The New Orleans police department today investigated a bomb threat at the Chicago Bears' hotel and several verbal threats on quarterback Jim McMahon's life on what might have been the strangest day in Super Bowl history.
An insulting remark falsely attributed to McMahon about the women of New Orleans precipitated a flood of telephone calls to the New Orleans Hilton, the Bears' Super Bowl headquarters, and also led to a lunchtime protest by 20 women in front of the hotel.
The local television station that reported the remark Wednesday night, triggering citywide reaction, offered a retraction at noon today and apologized to McMahon.
Police spokesman John Marie said no bomb was found in the Hilton and no evacuation was ordered. He said hotel security was alerted to the threats against McMahon.
"We're hoping this will all die down real quick now with the retraction," Marie said. "It's kind of hard to believe."
On Wednesday night, at the end of his sports report, WDSU-TV Sports Director Buddy Diliberto announced he had heard that McMahon had said, "All the women of New Orleans are sluts . . . The people here are ignorant and stupid . . . "
Today, after McMahon denied the statement and the Bears threatened the station with a lawsuit, Bob McRaney Jr., the station general manager, said, "We have no basis to believe the statements about New Orleans, attributed to Mr. McMahon, were ever made. We sincerely regret the error . . . "
Diliberto also retracted the report and apologized to McMahon, the Bears, the National Football League, Chicago radio station WLS and "the people of New Orleans for the problems caused by these unverified statements."
Later in the day, McRaney repeated the apology on WDSU's 5 p.m. news program and added, "As of this afternoon, Buddy Diliberto has been indefinitely suspended from his duties as sports director . . . pending further review of the matter and what led to this regrettable incident."
"I think it's ridiculous," said McMahon, who first found out about Diliberto's report when he was awakened this morning by a phone call from a woman complaining about the statement.
"I've enjoyed the people of New Orleans . . . They've treated me nicely. Hopefully, I've treated them nicely. I've signed a lot of autographs. I don't think I've been abrasive to anybody. Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens and there's not much I can do about it.
"I don't know what to say. I thought I've been good all week."
According to the Bears' public relations director, Ken Valdiserri, Diliberto was told about McMahon's alleged statement by a local radio disc jockey known as "Boomer," who heard about it through a friend in Chicago. The friend supposedly heard the statement on an early morning report from New Orleans on WLS.
But Les Grobstein, WLS sports director, said McMahon has not been a guest on his station.
When asked where McMahon was at 6 a.m. Wednesday, when he supposedly made his remarks, his agent, Steve Zucker, said, "Sleeping."
"He's really bummed out," Zucker said. "He thought he had good relations with the media and the people of New Orleans."
McMahon, the most controversial and publicized figure in Super Bowl XX, said the acupunture treatments on his sore buttock are coming along well.
He was injured in the NFC championship game and has made news all week by discussing the unusual treatment.
"I'm feeling good," he said. "I'm feeling 100 percent better than I was yesterday. With three treatments today, I should be in great shape."
He said he expects to wear a pad Sunday at 5 p.m. when the Bears play New England.
Amid all the denials today, McMahon did accept blame for dropping his football pants when a helicopter hovered above Wednesday at practice.
"That's no big deal," he said. "I'm just letting them know where it hurts."
But he was uncharacteristically serious about the other controversy swirling around him.
"This is very disturbing to me," McMahon said at a news conference today. "There's nothing I can do about it. I can't undo the damage that's been done. I tried to call my wife this morning and she wasn't home. Maybe she left me."
At the same time WDSU retracted the statement on its noon newscast, about 20 women, many carrying signs and toilet paper, assembled in front of the Hilton to protest against McMahon. Most of them worked at the nearby Pan American Life Insurance Co. and came over on their lunch break.
"We're just here making our statement like he made his," said a woman who wanted to be identified only as "Ve."
When told of the station's retraction, another woman who would give only the name "Julie" said, "We will come back and apologize when he apologizes to us. We're a little premature, I guess."
It was uncertain whether McMahon knew of the protest outside the hotel.
"I'll be lucky to be alive by the end of the week," he said earlier. "It's gonna be tough to live with the people of New Orleans. And I don't blame them for being upset."