The opening kickoff next Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in RFK Stadium will signal the start of Soccer Bowl '80, capping more than a year of efforts by a coalition of Washington area government and business leaders to focus the attention of the North American soccer community on the nation's capital. t
On a warm night in late summer 1979, Steve Danzansky, president of Washington Diplomats, and a few friends were, as Danzansky recalls, "just kicking around some ideas" when talk turned to the problems the city has had in shaking its image as a bush league sports town.
Sports Illustrated had just printed an article opposing transfer of the Baltimore Orioles to Washington on the grounds that Washington wasn't sports minded enough to support a team, and the group was looking for ways to show the world that the national capital was a first class sporting community.
It was John Carbray, then general manager of the Diplomats, who got the idea. Why not Washington as the site for next year's Soccer Bowl -- the North American Soccer League's championship game and the sport's answer to professional football's Super Bowl? An area-wide sports authority could be formed to promote the event. It could remain intact afterward to bring other sporting events to the Washington area.
"Not only would it help our image, it would bring people and dollars into our city," Danzansky said.
A few days later Danzansky and Carbray approached Major Marion Barry with the idea that the continent's premier soccer event should be held in Washington the following year. The major jumped at the opportunity.
On the eve of Soccer Bowl '79, Barry flew to New York with a request for the North American Soccer League owners gathered for the game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Tampa Bay Rowdies: Wait six weeks before making any decision on a site for Soccer Bowl '80. In that time, Barry would make the owners an offer they couldn't refuse.
"It was the mayor's enthusiasm as much as anything and the very strong presentation he made that brought the Soccer Bowl to Washington," said NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam.
Having won a six-week extension following Soccer Bowl '79, the Washington promoters had until the NASL meeting in mid-October to get their act together. The city would enjoy a home-field advantage over Vancouver, Detroit and New England -- also bidding for Soccer Bowl '80 -- because the NASL meeting was to be held in Washington.
Returning to Washington, Barry met with Joseph Riley, board chairman and chief executive officer of National Savings and Trust Co. Riley was prevailed upon to organize the business community behind the bid for Soccer Bowl '80. Later, he would head up the newly organized Greater Washington Sports Authority, the coalition of business and government leaders that would promote Soccer Bowl '80 and future sporting events.
To take matters one step at a time, however, it was necessary first to persuade NASL owners to award Washington Soccer Bowl '80.
First, it was necessary to assure the owners of a good crowd. Few things could be more harmful to the image of soccer -- and Washington as a sports town -- than to have the game's major contest played before a small crowd.
Riley set about organizing the business community to guarantee the sale of at least 40,000 tickets, and it was done with a minimum of difficulty.
The owners also had to be presuaded that if they brought Soccer Bowl '80 to Washington, they'd get a warm reception from the community.
"We had to convince the owners that this was not just one city's mayor and one professional team doing the talking," said Abramson. "This was a community of 3 million people and 123,000 soccer players talking."
When the owners gathered at the L'enfant Plaza Hotel, a diverse collection of community representatives met with them. Included were spokesmen for the area youth soccer leagues, elected officials from the city and suburbs, and business and civic leaders. Several spoke, and most of the speeches lasted only a few minutes.
After two years in New York, it was the logical next step to move the soccer bowl to Washington, the owners were told. The city is, after all, an international capital, and extensive media coverage of the contest could be assured, it was argued.
"It was a very sexy presentation," said John Tydings of the Metropolitian Washington Board of Trade. When it was over Detroit, Vancouver and New England withdrew their bids and the League voted, 22-1, to award the game to Washington.