Glendale and Tempe: A tale of two Super Bowl sites

Glendale and Tempe might be less than 30 miles apart, but the two Arizona cities are as different as the AFC and NFC. One common bond: each has hosted a Super Bowl within a 20-minute drive from Arizona's capital city.

In both cases, Phoenix was the mecca for the Super Bowl events, except the game itself.

"The spread-out Super Bowls are always tricky," said NFL Media columnist Michael Silver, who covered both games. "The perfect Super Bowl site is set in the centralized place, where there's a good ground zero."

That would be New Orleans, Silver said, but this is the desert.

The experience provided by the two towns are like night and day. You want nightlife? Head to Tempe and bustling Mill Avenue. You want ample parking and a state-of-the-art stadium? Head to Glendale and laid-back Westgate.

Tempe hosted Super Bowl XXX in 1996 in a 40-year-old college stadium with few amenities at the game itself. Parties were plentiful, but parking was a nightmare. Tempe passed the torch to Glendale in 2008, and its shiny new, two-year-old, barrel-cactus shaped dome for Super Bowl XLII.

University of Phoenix Stadium, home of the Arizona Cardinals, is in the middle of cotton fields and the desert with limited nightlife activity, but will make its encore performance as home to Super Bowl XLIX.

The adjacent Westgate complex opened months after the stadium was erected. The freeway into the stadium was built prior, providing convenient access and ample parking. Within walking distance, Westgate features bars, shops and restaurants, but they are limited.

By contrast, Tempe is a college town with a college-town, not NFL, feel. Also, Sun Devil Stadium was squeezed between two hills, limiting parking. However, Mill Avenue is a two-mile stretch from Tempe Town Lake to the Arizona State University campus and houses some of the best bars, clubs and restaurants the area has to offer. It's less than a mile from Sun Devil Stadium and a frequent stop before and after games.

While it's alive for ASU games, Super Bowl XXX was different. Mike Holland was an ASU student and sold pizzas at the game. He said even with the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers playing, the "corporate" crowd's energy lacked.

"I was watching the crowd probably as much I was watching the game," Holland said. "I didn't see the excitement level I see in today's NFL."

Nonetheless, Tempe was alive before and after the game. Silver welcomed the move to Glendale, which is much more accommodating to fans.

"You traded stadium and atmosphere for everything else that is important about a stadium," Silver said.

To some, it doesn't matter where the game is played in the Phoenix area. It's once a year, said Brad Cesmat, CEO of Sports360AZ, and people will drive whatever distance they need to in order to attend.

"If the event is big enough, and it's unique enough, I don't think the location is that big of a deal," Cesmat said.

Twenty-two different stadiums have hosted the 48 Super Bowls, from Super Bowl I at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to last season's game at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

That number won't increase with Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium -- a friendlier venue than Sun Devil Stadium.

"Sun Devil Stadium is completely substandard to host a Super Bowl after the first one," Cesmat said. "It did a nice job back when they had the first one, the second one was great. This one I think will be even better."

Justin Emerson is a student in Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The Cronkite School has partnered with NFL Media to provide content for superbowl.com.

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