Football / Tampa gripped by football fever ahead of game tonight

TAMPA BAY- Ybor City is the center of Tampa Bay's nightlife scene. Usually, its many bars and clubs, located on either side a long and narrow stretch of road, cater to students and domestic tourists. But this weekend Tampa Bay is hosting the Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, and the Steel City's fans have descended on the coastal town in numbers.

NFL officials have been depressed ever since the identity of the Super Bowl finalists was determined two weeks ago. Arizona versus Pittsburgh isn't exactly a big match-up, and in the current financial situation the smaller income generated as a result is bound to hurt professional football. Advertisement

League officials would have much rather seen the Steelers slug it out with the Philadelphia Eagles in a battle over the premiership of Pennsylvania. But it didn't work out that way and Arizona defeated the Phillie team. Still, the Super Bowl is much larger than the identity of the teams competing for it.

Indeed, Tampa is gripped with football frenzy. Everything, it seems, has some relation to the Super Bowl. Stores advertise "Super Bowl sales." A card left on my car reads: "Here for the Super Bowl? Want to have a good time? Call me." That's how it is when the Super Bowl is in town: Everybody wants to hop on the bandwagon and get a piece of the action, even the prostitutes. I didn't call the number on the card. Maybe I will next Super Bowl.

The atmosphere in Tampa feels like anything but a sporting event. Everyone is obnoxiously friendly. In general, sports fans in the U.S. are nothing like their European counterparts: There are no street fights or brawls, just a bunch of people out to have a good time. Yes, it's a super American event with enough kitsch to make you want to vomit. But the bottom line is that it is orderly and open for everyone to participate.

In the 43 years since the first Super Bowl was held, the sporting event has survived many bad periods. It's a form of escapism that you can't ignore - especially not if you're in the middle of the party. I've gotten to see many Super Bowl parties and it's hard to describe the excitement to the uninitiated. This Super Bowl feels like an opportunity for the country to raise its head again after sinking to new lows under the presidency of George W. Bush. Say what you will about the U.S. in the past year: Its economy is in the pits, its policies are uncertain and despair prevails everywhere. But it's still got the Super Bowl.