MLK flap cost Arizona '93 Super Bowl, but 3 years later Cowboys prevailed in the desert Print
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Thursday, 24 January 2008 12:39
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 TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -The imposing shadow of Martin Luther King Jr. shades the history of the Super Bowl in Arizona.
Voters' refusal to establish a state holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader cost Arizona the 1993 game.
In November 1990, the measure was rejected 51 percent to 49 percent, despite polls that had showed it would pass easily. So NFL owners, under the recommendation of commissioner Paul Tagliabue, moved the game to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
``Many of our players regard Martin Luther King as a role model,'' Tagliabue said three days after the Arizona vote. ``We're encouraging them to be role models, and I think it would be unfair to ask them to go play their championship game in that state.''
Only when a 1992 election reversed the state's stand did the league decide to stage Super Bowl XXX at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe in 1996.
``We got the MLK holiday out of it indirectly,'' said Bill Shover, who headed the Super Bowl host committee at the time. ``That was the best part of the whole thing.''
In the intervening two years, the state was vilified as a haven for racists.
``We were the boon of all the talk show guys,'' Shover said in an interview on Thursday, ``that we were wearing hoods out here and this was a racist state.''
The subsequent vote in favor of the MLK holiday was overwhelming.
``We won our dignity back,'' then-Phoenix mayor Paul Johnson said afterward. ``There is no doubt that this is not about how the nation perceives us, but how we perceive ourselves, and let me tell you it's a whole sight better.''
Shover said Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill was largely responsible for getting the game to Tempe.
When the game finally came to Arizona, it featured ``America's team,'' the flamboyant and boastful Dallas Cowboys under coach Barry Switzer, featuring Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders. They were 13 1/2-point favorites to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and extend the NFC's string of Super Bowl victories to 12.
A crowd of 76,347 packed the metal bleachers of the stadium on the Arizona State campus. Thousands crowded the nearby streets of Tempe's entertainment district.
The turf at Arizona State is among the best in football, but from the start it was apparent the stadium was not up to Super Bowl standards.
``It's a college stadium that needs a lot of work, but it was the only thing we had,'' said Shover, now retired as director of public affairs for The Arizona Republic. ``We polished it up, put a lot of paint on it, and made it look the best we could.''
There were too few suites, overcrowded rest rooms and not enough parking. Many of the 2,000 or so media members had to watch the game on television from outside the stadium.
They saw a contest far more competitive than anticipated. If not for two interceptions by Dallas' Larry Brown, the Steelers might have pulled off an upset.
Neil O'Donnell's 6-yard touchdown pass to Yancey Thigpen with 13 seconds left in the half cut Dallas' lead to 13-7. The players left the field to make way for an elaborate halftime ceremony.
A giant mechanical arm lowered singer Diana Ross, in a red miniskirt, into a cloud of smoke on an elevated platform. She sang a medley of her hits, surrounded by hundreds of dancers as the platform rose some 20 feet into the air while fireworks went off around her. Finally, a helicopter landed to whisk her away. Perched in the open door, she waved and blew kisses to the crowd as she was lifted away.
Brown's 44-yard interception return set up a 1-yard TD run by Smith that boosted Dallas' lead to 20-7 in the third quarter. But the Steelers responded with a field goal, then recovered an onside kick. That led to Bam Morris' 1-yard scoring run that cut it to 20-17 with 1:36 left in the period.
The Steelers got the ball back with 4:15 to play in the game at their 32, but Brown intercepted again, returning it 33 yards to set up Smith's clinching 4-yard touchdown run. The final score was 27-17.
Brown, whose infant son had died the previous November, was the game's MVP.
When the debris was cleared and the money counted, the game brought $305.8 million to the Arizona economy, according to a state study. Just about everyone knew, though, that it would be a while before the Super Bowl came back to the desert.
At an NFL meeting, Arizona boosters got the official word.
``We pitched it right after that and were told in New Orleans that as much as we liked it in Phoenix,'' Shover said, ``you weren't going to get one until you get a new stadium.''
A dozen years later, in a state-of-the-art colossus in Phoenix's western suburbs, the game is back.

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