Phoenix May Lose '93 Bowl

Posted: November 08, 1990

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue recommended yesterday that the January 1993 Super Bowl be moved from Phoenix because Arizona voters Tuesday defeated a proposal to make Martin Luther King Day an official state holiday.

In March, NFL owners had awarded Super Bowl XXVII to Phoenix, primarily to help boost Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill's struggling, transplanted franchise. But at the time, Eagles owner Norman Braman, who heads the Super Bowl Site Selection Committee, said he would personally lead the charge to strip Phoenix of the game if the King holiday wasn't eventually approved.

A source close to Tagliabue said there was an "80 percent chance" that the game would be moved to San Diego, third-place finisher behind Phoenix and Los Angeles in the March bid for the game.

The Arizona-based Fiesta Bowl also is concerned about the repercussions of the vote. Brent DeRaad, director of public relations for the Fiesta Bowl, said the Bowl "could have problems bringing teams in."

Tagliabue said yesterday that he would urge NFL owners to move the championship football game and that he was confident they would. Tagliabue needs a total of 21 votes from the league's 28 teams.

"With the holiday referenda having been rejected Tuesday, I do not believe playing Super Bowl XXVII in Arizona is in the best interest of the National Football League," Tagliabue said.

"Arizona can continue its political debate without the Super Bowl as a factor."

Before Tuesday's vote, the Super Bowl had indeed been a major factor in the King holiday debate. At stake was the prestige of holding one of America's premier sporting events and the estimated $200 million boost the game would have on the Phoenix economy.

As a result, pulling the Super Bowl from Phoenix was always an implied threat in the minds of many Arizona voters. To avoid inflaming that perception, the NFL office had been discreetly noncommittal on the subject in the days before the election.

"The league was inundated with calls on this for the last few weeks, and so was I, and we all kept a very low profile purposely," Braman said. "But certainly there was no secret on this. . . . I think it would have been more of an affront to say that the holiday didn't make any difference."

League owners have a meeting scheduled Nov. 14 in Dallas, but NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said a vote on the commissioner's recommendation would not be held then. "It will be held in due course, though," Aiello said.

Phoenix Super Bowl backers, who were leading the drive to have the King holiday approved, blamed a CBS-TV report for creating a last-minute voter blacklash. The proposal to honor the slain civil rights leader was rejected by about 15,000 votes out of a million cast.

On the network's NFL Today show Sunday, sportscaster Greg Gumbel reported that the league had already prepared a statement removing the game from Phoenix if the King holiday was rejected.

Susan Kerr, director of sports communication for CBS, rejected the notion that Gumbel's report was responsible for the election results. Gumbel was unavailable for comment.

The NFL is not the first sports organization to cancel out on Arizona

because of the King holiday controversy. The NBA pulled its 1987 league meetings from Phoenix. Efforts to lure a pro basketball all-star game and, perhaps, a major-league baseball franchise would be hurt by Tuesday's vote.

"It's going to take a long time to recover," said Bill Shover, chairman of the Phoenix '93 Super Bowl Committee.

It was with the threat of the Super Bowl being moved that the legislature ended nearly two decades of divisive debate over the issue last year by passing a bill making the third Monday in January Martin Luther King-Civil Rights Day in Arizona. But King Day opponents, led by impeached Gov. Evan Mecham, circulated petitions to force a referendum on the issue.

A similar petition drive had stalled implementation of another bill passed in 1989 that created a King holiday but did away with the state's Columbus Day holiday, to keep state employees from getting an additional day off.

Both issues appeared on Tuesday's ballot, and both were rejected.

comments powered by Disqus