NFL makes decision to play on ...

January 18, 1991|By Gerald Eskenazi | Gerald Eskenazi,New York Times

After indirect communication with the White House, the NFL announced yesterday that, barring later developments, its conference championship games would be played Sunday, as planned, and that Super Bowl XXV would take place in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 27.

"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," the league's commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, said in a written statement. "We will obviously follow events in the Middle East and take those into account as we approach kickoff."

One key administration official who consulted with the White House on behalf of the NFL was Jack Kemp, secretary of Housing and Urban Development and a former Buffalo Bills quarterback, a White House official said.

Security at all the games will be heavily beefed up, the league said. NFL officials have met extensively with representatives of the FBI.

"There's no question they should play. None at all," said former Giants wide receiver Phil McConkey, a Naval Academy graduate who is also a former Navy lieutenant. "It's not one bit insensitive. It would be insensitive not to play. Whether wartime or peacetime, sports is a great boost to morale. If I was over there and I was fighting, I would like to see things continue to go on."

Virtually without exception, sports events in the United States went on as scheduled yesterday, but a contingent of 90 U.S. skiers was hurriedly recalled from five European countries, where they were scheduled to compete in various World Cup and other events.

The head of the United States Ski Federation, Howard Peterson, said in a telephone interview from Park City, Colo., that he was concerned about the skiers' safety and started calling various team coaches in Europe at 1 o'clock yesterday morning.

"We moved very quickly to wake them up," he said. "One of the skiers, Eric Keck, told me, 'I'm glad we're coming home.' "

All the skiers arrived in the U.S. yesterday after traveling from sites in Austria, Switzerland, France, Italy and Czechoslovakia. They were able to move so swiftly because the federation had been in consultation with State Department officials for some time.

"Our decision was based on safety, not morality," Peterson said. "If it were morality, I would have consulted the athletes. I did not consult them over this."

There was little or no apprehension in staging events in this country, despite Iraq's threats of terrorism.

This weekend is a significant one in sports. The National Hockey League is to have its All-Star Game in Chicago tomorrow, to be televised by NBC. The league has not had a major-network television deal for many years.

On Sunday, the NFL's AFC championship game will be staged in Orchard Park, N.Y., outside of Buffalo. That game will be followed by the NFC title game in San Francisco.

A White House official, who requested anonymity, said that intermediaries of various professional sports leagues had spoken White House aides.

"While the White House didn't tell the leagues what to do, the White House is going on with its business, as is the Congress," the official said. "All the leagues have shown a sensitivity to what has been going on."

John Ziegler, the NHL's president, was one of the four major league officials to discuss recent events yesterday in a telephone conference call. Executives from baseball, football and basketball discussed the situation.

Ziegler cited the fact that the NHL continued play in World War II. He also said, "We will take our guidance from the President of the United States as to the All-Star Game and from both the president, and prime minister of Canada, as to our regular schedule."

The NBA's deputy commissioner, Russell Granik, said: "All sports have similar concerns here and everyone is anxious to do the right thing."

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