Get in the game at NFL Experience

Professional football became this nation's favorite game (sorry baseball fans) in no small part due to the marketing the National Football League has put behind it, especially in the last two decades. That hype machine is sharpened to a tight focus at the NFL Experience, the interactive fan theme park the NFL stages every year at the site of the Super Bowl.

Thomas Bond

Take a look at our slideshow.

Thousands of fans -- from infants in strollers to senior citizens -- gathered at the event outside University of Phoenix stadium on Thursday and we were there to check out the proceedings. Would-be players tried their hand at punting, passing and kicking actual NFL footballs while others settled in to play the game the way most of us do these days, with a joystick and a video screen.

Meanwhile, articles from the Pro Football Hall of Fame -- including a jersey worn by Jim Brown, the player many consider to be the best who ever played the game -- were on display, along with racks and racks of team jerseys and other souvenirs for sale. Still, the one item that seemed to draw the most attention was this year's actual Vince Lombardi trophy, set to be awarded to the winning team of Super Bowl XLII. Encased in glass like the precious jewel it is, handlers even wear white gloves when they touch it.

For a look at what the NFL Experience has to offer at University of Phoenix Stadium, check out our NFL Experience slideshow.

The NFL Experience: University of Phoenix Stadium, 1 Cardinals Dr., Glendale; 602-379-0102, www.nfl.com/superbowl/nflexperience. Map Date/Time: Fri., February 1, 3:00pm-10:00pm, Sat., February 2, 10:00am-10:00pm, Sun. Feb. 3, 11am to kickoff, but open only to Super Bowl ticket holders. Price: $17.50, $12.50 for kids under 12.

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