests and we're finding the buses to handle the charter groups," said Zemba, who noted he's been so busy the last week, he's slept only about four to five hours a night.
Peg Nugent, the task force's associate executive director, spent Saturday doing two things--making final preparations for a pep rally scheduled to occur simultaneously today at eight regional shopping malls from noon to 3 p.m., and worrying. The worry comes from fears, passed on by the NFL, that thousands of San Diegans will descend around the stadium to get close to today's action and launch roadside parties.
Should that occur, it could potentially bring gridlock and chaos for visitors attempting to get to the game. "We're worried about 25,000 San Diegans without tickets going there . . . they should know that the city intends to enforce" an ordinance prohibiting people without tickets from entering the stadium parking lot.
For others, such as those preparing meals for today's stadium throng, Saturday was the latest of several back-to-back frenzied days. Diane Pantone, an official with Service America Corp., is in charge of feeding about 3,000 media and other about 2,300 VIPs in skyboxes and at special corporate parties.
"Planning for this has been going on for weeks," she said Friday, during a brief break from the preparations. "We've brought in people in our company from other areas to help. Everything that can be done is being done and we're on schedule."