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Thursday, January 22, 2009
Updated: January 26, 4:56 PM ET
Tampa rolls out red carpet for Super Bowl XLIII

By Tony Guadagnoli
Special to ESPN SportsTravel

• Photo gallery: The last 10 Super Bowls

Also see: Raymond James Stadium Guide | XLIII events | What do Super Bowl tickets cost?

When the Arizona Cardinals (that still sounds odd) and Pittsburgh Steelers arrive for Super Bowl XLIII at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, they figure to be in good hands.

Tampa is no stranger to the Super Bowl. In fact, it is in the regular rotation and is hosting its fourth Super Bowl, something only Miami (nine Super Bowls); New Orleans (nine); and Pasadena, Calif., (five) can boast of.

"I think Tampa does a great job of rolling out the red carpet for major events," said Steve Hayes, executive vice president of Tampa Bay & Company, the city's official visitors bureau. "Over the years, people have come to enjoy our hospitality. You're not only looking good for the NFL, but also for the people who come just to see our area."

Family travel to Tampa

If you're bringing the kids along for XLIII, we've got some travel suggestions:
• Tampa vacation planner
• Great family-travel tips

Tampa offers an easily accessible, centrally located airport; a vibrant, growing area; and many new hotel rooms. Of course, temperatures in the 70s and some of the nation's top beaches also make Tampa a favorite for big events.

Thirty-five miles of powder-soft sands and surf fronting the Gulf of Mexico make the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area a year-round family favorite. In 2008, two local beaches were ranked No. 1 in America by two different organizations: TripAdvisor named Fort DeSoto Park the best beach in America, and leading coastal geologist Stephen Leatherman, aka "Dr. Beach," made Caladesi Island State Park his selection.

The Guinness Book of World Records credits St. Petersburg with the longest run of consecutive sunny days -- a whopping 768 days from Feb. 9, 1967, to March 17, 1969.

Hayes, who has been part of three of the four Super Bowls in Tampa, said the major difference he sees this time around is that security has been beefed up because it is the city's first Super Bowl since Sept. 11.

Around 125,000 people are coming to the Tampa Bay area for Super Bowl XLIII, according to the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee, which estimates an economic impact of around $300 million. That's a boost the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area desperately needs; the number of travelers visiting Florida declined 3.2 percent in the third quarter of 2008 to 19.8 million from the previous year.

Given the close proximity of Raymond James Stadium (click here for Stadium Guide) to Tampa International, expect many corporate jets to fly in the day of the game and leave that night. "You'll see corporate jets lining the tarmac," Hayes said.

"The biggest challenge in hosting an event like this is the sheer size and scope of the elements that go into preparation -- everything from recruiting 6,000 volunteers to implementing multiple community-outreach programs and coordinating a comprehensive security and transportation plan," said Reid Sigmon, executive director of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee.

"But Tampa Bay is no stranger to hosting big sports events, having recently hosted the NCAA Women's Final Four, the 2009 ACC football championship and the 2008 World Series," he said.

As of Jan. 20, you could get hotels in Tampa for $180 or so per night, for $150 or so in St. Petersburg, and for a little less than that in Clearwater. Anything within 2 miles of Raymond James Stadium, however, was at least $250, with most well above $300.

Hayes said those who came to Tampa for the last Super Bowl in 2001 may not recognize the place. Many new shops have sprung up, and the areas of West Shore, Channelside and Ybor City have had much growth.

New in Tampa since the last Super Bowl is the gleaming Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (5223 Orient Road, Tampa), which is full of not only sparkling slot machines and card tables but also many top-notch restaurants. NFL legend Mike Ditka plans to make the hotel his home base. Disabled former NFL players and families of fallen U.S. soldiers will benefit from a Jan. 30 autograph and memorabilia show featuring more than 100 former pro football players who participate in Mike Ditka's Gridiron Greats charity.

Tampa's roots to the cigar industry date to 1885, when Tampa's Board of Trade helped Vicente Martinez Ybor move his cigar operations to Tampa from Key West. Ybor built several houses around his factory, other factories moved in and Ybor City was born. The move made Tampa a major cigar manufacturer, and that was the city's main business in the early 20th century. Nearly 12,000 master tabaqueros hand-rolled more than 700 million cigars a year, making Ybor City the "Cigar Capital of the World."

