KONA, Hawaii -- Paul Tagliabue, facing the biggest controversy of his 18-month tenure as commissioner of the National Football League, went into a rambling monologue at the end of a news conference yesterday while defending his decision to recommend the 1993 Super Bowl be pulled out of Phoenix.
The owners will vote today on his proposal to move the game to Los Angeles or San Diego because Arizona voters last November rejected a paid holiday for state workers for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
When Tagliabue was asked if the league had made any mistakes or done anything wrong to cause the problem, he said, "We had a concerted program of leaks to the media which caused the problem."
He then walked away from the microphone and launched into the monologue in the front of the podium.
"What do you want me to say, we're infallible? We're not infallible. It's a complicated situation, and people in Arizona think we did things and we think that other people did things. It's a problem. I don't think we did very much wrong, frankly," he said.
When told the NFL was in the middle of a mess, he said: "The problem existed long before we arrived on the scene. . . . It was clearly a national issue. It was becoming an embarrassment to everybody, not only in Arizona, but nationally and that was long before we had our meeting last March [when Phoenix was awarded the game]. . . . I think to say that the problem was created by the NFL is asinine, I think."
Phoenix officials are trying to keep the game, noting that 23 different cities in Arizona celebrate a King holiday, including Tempe, the site of Sun Devil Stadium, and Phoenix. The issue will be back on the ballot in 1992.
Tagliabue also faced several questions about why the league awarded the game to Phoenix a year ago when the state didn't have the holiday at that time. He said it was the league's "assumption" that the state would get the holiday and said he had no regrets about the way the league handled the situation.
"I don't have any regrets. I think you have to run your business based on your best judgment at the time," he said.