WITH Super Bowl XXIII only days away, where is the least logical place to find tickets at the stated $100 and $150 levels? The stadium box office, of course. With that in mind, I began my search for one of the most elusive admissions in sports with a call to Miami's Joe Robbie Stadium, the site of Sunday's National Football League championship between the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals.
The element of surprise may work wonders in a team's field strategy, but it bore no fruit in a short conversation with a stadium employee not eager to suffer a fool lightly.
There were no tickets available. None had been turned in, and no suggestions could be pried loose on other ticket sources. Only when I asked about next year's game was even the slightest hint shared:
``Get in touch with the NFL after the Super Bowl, then you might stand a chance in their lottery,'' the call-taker said glumly.
Lottery? This was news. It dispelled the notion that a person has to pay scalper's prices, work for a Fortune 500 company, or know the league commissioner.
``Yes, we hold a Super Bowl lottery every year from Feb. 1 to June 1,'' said the cheery female voice answering the NFL's busy media phone in Miami.
If this was encouraging, the details were less so. Only 2,000 tickets are sold this way, the winners drawn from what must be a mountain of cards. Considering that Super Bowl stadiums normally hold at least 70,000 spectators, most fans must get tickets through other avenues.
The league distributes tickets this way: 20 percent to each participating team; 10 percent to the host city; 20 percent to the league office; 30 percent divided evenly among the other 26 NFL teams.
How the teams parcel out their quotas is up to them, but it's safe to say that season-ticket holders get a reasonable cut.
Patrick Sullivan, general manager of the New England Patriots, says his club is splitting its 800 Super Bowl tickets about evenly between team (coaches, players, sponsors, etc.) and fans. Longtime season-ticket holders generally get top consideration.
Once the tickets are released, the fun begins: Ticket brokers, travel agencies, and scalpers scramble to acquire ducats. They pay inflated prices, knowing they, too, can make a profit.
Last year, NFL spokesman Jim Heffernan told Travel Weekly that the league abhors ticket scalping, but ``you just can't trail 73,000 people around.''
Many of the profiteers, of course, do little to hide. They often run classified ads in the city where the game is held.
Still sniffing around for ticket leads, I had a friend in Florida read me a handful of these come-ons from the Miami Herald.
One intriguing ad read: ``I have Super Bowl tickets. Will trade for a reliable car or truck.'' That's a clever way of hinting at the asking price, which the newspapers won't run.
Another offered to trade his tickets for a Florida vacation. Translation: $2,500 apiece for seats on the 50-yard line, 12th row, ``about the best you could get,'' the advertiser said when contacted by phone.
The best deals, though, can be made right as the game starts, when tickets may be sold for face value by scalpers desperate to avoid a total loss. That's what San Diego police discovered at last year's game. Scalping is legal in California, except on the premises. Police at the stadium arrested 20 scalpers and impounded $29,000 in cash held by scalpers and pickpockets, who often work in tandem.
Unless you're an ``I was there'' braggart, the best seat remains the family-room recliner. Consider, too, the amount of action you'd be paying for: Someone logged all 150 plays in Super Bowl XV and found they added up to just 12 minutes out of 60 minutes of official playing time.