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Spagnola: Once Again Change Is In The Air


FROM HOME, Texas – Crazy, crazy times.

Swirling demonstrations. Seems these have been going on during my lifetime for the past 60 years, screaming for change.

The coronavirus. A first, yet now going on nearly four full months, with seemingly no end in sight, though many circles acting as if there really is, the sporting world still being affected on a daily basis. Hospitals and lives, too.

Oh sure, golf has returned, right down I-30 in Fort Worth. NASCAR, too. The NHL planning its return. The NBA, too. Baseball, who knows, unless you are into the early-morning edition from South Korea. But the stadiums are empty, safety first.

The NFL?

Inching back. But maybe more like centimeter-ing. Yep, the team facilities are open for limited business if located in allowable states. Coaches finally back in place. But no players … yet.

And since the NFL has only extended the virtual offseason programs to June 26, sure appears as if no players until the late July start to training camps, all to be held at team facilities.

Mentioned last week how 2020 is beginning to look a lot like 2011, the offseason of NFL labor unrest. That lockout, team facility doors closed to the players, whose union had decertified during the protracted CBA negotiations between NFL owners and the NFL Players Association to counter the lockout. No offseason workouts. No OTAs. No minicamps. All sounding quite familiar.

Not until July 25 that year did the NFL return to business, two days prior to the opening of training camps, though the preseason and season actually starting on time.

But there was no COVID complicating matters then. And even though this time the NFL and players have great intentions to play games on schedule, and even though the league has issued strict health guidelines for teams to follow for when training camps open sometime – for the Cowboys and Steelers first – around July 22 if all goes well, we're still kind of in a wait-and-see mode.

Seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Found another instance, looking back 30 years that doubly affected the Cowboys, and for one season the Steelers, too.

Do you remember why the Cowboys played Super Bowl XXVII against Buffalo at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., that Jan. 31, 1993?

I didn't.

Remembered a fine week spent leading up to the game with Buffalo, members of the local DFW media staying at the Cowboys' team hotel in Santa Monica, right on the beach, a place so fine we unofficially named it "Hotel California," and probably not what the Eagles had in mind when releasing the title track of their album by the same name 16 years earlier.

Remember game day at the Rose Bowl. The ocean blue skies. The San Gabriel Mountains dotting the horizon. That spine-chilling flyover over the sold-out Rose Bowl. Halftime with Michael Jackson. Fulltime with the Cowboys pummeling the Bills, 52-17, Buffalo losing its third consecutive Super Bowl, a streak the Cowboys would extend to four straight the following year..

But why were we in Los Angeles?

Because on March 19, 1991, the NFL owners voted to remove the Super Bowl from Phoenix, Ariz., scheduled to be played at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, on the campus of Arizona State University.

And why was that, just more than 19 years ago?

Because of the hot-button issue of the state of Arizona refusing to acknowledge the Jan. 15 birthday of the late Martin Luther King Jr. as a federal holiday, approved back in 1983 to honor the slain civil rights leader, an insidious crime committed on April 4, 1968, the spring of my freshman year in high school.

That, 52 years ago.

This backstory is so well documented in NFL Network's The Super Bowl That Wasn't, originally aired Feb. 15, 2018, and re-aired over the past couple of weeks. Jogged my memory.

The worst part of this turn of events: Back in 1986, Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt had agreed with President Ronald Reagan's mandated holiday decree, issued in 1983. But a year after Arizona finally joined the crowd,, newly-elected governor Evan Mecham rescinded the decision, claiming the state constitution required a popular vote to institute the holiday.

So the MLK Day was voted upon in 1990. Nearly 1.5 million votes were cast. The holiday referendum was defeated by 17,269 votes – 1.6 percent.

The NFL, under commissioner Paul Tagliabue, had warned the state of Arizona, already scheduled to hold Super Bowl XXVII, that in no way did the league want to be involved in such a polarizing issue at a Super Bowl. That if the holiday wasn't approved, the Super Bowl following the 1992 season would be moved elsewhere.

Tagliabue is quoted as saying on Nov. 8, 1990, some 12 hours after the referendum was defeated, "We should remove the game from political controversy and avoid being made a target. So long as it is in Arizona and the alleged controversy is unresolved, people will reach out and use us as a target.

"We're not infallible. It's a complicated situation. I don't think we did very much wrong. The problem existed long before we arrived on the scene."

When the NFL owners on that March 19, 1991 date voted to move Super Bowl XXVII to the Rose Bowl, they stipulated Super Bowl XXX following the 1995 season could return to Phoenix/Tempe and Sun Devil Stadium if a new referendum to sanction the holiday passed.

Losing the Super Bowl in 1993 reportedly cost the Phoenix metropolitan area some $200 million in revenue.

Well, as the story goes, Mecham ended up being impeached, and in 1991 Rife Symington III was elected governor, and he supported the holiday referendum voted upon on election day 1992. The measure to mandate Martin Luther King Day a holiday in the state of Arizona was approved by 62 percent of the vote – the same year Bill Clinton won the presidency. (By the way, Clinton the president inviting and greeting the Super Bowl champion Cowboys to the White House.)

True to their word, the NFL owners on March 23, 1993, then voted to confirm Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix.

And that, too, is how the Cowboys ended up on Jan. 28, 1996, in Sun Devil Stadium, beating the Steelers, 27-17, to win their third Super Bowl in four years. And for the halftime show, not to be thoroughly outdone by Michael Jackson at the Rose Bowl, Diana Ross was lowered by crane onto the stage and then whisked away via helicopter following her riveting performance.

And now, here we are, June 12, 2020, still calling for change.