By Gabriella Borter
TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - As anticipation builds in Tampa, Florida, before Sunday's Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the hometown Buccaneers, all eyes are on the Vince Lombardi trophy - unless, of course, you refuse to stand hours in line to see it.
Fans visiting the free Super Bowl LV Experience theme park along the Tampa Riverwalk were waiting up to four hours this week to get close to the 22-inch (56-cm), 7-lb (3-kg) glistening block of silver carved into the shape of a regulation size football atop a kicking tee, which will be hoisted by the 2021 National Football League champions.
Crafted each year by Tiffany & Co, this year's trophy was made in Cumberland, Rhode Island, and was kept in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Ohio for the last year before delivery to Tampa via Fed Ex on Jan. 29. It was named after legendary Coach Vince Lombardi, who led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships in nine seasons and died of cancer in 1970.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame has valued the Lombardi trophy at $10,000 - less than the price of many tickets to Super Bowl LV, as the NFL has limited capacity at Raymond James Stadium because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That's one of the reasons why NFL fans were standing for hours in the beating sun, wearing face masks and sunglasses, in order to spend less than 30 seconds next to the trophy case while an event employee snapped a photo of them on their smartphone. The photo op was free of charge, and it was as physically close to Super Bowl victory as many fans would get this year.
"For those of us who aren't going to the game and don't get to experience that, you get the feel," said Bucs fan Pauline Tanner, a 51-year-old entrepreneur from Lakeland, Florida.
Sherry MacDonald, a 51-year-old hairstylist, beat some of the crowds on Friday morning and lined up for what she expected would be at least an hour wait for the trophy, enticed by the chance to "see how big it actually is." Her husband had opted out, she said.
The fans who held their ground in line emerged with mixed reviews about whether the NFL's crown jewel lived up to its allure.
"I didn't even really look at it. I'll look at it when I see the pictures," said Marshall Turner, a 32-year-old business analyst who exited the deck where the trophy case sits on a red carpet with a Chiefs banner draped around his shoulders.
Sixteen-year-old Tampa resident Cameron Morgan, who saw the trophy with his parents Jeremy and Amy after waiting about an hour, had one word when he left the photo op: "Underwhelming."
"I thought it would be bigger," Amy Morgan said.
Jeremy Morgan shrugged. "It's still the Vince Lombardi Trophy. I liked it," he said.
Some fans wandered over to the line on Friday, which snaked through metal barriers and was growing by the minute, and then thought better of it. Steven Riley, a 64-year-old retired UPS supervisor, was among them.
"I'll see it on TV Sunday when the Bucs win," he said.
(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; editing by Grant McCool)