NFL uses its head, not its ego, in deferring to Gulf crisis

January 27, 1991|By Bob Verdi | Bob Verdi,Chicago Tribune

TAMPA, Fla. -- We are pleased to report, with a sense of relie and a reasonable degree of certainty, that the National Football League doesn't seem the least bit offended about having to share its weekend with a war.

This league is big on bigness, and there is no single athletic event that enraptures America like a Super Bowl Sunday. The World Series is just that, a series. The Final Four, despite some semipro participants, retains its amateur standing, and the Olympic track meet would work better if contested over a period of three hours instead of three weeks.

The NFL rarely requires an excuse to puff its chest, burst buttons and indulge in self-congratulations. Professional football has enjoyed three decades of unparalleled growth and prosperity, and today's XXVth Super Bowl was supposed to be a back-slapping bash to end all. An ode to overindulgence and overkill, if you will. A silver anniversary to celebrate the gold rush.

But the Persian Gulf crisis has put the planet on hold, and even the occasionally arrogant NFL accepts its proper place without kicking and screaming about inconvenience. Being a boom industry in the free enterprise system apparently doesn't deprive the system's beneficiaries of all scruples. Your gut reaction is to insist the NFL has no choice but to be decent, given its high public-relations and marketing profile. However, only two Januarys ago, insensitivity prevailed in Miami. While neighborhoods burned from riots, league officials hoped unsightly clouds of smoke would dissipate before the coin toss.

At the commissioner's annual state of the union message Friday, Paul Tagliabue sounded a bit like counterpart Fay Vincent when an earthquake pummeled Northern California during the 1989 World Series. Compared with this natural disaster, Vincent said, ours is a modest little sporting event. Tagliabue led with several paragraphs of support for U.S. troops in this man-made war, then explained that the extracurricular merry-making attendant to previous Super Bowls had been downscaled or canceled out of respect. He never did say that he'll be one happy chief executive when the sun rises Monday morning, but he didn't have to.

Tagliabue, ever so deftly, cautioned that today's game still could be postponed if events in the Middle East or Tampa warrant. The concern here is terrorism. The concern over there involves television, but not necessarily in the context we have come to expect from some of sport's narrow minds. As an NFL honcho said: "Yes, we want our premier show on TV. But if all hell breaks loose with Iraq, we won't be on TV for two reasons. TV won't want us, and the climate will be such that we won't want to play, anyway."

We take issue with only one portion of Tagliabue's platform. He said today's game would be just as safe commencing at 6:18 p.m. local time as it would be at noon. He must have a different concept of broad daylight vs. dark of night than we do. Tagliabue has rearranged a lot of schedules lately. His $1 million Super Bowl party, annually the week's second-toughest ticket, was dropped for propriety's sake. Bravo. There will be more Super Bowls and more Super Bowl bashes. Tagliabue and ABC would have done well to advance the opening kickoff as yet another security measure. If they can deal with moving the game back a week, could they not move it forward by a scant six hours?

Otherwise, Super Bowl behavior is commendable, and that includes the city of Tampa. Staging this game is a colossal task, but worth every drop of perspiration to the chamber of commerce. The good citizens of Tampa have done this before under better circumstances, and they'll do it again. They'll get no sympathy for operating under the stress everybody experiences because of the Persian Gulf. What's encouraging is that the people of Tampa are neither asking us to feel sorry for them nor are they feeling sorry for themselves.

We are unclear about the collective mood of Buffalo. A Bills zealot visiting Tampa was moaning on local radio the other day about the injustice of it all. His team finally made it to its first Super Bowl, his city that always gets laughed at finally has something to laugh about, the Bills are favored to whip those Giants from the Big Apple, and -- wouldn't you know it? -- there's got to be a war going on to spoil the moment. The fan might want to think twice. The reason they're fighting in the Middle East has something to do with his constitutional right to be a 50,000-watt fool.

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