As a current player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back in 1991, I remember the Super Bowl coming to Tampa in the midst of Desert Storm (the original Iraq war) under then president George H.W. Bush. Tampa Stadium was surrounded by chain-link fence as security precautions were ramped way up against terrorist threats and Whitney Houston sang the most memorable rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”.
Fast forward to 2009 and the Super Bowl is back in Tampa, but the chain-link fence has shifted to the parking lot of Raymond James Stadium where “The NFL Experience” is now in its 18th year. It is now an amazing extravaganza, growing bigger and better each and every year. In 2001, it was on the north end of the stadium's parking lot, but has grown in scale that it had to move to the south side to accommodate all the fun. The economy may be in the tank for everything known to man, but it hasn’t touched this experience. The price-point on entry isn’t stopping massive crowds from piling inside the chain-link fences that cover the entire south side parking lots of the stadium.
I took my two sons to the experience this past weekend, hooking up with a couple of other friends on the way in. We traversed the crowds at every feature and made our way into the most important portion of the attraction for the kids, The NFL Pro Shop, to get our commemorative Super Bowl mini footballs. We stood in line for a number of the football related simulations, only to have our young ones get bored each time and decide to move on over and over. What turned out to be the #1 attraction for our group of boys aging from 6-11 was a dirt area about 25 yards square, where they played their own pick-up game of football for the better part of 30 minutes. Yes, the NFL has a winner with the fans in The NFL Experience, but it is the love of playing THE GAME OF FOOTBALL in the dirt that makes it the real experience come to life!
P.S. Don’t make the mistake of buying footballs at The NFL Store. The footballs are half the price on the other side of the event at the football manufacturing display. And by the way, I now know that I am exactly the same speed as my 11 year old thanks to the "Under Armour Combine Experience" 40 yard dash event!