Football fans are accustomed to the birds-eye view provided by blimp-based cameras. But for the season’s biggest game this Sunday, there will no blimps or airships allowed in the sky. It’s part of the extensive security put in place now that the mother of all football contests has become a target for terrorists.
Some things about the Super Bowl have not changed — like painting the field, taking the team photo, and dealing with the media. Two teams, one game — it’s the number one sporting event of the year, the number one televised event of the year. That makes it potentially the number one target on any terrorist’s wish list. But Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber says he’s not worried about security on game day.
“Driving down the Pacific Coast Highway, there’s not another car to be seen,” he said earlier this week. “Ramps are closed off. I think they got this deal locked up pretty tight.”
The Super Bowl was last here at Qualcomm Stadium in 1998. Though that was just five years ago, in terms of security, it’s a whole new ballgame.
How much have times changed? The last time the Super Bowl came to San Diego, the country was shaken by a big story that broke that week — the Monica Lewinsky scandal. This time around, the nation is preoccupied with the war on terror, a story that has forced the big game to change. Some 4,000 law enforcement personnel will be on hand this Sunday, ranging from private security to local police, the FBI, the military, and the Secret Service. Local companies like cVideo are providing updated wireless surveillance equipment which can transmit security camera images to any law enforcement agency anywhere.
And the stadium will open up hours before the game to give people time to get here and get through security.
"All the people coming to the Super Bowl will pass through one of 90 magnetometers that will be in place,” said Bill Gore, special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego office.
If you’re going to the game Sunday, you can bring a camera or binoculars. But police say don’t bring them in cases, it’ll just slow the search process down.
“And we’re not allowing anything larger than a small purse,” said Joel Bryden, the San Diego police captain in charge of Super Bowl security. “No backpacks, no coolers, no big bags, no baby bags.”
No one will be allowed to park in the parking lot at Qualcomm; everyone will have to take public transportation to the game. And you won’t even be allowed off the trolley that comes to the stadium unless you have a ticket to get inside.
“The problem we had in ’98, we had about 50,000 people in the parking lot partying when 70,000 were inside watching the game,” said Bryden. “And it made for a total mess.”
Also, there will be a no-fly zone over the stadium for a 9-hour period on Sunday. Only scheduled commercial flights will be allowed over — along with law enforcement or military aircraft, including Coast Guard helicopters.
The extra security is expected to cost San Diego at least $1 million. But agencies have been training for this moment since last fall. And while the point is to provide a secure environment without spoiling the atmosphere, veteran players like Oakland wide receiver Jerry Rice can’t help but notice the difference.
”(Security) is tight,” he said. “It is very tight.”
Last year’s game in New Orleans was actually declared a national security special event, and the Secret Service took the lead. Not so this year; local police will be the lead force, and security will be similar to that of a political convention.
“It makes things a little more difficult because you have to have your passes,” said Rice. “It’s for the best.”
And no matter which set of pirates wins on the field Sunday, security officials believe they will have won if the worst thing they have to worry about are Raiders fans.