With increased security monitoring demonstrators outside the Georgia Dome, thousands of festive fans made their way to the stadium before the start of Sunday's Super Bowl.
Temperatures were 40 degrees outside, but that made little difference in the climate-controlled dome."This is beautiful weather," Frank Budwey of Buffalo said. "Last week it was 32 below zero at home."
Players warmed up on the field while bands and cheerleaders practiced on the sidelines, which were crowded with a stage for the halftime show and enormous balloons representing the helmets of the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys.
Thousands of desperate fans without tickets were left out in the cold. Steve Campbell, a Bills fan from South Bend, Ind., hadn't found a ticket two hours before game time, although someone offered to sell him one for $15,000.
"I thought he added a zero, but that's what he wanted," he said.
Yards away, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and about 100 others protested the presence of the Georgia state flag, which includes the Confederate battle emblem.
"This is the Confederate swastika," said state Sen. Ralph David Abernathy III, the son of the civil rights leader. "This flag offends every red-blooded American because it is a symbol of a dark period of American history."
About 60 reporters left the press box during the national anthem to protest the Georgia flag.
Nearby, about 75 people were protesting alleged attempts by Atlanta police to sweep homeless people from the streets during Super Bowl week. Anita Beaty, president of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said they were also protesting the use of tax dollars to build the Georgia Dome and other venues for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
"Homes were bulldozed to build this dome, and they have not been replaced," she said.
Police blocked off the protesters with barricades. Other barricades were put up surrounding the dome, and as kickoff approached, no one without a ticket was allowed near the stadium.
Super Bowl security officials were also watching out for James Miller, who calls himself "Fan Man" and was arrested after sailing his motorized parachute into the Evander Holyfield-Riddick Bowe fight in Las Vegas and near an NFL playoff game in Los Angeles. He had threatened to crash the Super Bowl.
"He's going to have a hard time getting through the roof," said Alan Davis, chief of the Georgia World Congress Center Police.
Security officials also blocked off all the prime parking lots around the dome. Many were still empty two hours before the game, with just a few limousines carrying some of the celebrities in town for the weekend.
Among the stars sighted were Frank Sinatra, Don Rickles, Muhammad Ali, James Brown, Bobby Brown, Kevin Costner, Jack Kemp, the NBC "Today" show cast and Rush Limbaugh.
Georgia musicians provided the a variety of music during the pre-game festivities. Atlanta-based rap duo Kris Kross performed before country star Charlie Daniels played "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."
Natalie Cole sang the national anthem and a slew of country musicians including the Judds, Clint Black and Travis Tritt were the halftime entertainment.
Scalpers were numerous, and among the lucky ones were Larry and Kathy Wuistinger of Dallas. They had two tickets, but they wanted another for their son, Courtney. The family split up before game time with Guistinger still looking for a ticket, which had a face value of about $175.
Bills fan Mark Piorkowski of Toledo, Ohio, said he was willing to pay about $600. A scalper offered him a ticket for $2,000, but Piorkowski declined.
"Hopefully I'll get lucky and a Bills fan will feel bad for me," he said.