Gillman called Balboa Stadium locker rooms “a hellhole,” and when he first saw the gridiron in January of 1961, his heart sank.
Leon Parma reached into his wallet and extracted one hundred dollars. He handed the money and a stack of forty-four large envelopes to the concierge at Washington, D.C.’s L’Enfant Plaza Hotel and quietly said, “I want these in their rooms within one hour.” “These” contained the lavish, twenty-four-page brochure put together by the San Diego Super Bowl Task Force; less than an hour later the personally addressed envelopes were in the rooms of the twenty-eight National Football League team owners and various NFL executives.
Bill Elser: “We needed real dough, we knew that our plans would take big money, real money.”
It was Wednesday, May 23, 1984, the eve of the day when San Diego landed the 1988 Super Bowl, an event Parma, a prominent Republican and partner in the local Budweiser distributorship, would later describe as “one of the most important things to ever happen to San Diego.” For the Greater San Diego Sports Association it was just like the old days. Parma, chairman of the board of the association, had once again demonstrated the sports association’s primary skill: how to spend money and influence people.
Floating stadium design. Several of Murphy's columns dealt with an idea, proffered by a local design firm, for building a floating stadium in newly developed Mission Bay.
The Greater San Diego Sports Association had pledged $100,000 to the Super Bowl effort. This represented about half of the nest egg the 400-member group has been able to accumulate. The money comes from annual dues (fifty dollars per member), an annual fundraising banquet that usually nets about $25,000, and another $20,000 or so brought in by the operation of the Stadium Club, open to members only, inside San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
"The 53,000-seat floating stadium would dramatize San Diego’s position as an aquatic center, recreation-land to water skiers, swimmers, inboard and outboard racing, etc."
The high-octane group of businessmen and civic leaders may have reached its pinnacle in snaring a local Super Bowl, but the exaltations after the announcement had a familiar ring to them. Several times over the twenty-three-year history of the group, one or another of them has been heard to proclaim, “This is one of the most important things to ever happen to San Diego!”
"The floating stadium would be equally adaptable in Mission Valley, Kearny Mesa or elsewhere. Just dig a canal, pump in some salt water, and the stadium is ready for business . . ."
Whether you consider that statement typical windy boosterism or plain truth depends upon your notion of how important big-time sports are to a community. That notion also determines whether you consider the group to be an anachronistic collection of civic hypesters who were willing to do anything to make a small Navy town produce more car buyers, cola drinkers, and tourists, or whether you believe the sports association is a vital force that has prodded San Diego through a succession of pivotal points in the city’s maturation. Either way, it’s undeniable that the Greater San Diego Sports Association has altered this city’s history.
Don Coryell at SDSU. Murphy and other board members who had had influence in getting State to hire Coryell originally weren’t about to watch him go.
The luring of the Chargers, the construction of the Mission Valley stadium, the hiring and retention of Don Coryell at San Diego State in the 1960s, production of the Holiday Bowl, the efforts to block Donald Sterling’s move of the Clippers from San Diego two years ago and the decision not to interfere with his recent defection to Los Angeles — all of these things affected the lives of thousands of San Diegans. As Barron Hilton, the original owner of the Chargers, said in an interview recently, “Had they not built the stadium, the Chargers would not have stayed in San Diego.” Can you imagine this city without the Chargers? No Lance Alworth, no Ernie Ladd, no Sid Gillman for the city to claim as heritage? One could argue — and sports association members do — that the Chargers gave San Diego its first modern touchstone of national identity.
The question of whether the sports association brought the Chargers here or the football team’s move was the catalyst for the association’s birth remains unanswered. Some original members of the association, such as Bill Elser, one of the founding fathers, say flatly that the association brought the Chargers to town. “The association was formed first.” says the seventy-five-year-old retired businessman, “and then we started talking about getting a football team down here.” Others, such as Gene Gregston, who was sports editor of the San Diego Tribune at the time, say the association didn’t even exist when Barron Hilton decided to move his team to San Diego. “Jack Murphy [sports editor and columnist for the San Diego Union] and I did nearly all of it,” says Gregston, who later became editor of the Union and now works for Congressman Bill Lowery.
Sid Gillman; C. Arnholt Smith; Gene Gregston. “We were suspicious of the AFL,” says Gregston, “but what the hell, if they were going to stay in business we decided we might as well go for it.
