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Watching the Super Bowl from blue-blood section, and nosebleed section

TAMPA — All fans are not created equal — not at Raymond James Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday.

In this world, some sip good liquor in seats close enough to smell the players' sweat. And others, perched seven stories above the field, only smell, well, other people's sweat.

On this most important game of the season, when one's worth is at least partially defined by the location of his seat among 72,500 others, there are clear winners.

And there are perchers.

Will this hypothesis prove true? Does the view from your seat really dictate the quality of your experience? We watched the game from both angles to decide.

In the best seat: 64-year-old Phil Hourican from Pittsburgh, a small-business owner in a knit sweater who scored tickets the day of the game.

In the worst, 27-year-old T.J. Gennaro, a firefighter from Phoenix who plans to work extra shifts to make up the cash he spent.

Phil watched the game from Section 110, in a second-row seat on the 50-yard line. T.J. watched from Section 302, in a seat one row from the top. He paid $25 more than Phil for his ticket. Phil has connections.

But T.J. isn't worried. When asked what the difference will be between his and Phil's experience, he says, "Zero."

"A real fan," he says, "sits anywhere."

•••

Phil got his ticket from his brother, a high-powered Washington attorney. He and his wife are staying at their second home in Fort Myers.

T.J. and his engine captain traveled together and stayed in Orlando. They spent the night before the Big Game at a T.G.I. Friday's.

They take their seats. Kickoff. The ball flies toward the Steelers, who return it to the 28.

"Good return, good return," Phil claps. "We'll take that."

T.J. sits at the edge of his seat, squinting. The players look a centimeter tall from up here.

The Steelers march down the field and appear to score a touchdown. Phil turns around and high-fives everyone. Fireworks explode. T.J. ducks and covers his head.

"Sit down!" a man calls from a few seats down. His wife threatens to call security on an old man who insists on standing. Their 5-year-old can't see, she says. "So call security," the old man says. The dad drops an F-bomb.

The touchdown is called back.

"Woo!" T.J. screams.

"Boo!" Phil screams.

The score is still even. But not for long.

•••

It was the longest play in Super Bowl history. Steelers linebacker James Harrison intercepted a pass and ran 100 yards for a touchdown. And it all happened right in front of Phil.

"That was phenomenal," Phil said. His wife couldn't help jumping into the arms of a complete stranger. He looked up toward T.J.'s seat.

"If I was in his shoes, I'd feel pretty depressed," he said.

Bruce Springsteen came on just after that play for the halftime show. T.J. didn't smile, not even when the fireworks went off right behind his head.

But the score would change in the Cardinals' favor.

With less than three minutes left in the game, the Cardinals score a touchdown to take a 23-20 lead. The nosebleeds erupt in a red-clad mosh pit, with T.J. at the center. He pumps his fist and screams.

"Disaster,'' Phil says, shaking his head. A Cardinals fan waves a banner in front of his face but he looks away. "We'll come back.''

With 35 seconds left, the ball flies toward the Steelers' end zone. T.J. grabs his backward cap as the Steelers score the winning touchdown by a tiptoe.

"Unbelievable,'' Phil says.

"Phenomenal,'' T.J. says of the game itself, not the outcome.

And the men who paid almost equal prices to get inside walked away feeling like they got their money's worth.

Watching the Super Bowl from blue-blood section, and nosebleed section 02/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 2, 2009 9:03am]

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