Spectacle a fitting end to years of planning

ARLINGTON, Texas -- A journey that began almost four years ago reached its destination Sunday when two old-school football teams squared off in Super Bowl XLV at a 21st-century venue known locally as JerryWorld.

With all the pomp and pageantry that has come to be associated with the game, a crowd of 103,219 at Cowboys Stadium watched the Green Bay Packers defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25.

It was the first Super Bowl played in North Texas, and it was every bit the intention of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who split the cost of the $1.2 billion stadium with the city of Arlington, and the North Texas Super Bowl Host Committee to make this a Texas-sized event that would be remembered as the biggest and best Super Bowl ever.

But those hopes were dashed as attendance was 766 short of the record 103,985 set in 1980 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

It was a spectacle, nonetheless. The new members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were among the luminaries introduced before the game, with inductee and former Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders getting the honor of making the coin toss.

The giant video screen showed highlights of the Steelers’ and Packers’ championship seasons and larger-than-life close-ups of celebrities such as Michael Douglas; his wife, Catherine Zeta Jones; Kid Rock; Cameron Diaz; and Alex Rodriguez.

Lea Michele of the TV show “Glee” sang “America the Beautiful,” and Christina Aguilera performed the national anthem a cappella, although she botched a few words.

Jet fighters roared overhead in the traditional flyover, even though the retractable roof was closed and fans had to watch on the video screen.

For the fans in Cowboys Stadium and the millions watching around the world, it was an entertaining game between two iconic franchises, each of which can challenge the Cowboys as America’s Team.

“I walked in here today and I’m thinking about all the people who worked so long, and how hard they worked,” said Bill Lively, president of the Host Committee. “I felt good about them.”

But the smooth road traveled by the Host Committee since North Texas won the Super Bowl on the fourth ballot in May 2007 hit some unexpected obstacles during Super Bowl week. At times, it seemed snakebit.

If the arctic weather during the week wasn’t enough of a downer, the NFL was embarrassed two hours before the opening kickoff when it learned that not all the temporary bleachers in each end zone had been completed.

The Arlington fire marshal said the seats in those unfinished sections could not be occupied, which left the NFL scrambling to relocate more than 1,200 fans.

About 850 were moved to a standing-room only section, but 400 fans lost an expensive game of musical chairs and were eventually taken inside the stadium to watch the game on monitors behind the Pittsburgh bench. The NFL said it would also reimburse the fans three times the amount of the $900 cost of each ticket.

Construction of the bleachers began several weeks ago as the NFL attempted to maximize seating capacity and help Jones realize his goal of breaking the attendance record.

Nonetheless, with its luxury suites and football-crazy location, Cowboys Stadium is seen as a Super Bowl cash cow for the league.

To that end, the NFL also signed off on a plan to sell tickets to an area outside the stadium.

After almost two days of good weather, rain began falling on those fans before halftime.

At least it was only raining. That wasn’t the case for much of the week, when North Texas felt more like Pittsburgh and Green Bay in the dead of winter.

Planners were hopeful that the spectacle of Cowboys Stadium and a memorable game would melt memories of snow, ice and teeth-chattering cold.