02/03/2005 1:00AM

NFL Grinch can't spoil fans' fun


Let's see if I have this right. City plans holiday celebration. Egomaniacal villain tries to spoil the fun by taking away material things. City shows its true spirit by celebrating anyway.

That, of course, is the plot of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas." But the same scenario is playing out this Sunday with the NFL in the role of the Grinch, Las Vegas as Whoville, and the Super Bowl as the ultimate secular holiday.

Last year, you may recall, the NFL sent cease-and-desist letters to Vegas casino companies in the week prior to the Super Bowl, saying that their oversized parties were in violation of the league's copyright of the telecast. The league said that no admission could be charged and the Super Bowl could only be shown on screens that were 55 inches in diagonal or less. The lone exemption - sports books and bars could show the Super Bowl on screens that they used in their normal course of business, but that killed a lot of special-event showings in ballrooms and convention centers with huge projection screens.

Most casinos complied last year, but this year the NFL made sure everyone knew the rules for this Super Bowl and promised that they would have spies in Vegas to report any violators. And the casino companies have fallen in line. In the past, there were dozens of newspaper ads promoting Super Bowl public-viewing parties as well as signs all around the casinos. But those have been conspicuous by their absence this year as all casino spokespeople are saying that the only Super Bowl viewings will be in the sports books and at TVs throughout the casinos.

The joke going around is that invites to any clandestine parties will probably include a confidentiality agreement. I can't confirm that as my Super Bowl invites must have been lost in the mail.

If you think I'm overusing the term "Super Bowl," it's intentional. The league is also cracking down on any business using the trademarked phrase. That's why you don't see Super Bowl on many banners or on the odds sheets at the sports books. Instead, they call it "The Big Game," or "Pro Football Championship," "NFL Championship," or the alphabet soup of "SB XXXIX."

But it's the Super Bowl to me. Let's see, that makes 11 references. Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl Super Bowl. That should be another for each of the major casino companies in town. Thank goodness for freedom of the press.

Last word on Super Bowl site

Last week, Tony Kornheiser of The Washington Post wrote a column in which he said the city of Jacksonville stinks - literally. That answered a question I've had in the back of my mind for about 17 years: Does Jacksonville still smell bad?

Way back in 1988, I was a student at Northern Illinois University. I went to Jacksonville for a journalism convention with two co-workers on the student newspaper. When we arrived at the airport, we were hit by that same stench that Kornheiser described, and the odor was everywhere we went in town.

On our first night there, being college kids and wanting to keep as much of our per diem money as possible, we walked around our part of the town (not knowing it was the largest metropolitan area in the country) looking for a Pizza Hut. All we could talk about was how bad the city smelled.

When we got back to our hotel room, we cracked up when one of the local TV stations ran a promo for a feature on the 11 o'clock news titled - and I'm not making this up - "Why does Jacksonville have to stink?" The subtitle was along the lines of "Is the odor costing our city tourism dollars."

It's probably no small coincidence that the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd originated in Jacksonville. You might recall one of their hit songs from the 1970's titled "That Smell."

"Ooh, that smell . . . can't you smell that smell . . . "

But even if the visitors are distracted by the odor, I can't help but think that the Super Bowl will be an experience of a lifetime for all that make it to Jacksonville, and the city will come out smelling like a rose.

And so will a Super Bowl in Vegas.

After all, a rose by any other name is still a rose, and smells as sweet. And no matter what the Super Bowl is called here in town, Las Vegas will still be rocking this Sunday.

Just like Christmas in Whoville was not just about the presents, the Super Bowl is no longer just about the game. The Super Bowl has taken on a life of its own. It's bigger than the league. It's bigger than the game of football. It now belongs to the people.

The NFL can take away Las Vegas's extravagant parties and the buffets and trinkets that went with it, but the spirit of Super Bowl will still be with us.

And there might be an unexpected (and unwanted, from the NFL's viewpoint) result from all this. With all the casino customers not being shuffled off to huge convention areas to eat, drink, and be merry, if they're forced to stay in the sports book area to watch the pregame festivities and the game itself, customers might bet even more on the Super Bowl. Last year, the betting handle on the game was a record $81.3 million, and with the popular and much-anticipated matchup of the Patriots and Eagles and easier access to the odds and betting windows, the handle might approach $100 million.

Now that would be sweet.