The Atlanta Falcons had to win 16 games, struggle through a coach's bypass surgery and conquer a 13-point deficit Sunday against heavily favored opponents to make it to the Super Bowl.
Now all their fans need to make it to the NFL Championship in Miami is money -- lots of it.
Officially, tickets to Super Bowl XXXIII are sold out. But for those willing to fork over substantial sums -- and we're talking big-screen TV prices here -- they're still available from travel agents and ticket brokers.
Local travel agencies were working diligently Monday to acquire tickets, book flights and find rooms in the Miami area.
"People kind of get taken aback on the price," said Christa Michael, a travel consultant with Southern Travel Agency on Washington Road.
Her company is charging $1,299 for air travel from Atlanta to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., three nights of hotel accommodations in Fort Lauderdale and transportation to the game.
The cost for upper-level end-zone tickets is $1,375, while upper-level seats from the end line to the 20-yard line are selling for $1,575.
Travelmasters in Surrey Center has not yet set a price for its Super Bowl packages, but customers should expect to pay dearly to watch the Dirty Birds play the reigning champion Denver Broncos.
"Most of these packages, even without tickets to the game, they're looking at at least $1,200 and up per person," said travel agent Sheree Peacock. "And if they want the tickets, it's probably going to be double that."
Travelmasters sent about six people -- and Ms. Peacock's boss -- to the NFC championship in Minneapolis.
She said she knows of about 40 to 60 customers who are seriously interested in Super Bowl tickets -- and are willing to pay the price.
Fans without as much financial clout can still get to Miami for the big game, even if just to stand outside ProPlayer Stadium trying to score a face-value ticket.
But airplane seats and hotel rooms are going fast, travel agents said.
"It's a heavy travel season for Florida anyway," said John Kennedy, a spokesman for Delta Airlines in Atlanta. "It's their peak travel season, so they need to book early. Irrespective of the Super Bowl, this is a very busy time. Flights are typically full or heavy this time of year."
Plane tickets won't be as pricey as passengers might think because customers can still obtain seven-day advance fares, airline representatives said.
"A traveler will have to be flexible with departure times," said U.S. Airways spokesman David Castelveter.
Dirty Bird fans who don't like to fly can take the bus to Miami.
The CSRA Sports Fan Club has organized a Super Bowl bus trip for 24 to 50 fans. The bus departs from Augusta on Jan. 29 and returns Feb. 1. To reserve a spot, call club president Greg Brooks at (706) 860-8583.
The cost is $350, which includes travel and three nights accommodations in Fort Lauderdale -- a short drive from the stadium, Mr. Brooks said.
Mr. Brooks said he is trying to secure tickets before the group departs for Florida. If not, they'll join the crowds outside the stadium, he said.
"There's always people that have some standing out front," Mr. Brooks said. "A lot of people just want to be there in that atmosphere. It's fun, even if you don't go to the game."
Fans who don't have many bucks at all to spend on the Falcons can test their luck and try to win tickets.
The Rockford Area Habitat for Humanity is sponsoring its fourth annual Super Bowl Sweeps Raffle. For $30, fans can purchase a raffle ticket to win four tickets to the 1999 Super Bowl.
The winner receives free roundtrip airfare from Chicago to Florida and hotel accommodations. Only 1,000 raffle tickets will be sold, and the winner's name will be drawn Wednesday. To purchase a raffle ticket using a Mastercard or Visa, call (815) 636-4573.
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