Thirty years ago, Houston played host to Super Bowl VIII. The Minnesota Vikings' practice facility included a high-school locker room with no lockers and only three functioning showers. The Miami Dolphins got to use the Oilers' (remember them?) facilities at the Astrodome (remember that?). That Sunday, about 68,000 fans at Rice Stadium watched the Dolphins systematically dismantle the Vikings, 24-7. The pregame and halftime shows were performed by the University of Texas Longhorn Band. How quaint it all used to be. Fast-forward to 2004: This Sunday at Reliant Stadium, the big game is back. The pregame show will feature Aerosmith, Toby Keith and Willie Nelson; Beyoncé will sing the national anthem; and a halftime show with Janet Jackson, P. Diddy, Nelly and Kid Rock most likely will not feature any renditions of "The Eyes of Texas."
Also, there should be a football game sandwiched somewhere in there when the NFC Champion Carolina Panthers face the AFC Champion New England Patriots (in what should be called the Regionally Non-Specific Team Name Championship). And unlike the poor guys in the 1973 game, these players doubtless will have access to state-of-the-art shower heads with soft water. 5 p.m. Sunday, February 1. Reliant Stadium, 8400 Kirby. For information, visit www.superbowl.com. Tickets are available only by luck or haggle, and usually cost $500 or much, much more. -- Eric Norvell
In case you haven't overdosed on the hype and punditry surrounding the Super Bowl, there's a place that should induce a full-fledged gridiron stroke. The America Online NFL Experience is Disneyworld for the NFL fan, with kids learning the game, players autographing stuff, coaches lecturing, fans kicking and tossing balls, and much more. And for women, there's Football 101, a seminar aiming to help your pretty little heads understand the game that makes men yell, fart and touch each other's asses. Conspicuously absent is a booth with free cortisone shots. 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, January 29 and 30. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, January 31. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, February 1. George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Avenida de las Americas. For information, call 866-TIX-4NFL or visit www.superbowl.com. $15 for adults; $10 for kids under 12. -- Eric Norvell