Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made it official yesterday that the National Football League's conference championship games and the Super Bowl will be played as scheduled, despite the Persian Gulf war.
But it's uncertain whether the NBC and CBS television networks will show the entire conference championship games Sunday or cut away for updates on the war.
Both networks plan halftime updates on the progress of the war, and NBC said it has received permission to lengthen halftime from 12 to 15 minutes for that purpose.
Susan Kerr, director of sports communication for CBS, and Ed Malarkey, her NBC counterpart, said their networks plan to show the games, but that their news divisions will decide whether to interrupt the broadcasts.
"We will follow the lead and news judgment of NBC News," Malarkey said.
Kerr and Malarkey said the U.S. Army had one advertisement scheduled during each game and that advertisement has been pulled. No other sponsor has pulled out.
The American Football Conference championship game between the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Raiders is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m. on NBC. The National Football Conference title game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. on CBS.
The Super Bowl is scheduled to be played the following Sunday in Tampa, Fla., and will be televised by ABC.
The last time a network didn't show an entire playoff game was in 1977, when NBC was scheduled to show the divisional games between the Baltimore Colts and the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos.
When the Baltimore-Oakland game went into double overtime, the network wasn't able to show much of the first quarter of the Pittsburgh-Denver game.
Tagliabue's announcement came as no surprise, even though Advertising Age magazine said this week that the league might postpone its final playoff games if war broke out.
The NFL never has postponed a playoff game because of military action. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning, Dec. 7, 1941, many Americans heard the news when radio broadcasts of the NFL games were interrupted for the bulletins. The league finished its season on schedule and played its title game Dec. 21.
Although the American Football League, which was then competing with the NFL, postponed its games on Nov. 24, 1963 -- two days after President Kennedy was assassinated -- the NFL played a full schedule.
The games were not shown on television, and there was much criticism of the action. When Pete Rozelle retired, he said that playing on that weekend was the biggest regret of his 29 years as commissioner.
In his statement, Tagliabue said: "We recognize that the American people will not be paralyzed by the events in the Middle East or allow the fabric of daily life to be destroyed. We thus expect to play Sunday's conference championship games and the Super Bowl as scheduled. Local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have been enlisted in the league's efforts to provide the highest level of public safety to those attending our games. We will obviously continue to follow events in the Middle East and take those into account as we approach kickoff."
Tagliabue said the decision doesn't minimize the importance of the war.
"We have tremendous respect for the bravery and achievements of the nation's military forces in the Middle East," he said. "We recognize the importance of achieving the goals established by President Bush and the United Nations."
The White House has indicated that the war should not lead to the rescheduling of football games.
"We're not suggesting that life should be disrupted," said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. "There's no reason for people to be canceling meetings or events and so forth."
President Bush has recorded a message, aimed at the families of Gulf servicemen and women, that will be shown at halftime of the Super Bowl.
It would have cost the NFL millions of dollars in lost revenue from the television networks if it had canceled the last three games of the season.
The NFL statement did not mention the Pro Bowl, but a spokesman said it also will be played on schedule -- Feb. 3 in Honolulu.
There is likely to be increased security at the remaining games.
During a Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys in Miami in January 1976, the NFL allowed the producers of "Black Sunday" to film scenes at the game. It was the movie version of a book about an attempted terrorist attack during the Super Bowl. That still remains in the realm of fiction.