Super Bowl fans fight through winter weather to reach Texas

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Runways too snowy to receive airliners packed with football fans. Sidewalks too icy for cowboy boots. Temperatures too cold to distinguish Dallas from Pittsburgh or Green Bay.

Just two days before the Super Bowl, a fresh blast of snow and ice canceled hundreds of flights, transformed highways into ribbons of white and caused dangerous sheets of ice to fall from Cowboys Stadium, sending at least six people to the hospital. It was enough to turn the biggest week in American sports into a Super Mess.

The six people hurt Friday were private contractors who had been hired by the NFL to prepare the stadium for the game. One man was hit in the head, another in the shoulder. None of the injuries was considered life-threatening.

Most stadium entrances were closed as a precaution. Officials raised the temperature inside the arena in an attempt to melt remaining ice.

The Dallas-Fort Worth area received as much as 5 inches of snow overnight -- nearly twice its annual average -- and by Friday morning downtown Dallas hotels were selling ski hats and scarves alongside cowboy hats. A winter storm warning was issued for suburban Arlington, home of the $1.3 billion stadium where the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packersare to play Sunday.

"It looks like 'Oh, no, I'm back in Canada,'" said Sammy Sandu, a 32-year-old property developer from Kelowna, British Columbia. "It's just pouring down snow. Are we still at home, or have we left? We didn't drink that much last night, did we?"

Forecasters expected game day to be mostly sunny, with highs in the 40s, which probably would not be warm enough to melt all the snow and ice.

Sandu made it to Dallas with his father Thursday, but other members of their party weren't so lucky. His brother still hoped to arrive from Miami in time for the game, but a friend abandoned the trip after a flight from Vancouver was canceled.

Like much of the region, airlines were struggling to recover from a massive blizzard earlier in the week that brought up to 2 feet of snow and bitter cold temperatures to as much as half the nation.

More than 300 arriving flights were canceled at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, a hub for American Airlines. The city's smaller airport, Love Field, was closed before dawn because of snow on the runways, but it reopened by noon. Love is home to Southwest Airlines.

Andy Williams, a 51-year-old attorney from Grafton, Wis., said he was frustrated to find his American flight from Milwaukee delayed for about five hours. He was already planning ahead for the worst-case scenario.

"If this flight gets canceled, I'll start driving down tonight," he said. "Clearly, it's not my first choice, but at least you're in control of your own destiny at that point."

But the chilly temperatures were not expected to faze the teams competing in the real event, nor their hardy fans, who are used to cooler climes. The temperature Friday in Dallas stood at 20 -- same as Pittsburgh. Green Bay was slightly colder, at 17.

"We deal with it very well back home," Steelers fan Alex Sax said on his way to the NFL Experience fan festival in Dallas. "Here, they don't know how to deal with it. There's no plows. No salt trucks. When we drove from airport, we were the only car on the road."

Asked if the weather could affect future Super Bowl bids, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the conditions this year have been exceptional.

"We've had a winter to remember. Some would say to forget," Goodell said. "It's going to be a great weekend for us, and the weather's getting better."

The Super Bowl is scheduled to be played in Indianapolis next year and in the open-air New Meadowlands stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., in 2014.

Some Packers fans at General Mitchell International Airport outside Milwaukee found themselves delayed but not completely downhearted.

James Jennings, 78, was scheduled to fly out of Milwaukee with his 44-year-old son. They were taking a charter flight as part of a package for which they paid $25,000.

Jennings, a criminal lawyer from Norridge, Ill., said he had absolutely no doubt that the flight would leave as scheduled.

"At $12,500 a ticket, are you kidding me? They'd get Evel Knievel to fly that thing."

Elsewhere Friday, the bitter cold seeped into the South, where icy roads were blamed for several traffic deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi. The system extended its grip as far east as North Carolina, where freezing rain was possible.

The frigid weather also disrupted natural gas service in New Mexico and caused water pipes to burst in Arizona. Snow- and slush-covered roads made driving hazardous across Texas and neighboring states.

Greyhound spokeswoman Bonnie Bastian says the weather snarled travel through Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas and Tennessee.

By late Friday morning, 23-year-old Katrina Smith had been waiting in the Kansas City terminal for more than 30 hours. She was supposed to be in the city just 15 minutes to transfer buses as she headed from Denver to Tulsa, Okla.

"Everyone here is going to go crazy," she said.

Back in Dallas, organizers of at least one celebrity-filled Super Bowl event planned to host their Saturday celebrations inside.

DirecTV planned to host a "Celebrity Beach Bowl" in a heated tent, with a lineup of stars and athletes including New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and actors Josh Duhamel, Chace Crawford and Hayden Panettierre.

"We're full speed ahead," said Jon Gieselman, the company's senior vice president of advertising and public relations. "The show will go on. We were prepared for something like this."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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