Jacksonville Continues to Develop Security Plan for Super Bowl

The Jacksonville Super Bowl Host Committee will spend 10 times the amount it originally budgeted for security. Fifty-three public-safety agenicies will provide manpower. A fence has been raised around Alltel Stadium's perimeter. The Coast Guard is patrolling the St. Johns River.

And yet, while describing the city's elaborate security plans for Super Bowl XXXIX, Laurie-Ellen Smith had one lingering concern:

"Is it true that a lot of fans from Philadelphia might just drive down here for the heck of it even if they don't have a room or a ticket?" asked Smith, the public-information officer for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Told that, yes, green-shirted hordes were likely to descend on her city like ants to a picnic, Smith could only say, "Oh, my."

No one is quite certain how large and rowdy the Philadelphia and New England fans who come here in advance of the Feb. 6 game will be. And since the Super Bowl might be the world's most commercialized event, no one involved with the event here wants to prevent them from having a good time and spending their money.

But, like Smith, there is a serious curiosity among local officials about just what to expect from passionate Northern visitors to this city's first Super Bowl.

"I tell people here that while they might all be football fans, there's a difference between Northern fans and Southern ones," said Steve Arledge, a 36-year-old Cherry Hill native who has lived here for nearly 20 years. "I mean Gators University of Florida fans can be crazy, too, but I think there's a little more bitterness in the fans from the North. Maybe that's because, in Philadelphia anyway, it's been so long since they won anything."

The Eagles and Patriots will distribute a combined 28,000 Super Bowl tickets, but organizers expect far more fans from Boston and Philadelphia than that.

"Statistics tell us that there will be 40,000 people who show up with no ticket or prayer of getting a ticket," said Peter Rummell, the committee's cochairman. "They're looking for a cold beer and a good time. Typically, they're people on a mission. They just want to be where the other 80,000 people are."

Despite her question, Smith said Jacksonville police were not overly concerned about the football fans. There are, of course, more serious issues in this post-9/11 world than young men vomiting.

"We want everyone to feel welcome here," she said. "And as long as they behave themselves, they have no reason to expect any trouble."

Local authorities do have considerable experience dealing with football rowdies. The Gator Bowl is played here each January. And every October, Florida and Georgia meet here in a heated traditional rivalry.

While that Florida-Georgia game is known as the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, this Super Bowl pairing of two teams from tough old Northeastern cities will probably more closely resemble the World's Largest Outdoor Beef and Beer.

"We fully expect that Eagles fans might be taking a few extra sips of the rowdy juice while they're here. But that's OK," said John Keane, a retired Jacksonville policeman and now the executive director of the Police and Firemen's Pension Fund. "Hollering and screaming are fine. We just don't want any public urinating and stuff like that."

The deployed security forces will include everyone from personnel of the Department of Homeland Security to several horses from Ocala, lent to bolster the six mounted police units who will be patrolling next week's events. When the host committee made its pitch for a Super Bowl in 2000, it anticipated a budget of about $500,000. Then came the terrorist attacks of 2001. Now, according to the host-committee officials, they figure to spend at least 10 times that much.

Many of the Eagles and Patriots supporters who arrive without a hotel reservation won't be the problem of Jacksonville police. That's because, at this point, they aren't likely to find a room within 25 miles of the city. They're more likely to be in southern Georgia or as far south as Daytona Beach.

Smith suggested that Eagles fans who want to come but don't have a room might be arriving in RVs. The NFL lots will be closed to those vehicles, but several remote areas have been designated for them.

Still, wherever they lodge, the visitors will want to congregate where their fellow fans are located. That could mean at either the tent-filled festival areas on both sides of the St. Johns in downtown Jacksonville, or at the beaches.

Jacksonville Beach and Ponte Vedra, with their numerous bars, restaurants and ritzy but private Super Bowl-related events (the Sports Illustrated party will be at the latter locale), should attract more than their share of Philly revelers.