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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Phoenix is Ready For Its Super Bowl Closeup...Whenever New England Fans Can Get Here

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PHOENIX - There’s an enormous 20-foot tall football here at the corner of Central Avenue and Washington Street that’s helping serve as a landmark for this city’s central festivities leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl. The ball is 32 feet in circumference and is made up of about 7,000 pounds of steel, wood and foam.

That’s about one pound per every three air pressurization jokes the spot has already elicited from onlookers.

“We’re really pumped up for what is going to be a very exciting week,” Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said at a Monday morning press conference.

Sheesh.

No, as you might have imagined, you can’t escape talk of “Deflategate” here in Arizona, where downtown Phoenix has adorned NFL colors along every which block, the hubbub to everything taking place in the days prior to Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks in Glendale. An anticipatory quiet filled the streets Monday morning, as officials awaited the rush of fans arriving throughout the week, a situation that became a bit more convoluted thanks to the blizzard set to wallop the Northeast.

Boston’s Logan International Airport already announced on Monday that it would be shutting down operations in the evening, extending likely through much of the day Tuesday, when the Nor’easter is set to hit in earnest. That leaves Phoenix waiting for a subsection of the some 100,000 they expect to descend upon the area this week.

“We anticipate that it will be clearing and that and they will be able to get here, hopefully midweek,” Arizona Super Bowl host committee president and CEO Jay Parry said. “But we’ve got everything in place for a fantastic event. Folks have been on the ground since early January planning and preparing for execution of everything, so we think we’re in good shape from downtown Phoenix over to the stadium and all around the valley.”

Much of that focus is downtown, where the committee hopes to showcase the more than $4 billion in investments the area has made since the last Super Bowl the region hosted in 2008. The sprawling convention center this week plays host to the interactive NFL Experience, Radio Row, and thousands of media members, typing and gabbing.

The 12-block campus area surrounding it serves as the epicenter for Super Bowl activities for fans, the league, and its sponsors. When events kick off on Wednesday, fans from New England may have finally found their way to Phoenix, able to de-thaw from the oncoming storm. Welcoming them to make them feel at home will even be an ice skating rink, in downtown Phoenix. If that’s surprising enough, so is the fact that people from Arizona can actually (honestly) skate fairly well, despite the surface’s foreign presence other than inside the Gila River Arena, home to the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.

Also on the docket, more than 20 free concerts (The Roots!), autograph sessions, and (surprise) merchandise on every corner.

“For the next seven days, Arizona truly is the center of the universe, and we’re going to put on a great show with the Super Bowl,” Arizona Cardinals president Michael Bidwell said.

This all could have gone differently for Phoenix had the Cardinals, at one point in control of the NFC’s playoff home-field advantage, not lost both quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton along the way. Arizona would have been the first Super Bowl city ever to host the big game, and have the pleasure of watching the hometown team play for the Lombardi Trophy. Larry Fitzgerald’s image would have been larger in life on banners erected everywhere downtown instead of Tom Brady and Russell Wilson.

Instead…well, the Suns host the Wizards Wednesday night.

“We’re obviously disappointed that the Cardinals aren’t in it,” Bidwell said. “We were hoping for a hometown, first-ever performance, but when I think of the matchups, I couldn’t think of a better two teams this season to match up.”

Bidwell then recounted the last time the Patriots played at University of Phoenix Stadium, as if New England fans needed the reminder. David Tyree. Plaice Burress. Something, something. But hey, at least it wasn’t PSI talk, right?

“They’ve got an edge to them this week I’m sure,” Bidwell said.

Fresh off their really at Boston’s City Hall Plaza, the Patriots are set to land at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport (which is roughly about the size of Vermont) Monday evening. The Seahawks have already been here for more than 24 hours, flocked by Seattle fans who line the route to the team hotel in a sea of green and blue.

When the red, white, and blue fandom arrive is nature’s guess.

And when they do, will we finally have run out of ball jokes? Dream on.

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