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Thursday | 05 March, 2009 | 3:40 am

Salvaging steel on Super Sunday

By Andy Barks

March 2009 - Fundamentally, the Super Bowl is just a game--the culmination of a grueling National Football League season. Sure, the site is neutral and the climate unseasonably tropical for February, but otherwise, the quarters are still 15 minutes long and the rules are the same once the whistle has been blown.

What separates the NFL's championship from the September-through-January schedule is the spectacle. No event embraces pomp and excess quite like the Super Bowl, and the 43rd edition at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium was no exception, in spite of a global economic lull that threatened to dent revenue.

Amid the glitz and grandeur in Tampa was one display with a backstory belied by its 25-foot-tall centerpiece. Most fans who walked through Champions Landing at Cotanchobee Park probably never knew it, but that project's effects will be felt well beyond Super Bowl Sunday.

Fully recycla-bowl
Gerdau Ameristeel Corp., Tampa, Fla., is the company behind the Champions Landing display. It commissioned 21 sculptures for the week leading up to the game, using scrap steel from the recently demolished Orange Bowl, the former home of the University of Miami Hurricanes. For inspiration, Gerdau enlisted artists from across the country, hoping to create a unique collage for the NFL fans in town. They did--with materials that could have simply been thrown away.

"The Orange Bowl Stadium hosted many of college and professional football's greatest moments," said Gerdau CEO Mario Longhi in a press release. "So we believed repurposing a portion of the recycled steel to celebrate football was an appropriate tribute. The rest of the steel, like the recycled Twin Towers before it, is already being used in building projects across the nation."

The renderings that resulted were as creative as they were eco-efficient. Artists used the materials for a variety of functions and revealed a range of personal interpretations.

"We chose some artists based on their reputation in the national metal art community and others based on their connection to the local Tampa community," says company spokesperson Santiago Fittipaldi.

Bird-themed teams like the Eagles, Falcons and Ravens were depicted in traditional, monochromatic steel structures. Others used more abstract inspirations, like the pirate ship that was the basis for the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sculpture. Landmarks like the Washington Monument and the World Trade Center were incorporated into renderings for the Washington Redskins and New York Giants, respectively. The eventual Super Bowl champs, the Pittsburgh Steelers, were represented appropriately by a football merging with a steel beam, an homage to the city's history of metal forging.

Finding a final destination
Ultimately, the festivities lasted only a week, so securing a long-term home for the sculptures was Gerdau's primary challenge. Distributing the sculptures to the usual clientele of service centers and OEMs wasn't really an option.

"We want to bring awareness to the public that recycling steel is an important part of our society's environmental focus and that it also provides a valuable product that can be utilized in many different and unique ways," said Longhi.

Thus, the company settled on a live auction for charity, with the proceeds going to the Hillsborough County, Fla., chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Each item was sold for at least $500, with the New England Patriots version going for $3,550. In all, the auction garnered more than $17,000 in donations for the 21 sculptures, though the number isn't representative of the total impact.

Had the Orange Bowl been torn down and brushed aside like most other antiquated, concrete-heavy stadiums built in the pre-World War II era, a lot wouldn't have happened. But Gerdau recognized its potential, and the remnants are now quite literally dotting the nation. MM

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