Today, Ybor City has kept a lot of its Cuban and Spanish roots but also has become a trendy spot for shopping and nightlife.

One of those events harkening to Tampa's cigar industry is the free Super Cigar Week at Thompson's Cigar Outlet Store (5401 Hangar Court, Tampa) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 26-31. The first 150 patrons each day receive free cigars.

The Tampa Bay Lightning will host the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m. (buy tickets) and the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 30 at 7:30 p.m. (buy tickets).

The Tampa area also is home to some of the nation's best golf courses -- including, from Golf Digest's top 10, the Westin Innisbrook Golf Resort, Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club, Hernando Oaks Golf Club, and The Club at Eaglebrooke.

Tampa Bay Downs (11225 Racetrack Road, Tampa) features thoroughbred racing, but also has expanded to include a golf practice facility and a card room.

Bruce Springsteen will perform at halftime of Super Bowl XLIII, and Jennifer Hudson will sing the national anthem, but there will be several concerts leading up to the game.

Celine Dion performs Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. at the St. Pete Times Forum (buy tickets); The Eagles play Jan. 29 at 8 p.m. at St. Pete Times Forum (buy tickets); John Legend will be at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater on Jan. 29 at 8 p.m.; Rihanna, Fall Out Boy and Lifehouse perform at the Pepsi Smash Super Bowl Bash on Jan. 29 at the Ford Amphitheater in Tampa; and the Latin-flavored Pepsi Musica concert is slated for Jan. 30 at the Ford Amphitheater.

Comedian Dane Cook also performs Jan. 31 at the St. Pete Times Forum at 8 p.m. (buy tickets). The annual Super Bowl Gospel Celebration is Jan. 30, and jazz greats play at the SuperLX Live daytime concert in Ybor City on Jan. 31.

"One of the great things about this community is that we like to show off our local areas and establishments," Hayes said. "We encourage people to see more than just Tampa."

Tony Guadagnoli is a freelance writer in western Washington. To read more of his work, click here.

Super Bowl XLIII events listings

Tampa's Super Bowl festivities include everything from free tailgating to lavish celebrity events. Here is a look at some of the events that will keep the area hopping leading up to kickoff. All times local (ET).

Super Bike Night
Jan. 28, 6-11 p.m., free
Quaker Steak & Lube Restaurant
10400 49th St. N.
Clearwater, FL 33762
727-207-8898 | Web site
See more than 4,000 motorcycles as they convene from all over to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII. The Edison's Band will perform, and Born To Ride's Radical Randy will host a trivia contest at 8:15 p.m. and Bike of the Night at 9:15 p.m.

NFL Experience
Jan. 29 (3 p.m. to 9 p.m.)
Jan. 30 (3 p.m. to 10 p.m.)
Jan. 31 (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Adjacent to the Raymond James Stadium
Tickets are $18.50 for adults and $12.50 for children 12 and under, and allow entry for a particular day and time. Tickets to NFLX After Dark, a three-hour football party for adults Jan. 29 from 9 p.m. to midnight, are $10. NFLX After Dark also features an EA Sports Madden NFL 09 Mini Tournament, with two Super Bowl XLIII tickets going to the winner. On Feb. 1, the event is open to Super Bowl XLIII ticket holders only.
866-849-4635 | Web site
Features more than 50 interactive games and attractions, as well as special programming, including free football clinics, autograph sessions, the largest football card show ever and NFL Coaches Chats, during which NFL coaches give an inside look into the game of football.

NFL History from Getty Images
Daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Jan. 31, tickets $4
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
200 N. Tampa St., Ste. 130
Tampa, FL 33602
A special photographic exhibition in honor of Super Bowl XLIII. Thirty photographs from the extensive archives of Getty Images will be on view.

Par & Poker Celebrity Challenge for Charity
Jan. 29, golf, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and poker, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Golf: TPC Tampa Bay
5300 W. Lutz Lake Fern Road
Lutz, FL 33558
Gallery is free; food and drinks will be available at cost.

Poker: Tampa Bay Downs Silks Poker Room
11225 Race Track Road
Tampa, FL 33626

Contact: Leonard Walker, 480-736-2464 | Web site
Celebrity golf and poker tournaments that raise money for local Tampa charities and the Joyner-Walker Foundation. Ozzie Smith, Julius "Dr. J" Erving, Marcus Allen and Lawrence Taylor are among the 30 Hall of Famers and Hollywood stars who will participate.

