Week delay set if game is held up War wouldn't lead to midweek football

January 26, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

TAMPA, Fla. -- Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday that if the Super Bowl tomorrow has to be postponed because of last-minute developments in the Persian Gulf war, it probably wouldn't be rescheduled until next Sunday.

In his annual Super Bowl news conference, Tagliabue rejected the idea of playing the game Monday or Tuesday night if he were forced to postpone the game.

"If there are events that are grave enough to warrant a cancellation on Sunday, I don't think that those events will have dissipated by Monday night or Tuesday night. I think there would have to be some period like there was with the World Series [that was postponed after the San Francisco Bay area earthquake a year ago] so people feel it's now appropriate to proceed.

"That requires the passage of time and some shift in the public attitude. That's why I think a week's delay or maybe a two-week delay is what we're looking at, rather than a one- or two-day delay," he said.

Tagliabue stressed that he isn't expecting a delay and his expectations are that the game between the New York Giants and the Buffalo Bills will start as scheduled, at 6:18 p.m.

He has been meeting with an informal, small group of owners about what course of action to take and plans to meet with them again today as they continue to review the situation.

Tagliabue said he spoke Thursday with Jack Kemp, Housing and Urban Development secretary, a former Bills quarterback, and has had continuing discussions with various federal agencies, including the White House and the Defense Department.

"The message from all of them is to play the game subject to events as they evolve over the weekend," he said.

Tagliabue didn't say specifically what developments would cause him to postpone the game or when it would be too late to postpone it.

"I don't know what it would take to postpone the game. We've looked at two types of contingencies. One would be some activity here, some lack of security here in the Tampa area; the other would be events in the Mideast. We don't have a set of rules to call into play. We'll make the best business judgment and see what's happening Sunday. That's the best I can say," he said.

He seemed to be suggesting that if the networks decide to switch to round-the-clock coverage of the war, the game would be postponed.

The NFL appears to be turning the game into a television show by refusing to play it if it can't be televised, but one owner on the informal committee said the league has to take into consideration the fans around the country who want to see the game and can't get tickets.

The worst-case scenario for the NFL would be for the game to begin only to have ABC then be forced to stop televising it because of developments in the Middle East.

The league has decided to lengthen the breaks between the first and second quarters and third and fourth quarters for news updates, and there will be plenty of time for halftime updates because the Super Bowl halftime show usually is a long spectacle.

"That's something we're continuing to discuss with ABC. They've made it clear to us that they have a news obligation as a network, which we respect. We're giving them additional time for news. I expect that specific decisions on timing will be made during the game," Tagliabue said.

Although he said he still expects Tampa Stadium to be full, one owner said he knows that some people have turned back tickets because they're afraid to come to Tampa. He said fans generally have turned their tickets over to people who are willing to come.

Although the owner said he thinks some of the concern is overblown, he said: "Don't blame us. I think there's too much concern about security in America in general and we have to react to that."

Tampa Stadium has been turned into a virtual fortress, with concrete barriers and a new chain link fence surrounding the stadium, even though no credible threat has been made against the game.

Although most of the discussion was about the game, Tagliabue also gave an overview of his first full season as commissioner.

He said that until the war broke out in the Persian Gulf, it had been a "year of fun, a rewarding year."

He noted the teams set attendance records, that TV ratings were strong and that "Monday Night Football" was the sixth-highest-rated show of the year in prime time. In 1981 when the league had its highest ratings, it was the 19th-highest-rated show.

He said that even though overall ratings for all TV shows have declined in the last decade because the audience is fractionalized by cable channels, the NFL's share of the audience is very strong.

Commenting on the continuing instant-replay controversy, he said the overturning of the Earnest Byner fumble in the Philadelphia Eagles-Washington Redskins game was a "picture perfect" use of instant replay. But he said there will be discussions about ways to streamline it by cutting down on the number of plays that can be reviewed.

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