King vote will cost Arizona NFL likely to move 1993 Super Bowl

November 08, 1990|By Vito Stellino

Arizona voters surprised the pollsters Tuesday and narrowly voted down a proposed Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a move that apparently will cost the state Super Bowl XVII and more than $100 million in revenue.

National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue reacted to the vote yesterday by announcing that he will recommend the owners move the game -- scheduled for January 1993 after the 1992 season -- out of Phoenix.

"I am confident they will endorse my recommendation," Tagliabue said. "Arizona can continue its political debate without the Super Bowl as a factor."

Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, chairman of the Super Bowl site selection committee, said, "I can't imagine that people won't go along with the commissioner."

A total of 21 votes is necessary to move the game.

The league hasn't set a date for the vote, but an NFL spokesman said it won't be taken at next week's meeting in Dallas. It may be delayed until the annual owners meeting in Hawaii next March.

The game likely will go to San Diego, San Francisco or Los Angeles, the other cities on the ballot last March when Phoenix was awarded the game.

San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos went into that meeting with what he said he believed were 23 votes.

But San Diego lost out to Phoenix because the owners reportedly wanted to do a favor for Cardinals owner William Bidwill, who has been struggling to win support since he moved the team from St. Louis in 1988.

Political leaders in Arizona assured the NFL that a holiday for King would become law if Phoenix was awarded the game, and legislators passed such a bill earlier this year.

However, supporters of former Gov. Evan Mecham, who was impeached, circulated petitions to force a referendum on the issue. Although pollsters had predicted the holiday would be approved by 52 to 38 percent, it lost by about 15,000 votes of a million cast.

"This is one of the worst blows we've had in a long time," Gov. Rose Mofford said. "This will be hard to overcome for many years."

The Super Bowl is regarded widely to be worth more than $100 million to a city, and the defeat also could cost the Phoenix area many conventions.

Arizona is one of three states without a holiday for King, a slain civil rights leader.

It's uncertain why the pollsters were wrong, although voters sometimes aren't candid when talking to pollsters about racial matters. Black candidates often do better in the polls than they do in the ballot box.

Opponents also seized upon a report by Greg Gumbel of CBS-TV Sunday that the league had "already prepared a statement" announcing it would move the game if the referendum lost.

An NFL spokesman denied yesterday that the league had prepared the statement in advance, but CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius said, "We stand by our story."

Although it had been predicted that Phoenix would lose the game if the referendum was defeated, Gumbel's report that the league had prepared its statement started a controversy in Arizona.

Meacham said Sunday that supporters of the holiday planted the report in "a shameful and disgusting attempt to blackmail this entire state."

The supporters, meanwhile, said the report was planted by opponents to create a voter backlash.

Joe Lane, a former speaker of the Arizona House, called it "an act of deliberate sabotage."

Terry Goddard, former mayor of Phoenix, said the measure lost because of "a bunch of things."

He said: "I think one of them was that people thought they were being blackmailed by the NFL."

An NFL spokesman said it was unfair to blame the league for the defeat.

The NFL, which has one black coach and no black general managers and owners, has been criticized for not being sensitive to minorities.

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