N E W O R L E A N S, Feb. 1, 2002 -- The security measures for Sunday's Super Bowl XXXVI game between the St. Louis Rams and the New England Patriots are so unusual and extraordinary that even the players are having trouble getting around the Big Easy.
It is the first time the Secret Service has been called in to take the lead in protecting a sporting event. The agency conducted 11,000 background checks on journalists, food vendors and halftime performers. And for the first time, everyone working the Super Bowl must wear a photo ID.
"We've requested that they put some safeguards into their credentials that will make it more difficult to counterfeit the credential," says Mike James, the Secret Service special agent in charge.
The Secret Service is coordinating the work of 48 government agencies in the record multimillion-dollar security effort from a command post across the street from the Super Dome.
The perimeter of the Super Dome has become a fortress. Streets are blocked by concrete barriers and barbed wire. Heavily armed National Guard patrol the city and undercover agents have been assigned to the popular French Quarter.
"A significant 'plainclothes aspect' is certainly going to make some difference in the city," says the New Orleans Police Department's Duane Johnson, "and we expect it to be crime-free."
Along the busy Mississippi River, the Coast Guard has been called into inspect barges and keep a close eye on 25 miles of shoreline near the New Orleans harbor.
Prepared for the Worst
For months, experts have been trying to anticipate every conceivable disaster.
"We're preparing for chemical-biological events, radiological events," says Joe Allbaugh, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
On game day, the airspace above the Super Dome will be restricted and all 76,000 fans will have to pass through metal detectors at a single entrance into the stadium.
The festive fans seem to be taking all this security pretty much in stride, but their patience is about to be tested, as officials are warning ticket holders to show up five hours early to give them enough time to pass through security before the kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday.