- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 4, 2003

Washington is putting its collective sports ego, badly bruised and battered in recent years, on the line once again for football’s grandest showcase.

At the end of the month, NFL owners will vote on the host city for the 2008 Super Bowl. And rather than the usual rotation of warm-weather cities in the South and on the West Coast, FedEx Field in Landover is a finalist along with Tampa, Fla.; Phoenix; and Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The New Jersey and Washington bids both aim to play host to the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold-weather city. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has made advancing the two efforts a personal priority, saying a Super Bowl in greater New York or Washington is “a worthwhile idea that makes sense on a lot of levels.”

For Washington, however, much more is at stake than just sentimentality or helping the NFL stay close to its core fan base in the Northeast population belt. After high-profile failings in bids for the 2012 Summer Olympics, a Mike Tyson heavyweight fight, and currently stalled efforts to land a Major League Baseball team, Washington is openly starved for some success in landing a big-time sports event.

Recent arrivals by the Women’s World Cup and the NFL’s kickoff extravaganza on the Mall salved that wound somewhat. But neither event comes close to the magnitude or economic effect of the Super Bowl, annually the most-watched event on American television and a game with deep resonance within pop culture.

“We have things to offer that no other potential host has,” said Dave Pauken, Washington Redskins chief operating officer. “We have a world-class stadium, the nation’s capital and one of the most unique settings for a Super Bowl.”

The Redskins and owner Dan Snyder are leading the Washington bid along with a high-level regional planning committee that includes such luminaries as D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, AOL co-founder Jim Kimsey and Jack Valenti, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America.

NFL executives are impressed with Washington’s bid; however, officially they will remain neutral until the Oct.30 vote. The formal bid covers a wide range of areas, from game operations and corporate hospitality to transportation, parking and security.

“Dan Snyder and the Redskins have put together a knock-your-socks-off proposal,” said Jim Steeg, NFL senior vice president of special events.

Getting a consensus from the 32 NFL team owners, a wildly disparate group, will be a much tougher task. The NFL, along with the high-roller corporate crowd that attends the Super Bowl en masse, has become accustomed to spending the days leading up to the game each year in the sunny warmth of cities such as Miami, San Diego, New Orleans and Tampa.

Even when the game is played in a domed stadium in a colder city such as Atlanta, Minneapolis or Detroit, the site causes considerable debate because it forces many Super Bowl events that could be held outdoors back inside.

“There are no doubt reservations among the owners whenever the Super Bowl goes north,” said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports-industry consultant. “That’s why you see it happen so infrequently.”

Even without that wild-card element, NFL owners rarely pick a Super Bowl host city without considerable disagreement. Selecting a host city requires approval from 24 of 32 team owners, except when three successive votes fail to produce that margin. In that instance, a simple majority vote selects the winner.

And when there is competition for playing host to the Super Bowl, as there is this year, owners fail to generate that three-quarters majority vote 90 percent of the time, Steeg said. Heightening that tension further is the secret-ballot voting for Super Bowl hosts. Every other major sports league conducts a vote by open roll call.

“This is tough stuff. It often takes several hours to produce a winner in these [votes],” Mr. Steeg said.

The New Jersey and Washington Super Bowl bids are not the first to seek to go outdoors for the midwinter matchup. In 1984, the Philadelphia Eagles and then-owner Leonard Tose tried to have the now-reviled Veterans Stadium selected as host to Super Bowl XXI in 1987. Support existed for the northern city, but after more than six hours of debate, revotes and procedural battles, Pasadena, Calif., and the Rose Bowl won out.

A league guideline exists prohibiting outdoor Super Bowls where the average midwinter temperature is less than 50 degrees. Since it’s not a formal league rule, violating the guideline does not require a special provision. But it does place pressure on the Redskins to put their best case forward, particularly when the average January temperature in Washington over the last 30 years has been 31.7 degrees, and 34.5 degrees in February.

Worse yet, Washington winters are notoriously unpredictable, wavering between balmy weather and crushing snowstorms.

The Redskins have proposed to move several preliminary Super Bowl events, such as an annual charity golf outing, to the fall.

“We’re not hiding behind the weather,” Mr. Pauken said. “It is what it is. But we have plenty of indoor facilities, heated hospitality tents and a heated field. It will be a great game.”

Stumping for Washington at the NFL owners’ meeting Oct.28-30 in Chicago will be Jack Johnson, Prince George’s County executive; former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson; and Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele.

The story is much the same in New York, where the Giants have surged back into competition in recent days after completing a deal to renovate Giants Stadium. After months of negotiations, the Giants and the NFL will pay for a $290million upgrade. In return for the private-sector financing, the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority will hand over some publicly held operational control of the stadium and luxury-seat revenues to the Giants.

“I have no idea how this vote is going to go — there is still quite a bit of divergence of opinion,” said Giants Chairman Bob Tisch. “But I have no doubt we will put on an outstanding Super Bowl.”

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