SAN DIEGO -- To get to Super Bowl XXII, candidates had to go through Washington. It was at a meeting at L'Enfant Plaza Hotel on May 24, 1984, that National Football League owners awarded their 1988 showcase and carnival to San Diego. It was fitting that the decision was made in the nation's capital, for it was a triumph of masterful politicking by former San Diego Chargers owner Gene Klein as well as a 50-day crash campaign by civic leaders.
"I think a great deal was backroom calling in markers," Klein said of the vote that San Diego won over Miami, 16-12. That decision, after hours of debate and numerous deadlocked ballots, brought a $150 million bonanza to a community where tourism and sports have high priority.
Klein, 67, the most successful thoroughbred racing owner in the United States the past three years, sold his majority interest in the Chargers in August 1984. He had suffered two heart attacks in three years, one while testifying in arch-rival Al Davis' antitrust suit against fellow NFL owners and the other at the end of a strenuous draft day. His cardiologist advised him that after 18 years, he should get away from the stress of pro football.
"At that time, I felt very strongly that I was going to sell the club, so I used up all the chits I had collected to get the Super Bowl for the town, hoping that the town would put on a terrific event and get it again and again," Klein recalled recently.
"I knew what a Super Bowl means to a community. I don't think San Diego will truly realize what it means until it happens, and they see the excitement and public relations it generates. There is no other sporting event, in my opinion, that comes close. Of course, the negative is that afterwards, we'll have 40,000 people wanting to move out here."
Growth control is a major issue in San Diego, now the seventh-largest city in the United States and the 19th most populous metropolitan area (a little more than 2 million people live in San Diego County.) But tourism remains the leading industry, and city fathers long recognized the Super Bowl as the ultimate convention for generating revenues and exposure.
The stumbling block had been the capacity of San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, built in 1967. It was enlarged from 52,000 to 60,200 permanent seats in 1984, but the NFL minimum for a Super Bowl is 70,000.
The key to proceeding was a plan to expand the capacity to more than 74,000 by removing a number of permanent seats and replacing them temporarily with bleachers. Working with the original stadium architects was Ron Labinski, who had previously done consulting for the NFL and 18 of its franchises. His certification of the plan was crucial to the league office and owners.
A San Diego Super Bowl Task Force was formed, including sports, political and business leaders. A proposal was approved to offer the expanded stadium rent-free, with parking and concessions revenues going to the NFL, and guarantees against price-gouging.
A privately funded, $50,000 presentation emphasized that there were 30,000 hotel rooms and three football practice facilities available within a 10-minute drive of the stadium, and diverse recreational attractions similarly convenient.
In San Diego, sports and recreation are practically civic duties. The variety of possibilities is a gift from the gods of weather and topography. Within San Diego County are 70 miles of beach, what Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo in 1542 deemed "one of the world's great harbors," mountains, desert, more than 70 golf courses and 125 parks, including one entirely underwater. The average year-round temperature is 68 degrees and yearly rainfall is under 11 inches.
Participant and spectator sports facilities are first-rate, and as the Task Force took pains to point out, the city offers more than physical culture. In addition to Dennis Conner and the San Diego Yacht Club, where the America's Cup resides, this is home to Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Seuss. There is good theater, music and a thriving arts community. Tijuana, just to the south, planned a five-day fiesta to give Super Bowl visitors a taste of Mexico. And as everyone who saw the movie "Top Gun" knows, the town is full of people who look like Tom Cruise or Kelly McGillis.
The area's charms were amply highlighted to NFL owners, but that was not enough. "The presentation was excellent," said Klein, "but I don't know how much difference any of the presentations make. It's a very political decision."
He was concerned when the Rose Bowl in Pasadena was awarded the 1987 Super Bowl at the same meeting, because few expected the pattern of alternating coasts to be broken. Miami was thought to have the inside track for '88, but Klein lobbied hard for several days. In the end, he tipped the scales with an impassioned speech in which he released everybody from their commitments to him, asked them to vote their conscience, but also reminded them that Miami had previous Super Bowls while San Diego, long loyal to the league, had not.
Now the question is, what to do about those 40,000 who are going to want to move out here?
Barry Lorge is sports editor and columnist for the San Diego Union.