Palo Alto, Calif.
THE biggest game in football doesn't start until Sunday. But the show has been going on all week. As preparations for the Super Bowl XIX showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins pick up steam at Stanford Stadium, the excitement is as thick as the morning fog. ABC television crews have been unloading tons of equipment and laying miles of electronic cable among the eucalyptus trees. Thousands of visitors have been strolling into the stadium to peek at empty wooden benches and watch workmen paint NFL logos on the natural grass turf.
But as the sideshows spill over onto the Stanford University campus and into Palo Alto, the mood is more subdued.
``The people in town are enthusiastic about the 49ers, but there's an equal amount of trepidation,'' says Palo Alto Mayor Larry Klein, who once likened having the Super Bowl at Stanford to having a party at the house next door without being invited. Although shop windows on Palo Alto's University Avenue sport 49er pennants, Super Bowl T-shirts, and chocolate-covered footballs, most passers-by seem slightly underwhelmed at the prospect of having the Super Bowl played in their own backyard.
Forty miles south of San Francisco, Palo Alto is a small, upscale city hemmed in by the urban sprawl of Silicon Valley. People here take such an active role in local politics that a decision to install a cable-TV system has dragged on for years. A major annoyance to the citizens is the crowd expected to overrun the area on Sunday.
``When you dump 100,000 wild people into a town of 50,000,'' says bookseller Bob Dickie, ``there's a crunch. I'm going into hiding.''
The problem, says assistant Palo Alto police chief Chris Durkin, who will manage the deluge, is that ``all roads to Stanford Stadium come through Palo Alto.'' Although the majority of ticketholders are expected to arrive by public transportation, an estimated 20,000 ``hangers-on'' may show up on game day just to be part of the action. The city will have 150 police officers on duty on game day -- compared with the usual 30. The city has even sent out fliers to locals, telling them how to avoid the inevitable gridlock. At last week's City Council meeting, Palo Alto Councilwoman Ellen Fletcher recommended that residents stay home, ride their bikes, or use public transportation on Sunday.