PHOENIX -- Arizona leaders, grudgingly accepting the NFL's offer of making Phoenix the preliminary site for the 1996 Super Bowl, nonetheless assailed the decision to pull the 1993 game as the league's biggest public-relations gaffe since it played games two days after President Kennedy's assassination.
'I'm a whole lot less excited about the NFL this year than I was last year (when the league awarded the 1993 Super Bowl to Arizona),' Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson said shortly after Tuesday night's vote. 'It has dimmed my view somewhat. As a citizen, I couldn't care less about whether they play the Super Bowl here. But as mayor, I have to look at the economic issue.'
The 1993 Super Bowl, which would have brought more than $200 million into the Phoenix-area economy, instead was awarded to Pasadena, Calif., after NFL owners reopened the bidding process at their league meetings in Kona, Hawaii.
With the vote, Phoenix became the first Super Bowl site to later have the game taken away.
As a compromise, the league offered to make Phoenix the preliminary site for the 1996 Super Bowl. However, that could change if Arizona voters do not pass a 1992 ballot initiative to create a paid holiday honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Voting to award the 1996 game will not take place until March 1993.
'I guess '96 is better than a kick in the pants. I kind of feel that's what we got, quite frankly,' Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., said from Washington. 'If (Phoenix Cardinals owner) Bill Bidwill is happy with it, that's good enough for me. But I'm very disappointed with the NFL's action. They've said there's no linkage (to the King holiday issue), but in fact that's exactly what they did.'
Tuesday's move was the fulfillment of a threat made five months ago by the NFL as two Arizona propositions to establish a King holiday went to the polls. Both ballot issues were defeated, though one went down by a margin of half a percentage point.
The day after the election, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, chairman of the Super Bowl Site Selection Committee, announced they would move to strip Phoenix of the Super Bowl.
That brought forth a cry of political blackmail from Arizona leaders, which continued Tuesday after the move was made.
'The NFL has clearly botched their job and I think many people in the NFL know that Mr. Tagliabue has botched it,' Johnson said. 'They shouldn't interfere with the real reason why we should have a King Day. I've never been a supporter of linking the two, but the NFL has been consistent in trying to link the two.'
DeConcini accused the NFL of creating a controversy, then abandoning Arizona instead of trying to help the state.
'Insead of trying to find a solution, they pretty well put it to us, ' he said. 'They said basically, 'We are not going to trust you with the 1992 election proposition. We're not going to stay with you. You guys go fly your own kite.''
Jerry Colangelo, owner and general manager of the NBA Phoenix Suns, said he thought Tagliabue 'made a calculated mistake responding as fast as he did in the way that he did. The NFL could have really set a good example by playing the game in Arizona and creating a positive atmosphere in the state.'
Phoenix does have a citywide holiday in honor of King, as does suburban Tempe and Arizona State University, where the game would be played.
'And still (NFL owners) overlooked that,' said Tom Sadler, director of stadium management at ASU.
The controversy also has caused the NFL to come under fire for its own civil rights practices.
There are no black owners or general managers in the league and just one black head coach, even though more than half the players are black. In addition, the league does not honor the federal King holiday, though workers do get an additional day off in February in exchange.
'Once you start throwing rocks at glass houses, you'd better start looking at yourself,' DeConcini said. 'They don't have a clean house themselves. They ought to apply the same standards to us as they do to themselves. They don't honor a Martin Luther King day themselves. It seems to me a little bit hypocritical.'
Braman, who owns a string of car dealerships in South Florida, also has been roundly criticized for not closing his dealerships on King Day.
'Mr. Braman has self-anointed himself as the moral watchdog for the NFL,' Johnson said. 'He has said in the past that Phoenix is suffering from a moral crisis. But he does not celebrate King Day at his car dealerships -- that's the height of hypocrisy.'
Larry Hilliard, vice president of the Phoenix and Valley of the Sun Convention and Visitors Bureau, noted that on the same day last November that Arizona's two King Day proposals failed, 'voters in the capital city of Pennsylvania voted to change the name of Martin Luther King Boulevard to Market Street. That state is the home of the Philadelphia Eagles.'