Your chances of becoming a professional football player are slim to none. Your chances of watching Super Bowl XLIII from inside Raymond James Stadium seem just as minuscule.
But the NFL Experience was made for you. The fan festival features about four dozen interactive zones, displays, a kids play area, sports clinics, card show and more. It will span five days over the next two weekends.
"It's a way for fans to get involved in the Super Bowl activities without actually having a ticket to the game necessarily," spokesman Noah Gold said. And benefiting a good cause never hurts. This year proceeds go to Mort Park and Jackson Heights youth centers, the two NFL Youth Education Town centers in Tampa.
Football and good karma? Tampa Bay is ready to get in the game. Here's a look at some of the NFL Experience's highlights.
Vince Lombardi Trophy
The 22-inch, sterling silver award is valued at $12,500, but to any NFL player, it's priceless. Only Super Bowl winners are allowed to touch the trophy, so on Saturday Hall of Famer Michael Haynes, the NFL's vice president of player and employee development, will place the trophy in its glass case. A marching band will mark the occasion, and the trophy will be under 24-hour security watch from there on out.
For most visitors, the interactive games are the highlight. Three tents are devoted to running, passing and receiving, in addition to Punt, Pass and Kick and other obstacle courses. Wear comfortable shoes, and dress in layers you can peel off when you start to work up a sweat. Still smell morning fresh? Race three friends in the Run to Daylight, a timed 40-yard dash. You can even borrow a pair of Under Armour sneakers so you can channel your inner Deion Sanders. Finally, try the Gatorade Training Camp obstacle course that calls for you to throw, catch, run, tackle and kick machine-generated footballs — all against a buddy. There are no prizes, but isn't running like an NFL superstar its own reward?
Pint-sized punters are welcome to the "big people" games, but the children's area offers many of the same attractions on a smaller scale. They can kick field goals, weave through obstacle courses and more. The area is appropriate for toddlers through about age 12, depending on the size and strength of the child.
The Donruss Super Bowl XLIII Card Show is one of the biggest trading card shows in the country. Buy and sell old cards, or purchase new cards, lithographs, posters and autographed memorabilia from the worlds of football, baseball, basketball, hockey and more. Donruss representatives will give talks on how the cards are made, and athletes will drop by. At 1 p.m. Jan. 31, join a live auction in the card show tent with 300-plus items up for grabs.
They say if you don't like football, it's because you don't understand it. Kids 6 to 12 can learn the basics during flag football scrimmages. Also check out the girls flag football demonstration led by high schoolers. In addition, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson will appear at the 13th annual Super Bowl Cheerleading Spirit Clinic from noon to 1 p.m. Saturday.
NFL Network Theatre and Hall of Fame
For those of you not yet enjoying high-def football at home, you'll appreciate NFL Films' crystal-clear tribute to the game. You'll also inhale plenty of Hall of Fame stats to replace useless information, like your wedding anniversary date.
Measure Up to the Pros/Locker Room
Has anyone ever told you that you're built like a linebacker? Find out for sure when you put on pads, shoes and other equipment once worn by the pros. Even folks not crazy about football will get a kick out of comparing their hands to that of an NFL star. In the locker room, scope out a replica of a game day locker room, minus the stink, and see how equipment has evolved over the years.
In about the time it takes to nuke a Hot Pocket, you can make a football. Okay, you can't. But you can watch the staff of Wilson Sporting Goods crank out footballs in a mini-factory on-site. In five minutes, they take a misshapen piece of pig skin — yes, actual swine epidermis — and turn it into a stitched-up, pumped-up, NFL-stamped football that you can purchase hot off the press.
A steady stream of pro athletes will pass through to sign autographs, but each day's lineup is confirmed only one day in advance. For the most up-to-date list of appearances, call toll-free 1-888-635-2273.
Tickets are $18.50 for adults and $12.50 for children under 12 and are good for one day only. Children under 2 get in free. To avoid long lines, buy tickets online and choose what time you'd like to come. You can then walk straight in. You can stay as long as you'd like; there is no re-entry. Purchase tickets at toll-free 1-866-849-4635 or ticketmaster.com. Bring additional cash for parking ($10), food and souvenirs.
Every village, even ephemeral sports villages, needs a town square. At the NFL Experience, it's this hub, complete with a giant, inflatable version of the famed trophy. There's seating for the concession area, which serves up pizza, hot dogs, burgers and other stadium-friendly fare.
NFL Network Broadcast Set
Is the NFL broadcasting live from the south side of Raymond James Stadium? Not so much. But NFL announcers will keep you up to speed on what's happening at the Experience: "The card show is about to begin. Face painting is going down in the kids' zone." You get the idea.