In the business of luring Super Bowls, communities must nail the brutal politics of pro football, tackle the gentle embrace of team owners, try a quarterback sneak with free golf, and, most of all, pound the importance of patience.
Tampa Bay hosted its third Super Bowl for the National Football League in 2001 and by all accounts performed magnificently. But then it was back to the end of the line and the re- start of the unofficial eight-year city rotation.
Opportunity came knocking – sort of – in October 2004, when the area was invited to Chicago to bid for the 2008 Super Bowl against Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Miami.
“We lost that bid to Phoenix,” recalls Paul Catoe, president of Tampa Bay & Co., the Tampa convention & visitors bureau. “We kind of knew going in that we would lose that. The NFL invites you to the table; we felt good about being invited. But we knew we were there to be one of the competing cities. It was told to us that Phoenix, which just got a new stadium, was going to get that.”
Still the Super Bowl Task Force summoned an all-star squadron for its presumed futility, including General Tommy Franks and Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan.
A year and a half later, Tampa Bay took the NFL’s call again. Going into the May 2005 dog-and-pony show for the 2009 Super Bowl, the invitation list also included Miami, Atlanta, and Houston.
“We felt we were seeded higher this time; we felt we were No. 2,” Catoe says. “But we thought it was going to Atlanta. They had committed millions to their stadium. Their owner, Arthur Blank, the co-founder of The Home Depot, was very impressive. We thought they would get the nod. We thought Miami was there for window dressing because they had already been awarded the 2007 Super Bowl. Houston had the Super Bowl in 2003; we didn’t think they’d go back to Houston so soon. Our competition was Atlanta, the favorite son. We thought with Arthur Blank’s personality, that they would win.”
But Tampa Bay’s business, civic, and governmental leaders nonetheless chose to put their best foot forward and take a whack at the billion-dollar pigskin piñata.
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Copyright 2008 Will Eisner: A Spirited Life by Bob Andelman