Tampa crosses its fingers

Published May 25, 2005

WASHINGTON - The minds of NFL owners likely are made up, but it's anybody's guess as to which of four sites, including Tampa, will be chosen to host the 2009 Super Bowl.

Competition is that close.

Groups from Tampa, Atlanta, Houston and south Florida will have 15 minutes each to make their pitch to owners today at the NFL's spring meeting, with a vote to follow. Behind-the-scenes politicking began long ago, which means few, if any, will be swayed by today's presentations.

"I think you'd really have to wow them with a presentation and we only have 15 minutes," said Mike Newquist, the Bucs senior director of business administration. "Most of the people know by the time they get in there, but you might be able to point out one thing if someone's on the border between two cities."

Atlanta appears to be the front-runner, with popular Falcons owner Arthur Blank promising a $150-million renovation to the Georgia Dome.

But nothing is certain. Politicking has been fierce, including a barrage of gifts sent to owners. It likely will take more than one vote to determine the winner, as the bid with the fewest votes is eliminated until one receives the required majority.

"I ate my stone crabs from Miami day before yesterday," Titans owner Bud Adams said. "I got my Arnold Palmer putter from Tampa, went out and did a little putting on the putting green at the country club. It's going to be close."

Houston hosted the 2004 Super Bowl and Miami will host in 2007, so owners might be reluctant to award the game to either so soon again. Atlanta hosted in 2000, when a rare ice storm stuck the city the weekend of the game. Tampa had the game in 2001.

Sunshine, golf and a party for NFL personnel at Busch Gardens are the backbone of Tampa's bid. Tampa task force chair Dick Beard, mayor Pam Iorio and Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman will make the presentation.

Newquist said the Glazer family - owner Malcolm and sons Joel and Bryan - worked the phones in recent days on behalf of Tampa, calling all the other NFL owners.

"They had some great one-on-one conversations," Newquist said. "We received a lot of very positive feedback."