Orlando's Pro Bowl pitch: 'I'm going to Disney World!'

August 02, 1992|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Would you prefer a free vacation on the beaches in Honolulu or on the rides at Disney World?

That's the question the NFL is pondering these days. It's tough work, but somebody has to do it.

The question has come up because Orlando is trying to convince the NFL to move the Pro Bowl here from Honolulu.

It seems like a long shot, but that quest explains why the Washington Redskins played the Miami Dolphins in an exhibition game at the Citrus Bowl last night.

The city is trying to use this game to convince the NFL that it can compete with Honolulu, which has played host to the Pro Bowl since 1980.

Which brings up the subject of Disney World.

That's the city's ace in the hole in this lobbying fight.

The key to the Pro Bowl is getting the players to show up. That was a problem in the 1970s when the NFL played the game in seven cities in eight years.

It went from Los Angeles to Dallas, to Kansas City, Mo., to Miami to New Orleans to Seattle to Tampa, Fla., and back to Los Angeles.

The game met with varying degrees of success. It drew only 37,091 in Dallas, 26,484 in Miami and 30,546 in New Orleans.

On top of that, a lot of the star players were ducking the game with fake injuries. They didn't want to bother with it after a long season.

After all, the Pro Bowl never can match baseball's All-Star Game. Football is a team game, a game of emotion and preparation. There's not much of that in the Pro Bowl, so it tends to be a lackluster affair. By contrast, baseball is a more individual game in which the players can showcase their individual talents.

So the NFL had to figure out a way to get the players to show up.

A free trip for them and their wives to Hawaii was the answer. Even if the players didn't feel like going, how many wives would let them stay home and deprive them of a trip to paradise?

That's why the shift to Aloha Stadium in Honolulu in 1980 was a success. The game generally has drawn capacity crowds in Honolulu and there have been few no-shows among the players, even though the money -- $10,000 for the winners and $5,000 for the losers -- is cab fare by NFL standards.

The Orlando boosters, though, are arguing that the players' wives would like to visit Orlando because they can go to Disney World. It's also an attraction for their children. Will this pitch work?

Don't bet on it. Hawaii is still Hawaii. But Orlando is giving it a try, giving the Dolphins and Redskins royal treatment the past two days in one of the four neutral-site exhibition games being played in the United States this season.

The first one was yesterday's Hall of Fame Game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Jets in Canton, Ohio. The other two are the New York Jets-Green Bay Packers matchup in Madison, Wis., on Aug. 16, and the Aug. 27 matchup between the Dolphins and New Orleans Saints at Memorial Stadium.

That will be Baltimore's first NFL game since Dec. 18, 1983, when the Colts played the Houston Oilers. The Colts moved to Indianapolis on March 28, 1984.

Baltimore is the last of the five expansion finalists to play host to an exhibition game. The others -- St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla. -- have been sites for such games in the past and declined this year.

Baltimore figured the timing was right for a game this month because the league's timetable is to name two expansion teams to play in the fall of 1994. But that timetable is likely to be set back unless the NFL wins the antitrust trial in Minneapolis.

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