Super Tailgate Throwdown
Jan. 29-31, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., free
Al Lopez Park
4810 N. Himes Ave.
Tampa, FL 33602
Web site
Community event featuring live entertainment, concerts, Interactive Kid Zones, food, games, prizes, ice sculpturing and more.

Pepsi Smash Super Bowl Bash
Jan. 29-30, 6:30 p.m to 11 p.m., tickets $20 to $40
Ford Amphitheater
4802 Highway 301 N.
Tampa, FL 33610
On the 29th, Rihanna, Lifehouse and Fall Out Boy will perform. On the 30th at the Pepsi Musica Super Bowl Fiesta, Enrique Iglesias and Belanova will perform.

Super Bowl NFL Charities Celebrity Bowling Classic
Jan. 29, 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., tickets $300 for individual bowlers or $1,000 for a team of four
Pin Chasers Veterans
5555 W. Hillsborough Ave.
Tampa, FL 33634
Contact Nick Nicolosi: 201-489-0049
Each team will be led by a celebrity. Prizes will be awarded to members of the top three finishing teams in the bowling classic and all bowlers will receive a commemorative Super Bowl XLIII bowling ball and pin.

Cato June Superslam
Jan. 30, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., $20 to $40
University of Tampa
401 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33606
813-974-3002 | Web site
A fun-filled basketball game with top-name NFL players, musical entertainers and Hollywood celebrities. Among those attending are Clinton Portis, Derrick Brooks, Reggie Wayne, Darren McFadden and Floyd Mayweather Jr. There also will be giveaways and a special halftime performance.

Super Bowl Gospel Celebration
Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., tickets $35 to $75
Sun Dome, University of South Florida
4202 E. Fowler
Tampa, FL 33620
813-974-3002 | Web site
Celebrating its 10th year, the event brings top musical artists and NFL players together on one stage for uplifting music and inspirational messages.

Super Bowl Breakfast
Jan. 31, 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., tickets $20
Sun Dome
866-448-7849 | Web site
Among the featured athletes are Bart Starr, Tony Dungy, Derrick Brooks and Anthony Munoz. The 2009 Bart Starr Award will be presented. The finalists are Drew Brees, Warrick Dunn and Kurt Warner.

Florida Region Grass Volleybowl 1
Jan. 31, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., free
University of South Florida
4202 E. Fowler Ave.
Tampa, FL 33620
Inner-city kids volleyball clinic presented by Olympic athletes and corporate grass volleyball tournament.

Super Bowl NFL Charities Celebrity Golf Classic
Jan. 31, 11:30 a.m., $1,500 donation to NFL Charities
Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club
36750 U.S. Hwy. 19 N.
Palm Harbor, FL 34684
Contact Nick Nicolosi: 201-489-0049
Event open only to participants of the celebrity/amateur golf tournament.

Celebrity Flag Football Challenge
Jan. 31, noon to 3:30 p.m., tickets $15
TradeWinds Island Resort
5600 Gulf Boulevard
St. Pete Beach, FL 33706
Doug Flutie heads this game between past and present NFL stars and celebrities.

Snoop Bowl VII
Jan. 31, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., tickets $20
Gaither High School Football Stadium
16200 N. Dale Mabry Highway
Tampa, FL 33618
It's Snoop Dogg's L.A. All Stars against the Tampa Bay All Stars, coached by Mike Alstott, in a youth football game. Also featuring a host of other NFL stars.

Celebrity Beach Bowl
Jan. 31, 2:30 p.m., free
Progress Energy Park (Home of Al Lang Field)
180 Second Ave. S.E.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
Celebrities face off against NFL Hall of Famers in a flag football game.

Gridiron Celebrity Hoops XI
Jan. 31, 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m, tickets $40 to $60
Jefferson High School Basketball Arena
4401 W. Cypress St.
Tampa, FL 33607
813-974-3002 | Web site
Terrell Owens and other notable NFL players, prospective draft picks, world-renowned streetballers and Hollywood A-listers get together for a hoops competition to raise money for youth in foster care.

Taste of the NFL
Jan. 31, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., tickets $500
Tropicana Field
One Tropicana Drive
St. Petersburg, FL 33705
A food and wine extravaganza that features 32 top chefs from each NFL city, paired with a current or former NFL player, for a great evening of food, fun and football.