Football players dream of the Super Bowl. Jockeys strive for the Winner’s Circle. Shoppers, and retailers, gear up for Black Friday.

The day after Thanksgiving has become the unofficial Gold Cup for amateur shoppers and bargain hunters. But don’t let the curlers and fuzzy slippers fool you; these early birds mean business.

In the wee hours of the morning, Wal-Mart shoppers began prowling the aisles mapping out a strategy that would complete their shopping lists and leave their bank accounts still in the black.

Gary Smith, Wal-Mart store manager in Stephenville, said the serious shoppers started prowling the store at 2 or 3 a.m. even though sales didn’t start until 5.

When associates cut the plastic on the store’s early bird specials at 5 a.m., a store packed to capacity with shoppers went wild for the season’s hottest buys on toys and electronics.

“There’s not one particular toy,” Smith said. “Movies and music are big this year and, of course, the Wii. This year it seems like there’s so many different items.”

This year the bargain hunters were hot on the trail of electronics, toys and fashion items. And those with a game plan got the goods.

One shopper walked by loaded down with Xbox games - she had managed to get the games of choice and also the best deals. As she made a call on her cell phone, her strategy was revealed.

“This is team Xbox,” the young shopper said.

It was a well-organized group, made up of teams - one team for video games, and others for electronics, clothing, small appliances, and jewelry. Her face showed the delight of a mission accomplished, while others were lost in a tumultuous sea of savage shoppers, ready to pounce on their neighbors to save a bundle and fill their sleighs.

And with many people working with tighter budgets, many area retailers are hoping shoppers will stay close to home this Friday.

“The economy is going to help everybody that’s a lower price type retailer,” Smith said.

Melissa Braswell of Spare Time in Glen Rose said overall sales Thanksgiving week were down about 50-percent from this time last year, but Black Friday sales were up by more than a third.

“Most people go out of town first,” Braswell said. “Sales may pick up when last-minute shoppers start coming in.”

Rustic Rhinestone on the square also had a good day Friday.

“Friday was a really good day,” said Gina Willingham. “There was a lot of traffic. I was happy with that day and Saturday was good, too.”

Willingham said Sunday’s numbers dropped some but thought most people were busy traveling and getting ready to head back to work.

Nationally, shoppers spent more than $10 billion over the weekend, averaging $360.15 per shopper. Nearly $9 billion was spent on Friday alone. One-third of all shoppers were already in the stores by 6 a.m. Friday morning.

Despite a 3-percent increase for retailers, online businesses missed projected sales.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) predicted 61 million shoppers would browse the net on Cyber Monday to polish off those shopping lists. They also predicted e-tailers would see a 24-percent increase in sales over last year’s numbers.

However, early reports indicate they may see only a seven or eight percent increase.