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Today's site springs from bad deal

Soured by a broken agreement, Glazer's 1996 speech wins Super Bowl.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 28, 2001


Perhaps it wasn't quite that genteel. Maybe it was closer to:

"Hey, wait a minute!"

However it began, it was the start of a brief but effective diatribe directed by Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer at his fellow NFL owners on Oct. 31, 1996.

They were meeting in New Orleans and had just awarded Super Bowl XXXIV -- the Super Bowl that Glazer thought commissioner Paul Tagliabue had promised to Tampa -- to Atlanta.

So Glazer insisted they get today's instead.

Leonard Levy, a member of the task force that presented Tampa's bid for Super Bowl XXXIV, said he thought Tagliabue had promised the game on the condition voters passed a referendum to help fund a new $168-million stadium, which they had a month earlier. In an unprecedented move, Tagliabue had promised to recommend Tampa Bay as a Super Bowl site if the stadium was approved.

When asked as the meeting approached whether he would make good on his promise, Tagliabue wavered. No owner at the meeting would say whether he spoke up for Tampa Bay.

Bob Tisch, co-owner of the Giants, 49ers president Carmen Policy and Patriots owner Bob Kraft said they thought Tagliabue had promised Tampa a game, but not specifically the 2000 game.

Part of Tampa's problem was the owners were letting their hearts guide their minds. Long-time Falcons owner Rankin Smith had lobbied hard on Atlanta's behalf. But he was ailing. And convention commitments would prevent Atlanta from hosting another Super Bowl before 2005.

"There was clearly a sentimental issue with Rankin Smith," NFL president Neil Austrian said. "There was a lot of feeling that if they did not get the 2000 Super Bowl, Atlanta would not host another one in Rankin's lifetime." (Smith died almost a year to the day after the vote.)

Further, a pending lawsuit by former Tampa Mayor William F. Poe seeking to have the stadium referendum declared unconstitutional didn't help the cause.

Following 15-minute presentations by four cities pursuing a Super Bowl, the owners met to vote.

Ten minutes into the meeting, Miami got Super Bowl XXXIII.

Phoenix was eliminated on the first ballot to pick the Super Bowl XXXIV city. On the second ballot, Atlanta won a clear majority. Glazer, stunned and angered, stood and began his lecture.

"What he said was a statement of fact," said Jim Steeg, NFL director of special events. "Tampa had come up with a new stadium with the impression that a Super Bowl would follow."

Bucs vice president Bryan Glazer said his father "was very emotional, very upset. He felt betrayed by the league office and the commissioner."

The meeting continued for another hour. Austrian proposed a compromise. The owners hadn't planned to award Super Bowl XXXV for another year. Give it to Tampa, Austrian suggested.

The leaders of the Tampa and Atlanta task forces were asked to join the owners.

"They didn't ask me anything," said Jack Wilson, chairman of the Tampa task force. "When I came in, they said, "Here's the deal: Atlanta has 2000 and you've got 2001.' I said, "That's great.' The decision was made before I got in the room."

-- Staff writer John Romano and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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