TAMPA — If enthusiasm and wit could get you into the Super Bowl, Adam Bursua and Jim Lambert would have cheered their beloved Cardinals from the 45-yard line.
Unfortunately for them, tickets Sunday cost about twice as much as they brought to Tampa.
"I have $980 in my pocket, and I will pay all of it for a ticket," said Bursua, 30, a Chicago pharmacist who went to Arizona State.
At game time, scalpers were getting $1,800 for upper-level tickets and $2,350 for club seats.
After online prices dropped below $1,500 per ticket last week, an influx of Steelers fans drove prices back up on game day.
"Cowboys, Steelers, Packers — it's like the whole nation are their fans," said Michael Lipman, president and CEO of Tickets of America, a ticket broker that last week worked out of an office at an auto body shop on N Dale Mabry Highway.
Lipman's company, which he said does $50 million to $100 million a year in sales, gets tickets through sources he trusts.
Those include as many as 300 independent "hustlers" or "diggers" who converged on Tampa. Many, if not most, of the men holding up cardboard signs reading "I need tickets" were "diggers."
They bought tickets and resold them to brokers, like Tickets of America, which sold them to fans.
That frustrated Kirk and Barbara Collins, who own a pizza shop in Harrisburg, Pa. In 2006, they went to watch their Steelers in the Super Bowl in Detroit but couldn't find affordable tickets.
And they had the same experience in Tampa, Kirk Collins said.
Every day since Tuesday, they went to Channelside seeking tickets. They had leads but no luck.
That's not surprising because they wanted to pay just $1,000 for two tickets — well below the face value of $800 to $1,000 each.
"We're cheap," he said. "We work hard for our money."
Martin Stocks of Seminole wore an NFL referee's uniform and dark sunglasses, carrying a white cane with a red tip. He held up a sign at Columbus Drive and N Dale Mabry: "Scam Failed: I need a ticket."
"I've got a thousand dollars. That's it," said Stocks, who got no offers. "If I don't get one, I'll just go to Hooters and watch the game. Don't tell my wife that."
As for Bursua and Lambert, the college roommates ended up watching at Chili's.
"I wanted to go," said Lambert, 30, a lawyer from Marion, Illinois. "But c'est la vie."
Richard Danielson can be reached at d[email protected] or (813) 269-5311.