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Houston Prepares for NFL Championship Showdown

This Sunday the championship of professional American-style football will be crowned at the National Football League's Super Bowl in Houston, Texas. It is the biggest single-day sporting event in the world. VOA's Sports Editor Parke Brewer has more in this report written by David Schickert.

The Super Bowl, which pits the winners of the two conferences in the National Football League [NFL] has become more than just a game in American culture; it's become an experience. Football has long been among the favorite sports of Americans, and the Super Bowl is the climax of its season. Annually on Super Bowl Sunday, families, friends, and football fans alike will host numerous parties and celebrations for the game. But these are not your average sporting event get-togethers.

Most are celebrations are elaborate. They are often day-long gatherings, and not just for the big game, but a good excuse to party regardless of whether your team made it to the Super Bowl or not. One of the most recognizable parts of these celebrations is the amount food consumed. Some may choose to cook their own, while others have it brought in or delivered. One of the most popular staples is pizza.

More pizza will be sold on February 1 than any other day of 2004. Domino's Pizza, one of the largest American chains, expects to deliver around 1.2 million pizzas on Super Bowl Sunday, with sales jumping 42 percent. Pizza Hut, a large restaurant chain, has unveiled its biggest product in years for the Super Bowl, the "Four-for-All Pizza." Pizza Hut spokeswoman Julie Hildebrand told VOA it's an important day for sales.

"The 'Four-for All Pizza' is available at Pizza Hut right now," she said. "But we are really launching it around the Super Bowl because we know this is a big pizza-eating day for us. We're going all out and actually spending about $50 million to launch this product."

The offer includes four 15 centimeter square pizzas in one large box. The price will be a little more than an average large pizza. In addition to the campaign, Pizza Hut is co-sponsoring the Super Bowl pre-game show with the CBS television network.

The Super Bowl provides an opportunity to reach a vast audience in one day. A company's commercial may be a success or a failure, but the commercial will still draw attention. Commercials have grown to become almost as important a part of the Super Bowl experience as the game itself. Hildebrand says Pizza Hut knows that and it will launch a new commercial.

"We are definitely focusing a lot on Super Bowl Sunday. We are unveiling an ad on Super Bowl Sunday that includes (singer/actress) Jessica Simpson and the Muppets," she said.

According to the NFL, the 10 most-watched TV programs in U.S. history are all Super Bowls, including last year which took over the top spot at nearly 140 million viewers. Worldwide it captured its biggest ever audience in 2003 with approximately 800 million viewers. CBS will be televising this year's game and set the average price of a 30 second commercial at $2.3 million. In 1995, the same ad cost about half that amount.

The Super Bowl is played at a different site each season and brings huge economic benefits for the host city. Last year in San Diego, California, there was an economic impact of $367 million. In Atlanta, Georgia for the 2000 game, nearly 100,000 people visited the city during the Super Bowl. About 29,000 of those visitors did not even attend the game. This Sunday the game will be held in Houston, Texas. According to Houston Vice President of Convention Sales and Tourism, Wayne Chappell, his city expects many visitors for Super Bowl 38.

"We have 70,000 people we know are going to the football game," he said, "and we expect to draw another 70,000 to 80,000 that are just coming into the region; into Houston for entertaining themselves and just being a part of the whole Super Bowl extravaganza, the Super Bowl period. You know about 140,000 to 150,000 people in total."

The game is usually held in warm weather cities. Only two of the 38 Super Bowls have been in cold weather cities, where the game was played in domed stadiums in the northern states of Michigan and Minnesota. Houston has hosted only one previous Super Bowl and that was 30 years ago. Houston's Reliant Stadium is the NFL's first retractable roof stadium. The plan was for the roof to be closed for the game, but instead it will remain open unless the weather becomes rainy or too cold.

The popularity of the game has made Super Bowl tickets very hard to come by. The only method the NFL uses to sell tickets to the public is through a random drawing. The primary means of distribution is through each NFL team.

This year a ticket to the game will cost $500 face value. That's an increase of $175 from only four years ago. Online, tickets can be found for resale for up to $3,000.

Fans who attend Houston for the game are in for an entire weekend of Super Bowl festivities. The NFL always holds its own NFL Experience events around the stadium, while Chappell says the city of Houston will provide several events that fans can visit and be a part of.

"The fans will have a great time," he said. "We've taken a 16 block area of downtown, an area we call the Main Event on Main Street and we have actually enlarged it to encompass a larger area. We already have in existence 70 bars and clubs in that area, so we've taken some parking lots and put in some additional band stages."

Then there is all the glamour that comes along with the Super Bowl. Celebrities of all kinds will flock to Houston to watch the game or to take part in some related event. Famous recording artists take part in a pre-game show. This year the pre-game show features star recording acts Aerosmith, Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, and more. The national anthem will be sung by Beyonce Knowles.

The most elaborate non-football part of the Super Bowl is its half-time show. Half-time shows have come a long way from the first game where the University of Michigan and Arizona marching bands performed. Now there is usually a theme, and production has involved Radio City Entertainment and Disney. This year's elaborate show is produced by MTV and features popular singers Janet Jackson, Kid Rock and P-Diddy.

As for NFL championship, it is the culmination of a 16 game regular season and three rounds of playoffs. This year's Super Bowl pits the [American Conference Champion] New England Patriots against the (National Conference Champion) Carolina Panthers.

Carolina is making its first Super Bowl appearance in the franchise's nine-year history. New England won the Super Bowl two years ago over the St. Louis Rams.

The winner of the game receives the Lombardi Trophy, named after legendary coach Vince Lombardi who led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships, including the first two Super Bowls.

The Super Bowl has become an annual piece of American culture that features the best football players in a dramatic showdown. No matter how the game turns out, the Super Bowl and what it represents to American football fans everywhere will remain constant.