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Monday, January 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Super Bowl will be played where excess meets despair

Seattle Times staff columnist

DETROIT — A Seattle-like winter rain fell cold and heavy as we drove into downtown early Sunday morning. An oatmeal-colored sky hung low over the tops of the buildings, a metaphor for the gloom that hovers here even on Super Bowl week.

For the second time in the 40-year history of this game, the NFL is descending on Detroit. The largest bacchanal in sports, the greatest celebration of conspicuous consumption this country knows, is coming to a city that can be excused if the majority of its people aren't quite in the mood to party.

This year the Super Bowl will be played at the intersection where excess meets despair. The gulf between rich and poor is no more evident than here in the sputtering Motor City.

"It's an ironic time to be having a party in Detroit," local activist Ron Scott from Detroit's anti-violence coalition said by telephone late last week.

This isn't Detroit's game. It belongs to the National Football League. These aren't Detroit's teams. They belong to Pittsburgh and Seattle.

And the plush, loud parties — bejeweled with bling so bright you need sunglasses when you enter — are all for the out-of-towners, the corporate fat cats who are insulated from the pain this city feels.

"If the host committee had asked me what I would like to see happen, I would have said, 'There are 10-to-15,000 people in need of jobs,' " Scott said. " 'There are people who are about to be laid off. There are homeless people, 60 percent of whom are American veterans. Why not give them jobs for the next two months?

" 'Put them to work selling concessions, doing the work that needs to be done in the buildup to the Super Bowl. Put some money in their pockets. Lift their self-esteem.'

"But nobody asked me. As it is, the parties will be held, then the people will leave, and we'll still have to find a way to survive as a city."

Last week this city was hit by the bad news haymaker from William Clay Ford that his Ford Motor Company would be eliminating as many as 30,000 jobs and 14 factories. This is the same company that paid millions for the naming rights to the stadium that will house Sunday's Super Bowl.

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"There's not a darker city in America right now," a Detroit sportswriter said recently.

The NFL's voodoo economics calculates that $300 million will flow into the local economy as a result of this week. But it costs millions to put on a Super Bowl, and very little of the money that is made here will find its way to the people who need it the most.

"I'm concerned about the police presence in the city," said Scott, who grew up in Detroit, went to the University of Michigan and once worked in the auto industry. "The homeless are being encouraged to leave. They are being eliminated. In some areas and in some cases, they are being moved unceremoniously. These are people who have lost their jobs. They don't need to be moved away. They need to work."

This week, the city and the league will shield its visitors from the dark side of the city. Buses and limos, with police escorts, will race past the remaining homeless and past the decaying buildings and to the isolated safety of the Super Bowl parties.

Scott doesn't begrudge the partyers. In fact, he appreciates the fact that so many people have come to his city. He only wishes the NFL charities would visit some of the programs and the people he believes are the "true heroes of Detroit."

People like Ruth Jordan, who has devoted her life to creating jobs and housing for homeless mothers. And projects like the Convoy of Hope that is finding alternative economic opportunities and developing inner-city neighborhoods and Motor City Blight Busters, an organization committed to reclaiming lost neighborhoods.

"They're having a party for the Big Three [Ford, Daimler-Chrysler, General Motors] this week," Scott said. "I don't understand that. Why not have a party for the people who run these meaningful programs? Why not recognize what they are doing? They are the ones who are really super."

Scott wants the people who visit this week to have the times of their lives. But he'd also like a brief moment of their time. A chance to be heard over the roar of the music blasting from the loudspeakers at party after party.

He would like the good from Super Bowl XL to last past the final field goal and fireworks. He'd like to see the money from this game bring some hope to the homeless people who have been shooed out of sight and out of mind.

But Scott is a realist. And for the real Detroit the truth of this week is as cold as the rain falling on the roof at Ford Field.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or skelley@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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