But according to seventy-two-year-old Dick Grihalva, who has run auto dealerships in these parts for decades, “Al Davis [then an executive with the Chargers] was once quoted in a story saying that he [Davis] was the one who convinced Hilton to move, and that if it wasn't for Dick Grihalva, the Chargers would have never moved to San Diego.” Grihalva continues, pumping his arms and open palms to punctuate every word, “But if you want to be honest about it, Jack Murphy brought the Chargers here and we helped him.” Barron Hilton seems to corroborate this: “Gene Gregston and Jack Murphy got me to move,” he says from his office at the Beverly Hilton. Regardless of who instigated the move, the facts are that the Chargers' executives decided to move down in early 1961, and the earliest record of an association meeting is February 23 of that year, when the group held its first annual dinner.
Gillman called Balboa Stadium locker rooms “a hellhole,” and when he first saw the gridiron in January of 1961, his heart sank.
In the early 1960s San Diego was the eighteenth largest city in the country, with a population of 588,000, and the newspapers and business barons ran this town. San Diego had a minor-league baseball team, the Padres, and a dilapidated coliseum, Balboa Stadium, which seated 23,000 people on concrete benches. Gregston and Murphy had to leave town to do their jobs, covering major sports events, and they were getting sick of it. “We'd driven up [to L.A.] for the final Rams game of the 1960 season,” recalls Gregston, who still speaks in an Oklahoma drawl, “and on the way back Jack told me he'd talked to Mel Durslag, columnist for the L.A. Herald-Examiner, at half time. Durslag had told Murphy that Hilton was interested in moving the team, because they weren’t doing so well.”
Bob Payne: "Aztec football is the major problem in San Diego sports.”
The Chargers were part of the fledgling American Football League (AFL), and they were losing badly in their bid to compete for fans with the Los Angeles Rams. Sometimes the Chargers drew fewer than 10,000 spectators to the L. A. Coliseum, which could hold 100,000. “We were suspicious of the AFL,” says Gregston, “but what the hell, if they were going to stay in business we decided we might as well go for it. We went and saw Jim Copley (publisher of the Union and Tribune] and our editors, to get the go-ahead to support this, and we met with Mayor [Charles] Dail in December of 1960, and the following March the Chargers were down here.”
Jack Murphy: “The town is already so daffy over Barron Hilton’s football team that an exciting and successful season seems assured.”
With publisher Copley’s blessing, the two newspapermen laid down the backbeat of support for the Chargers, and didn’t let up until seven years later when the stadium was built. In their sports columns and in the news columns of the sports pages, Gregston and Murphy began to whip up excitement like shamans at a rain dance. “It’s difficult to imagine how Barron Hilton is going to find trouble with San Diego in his talks with Mayor Dail and civic officials today,” Murphy wrote in his column of January 6, 1961. “The town is already so daffy over Hilton’s football team that an exciting and successful season seems assured.”
Leon Parma was leaving nothing to chance. When he took the concierge aside and paid her to deliver San Diego’s Super Bowl brochures to the owner’s rooms, Parma was thinking of their wives.
Never mind that the Chargers didn’t sell out rickety Balboa Stadium in their first couple of seasons here, including the AFL championship game in 1963 (when the Chargers beat the Boston Patriots), and that they continued to lose about $300,000 a year. Murphy had gone to the mountain top. He was seeing the future, and he was handing down tablets daily. “There’s a sense of anticipation in the community, an awareness that the arrival of the Chargers will lead to an exciting new era in entertainment,” Murphy wrote prophetically. “The success of the Chargers here will hasten construction of a multipurpose stadium with a capacity of 40,000 to 45,000 and that, in turn, almost certainly will bring major-league baseball to San Diego.”
But before the Chargers moved south there was the matter of Balboa Stadium to be addressed. The place was an embarrassment. Chargers coach and general manager Sid Gillman called the locker rooms “a hellhole,” and when he first saw the gridiron in January of 1961, his heart sank. Unbeknownst to the locals, Barron Hilton had already decided to move the team down, but the field (which was located near Balboa Park behind San Diego High School, and has since been demolished) was hard and bumpy, there was an ugly auto racing crash wall encircling it, the stands were uncomfortable, the seating capacity inadequate, there were only half a dozen bathrooms in the whole joint, and. worst of all, the stadium was leased to the city schools. This meant that beer was prohibited on the premises, and provisions for using the parking lots and the stadium itself would have to be worked out with the school board.
Walking the field that January day with Gillman was Bill Elser. Elser owned an elevator company and was a highly respected civic leader. He was on the city’s civil service commission, was a state fish and game commissioner, and he was a member of the school board. Also on the school board, in fact the president that year, was Dick Grihalva. In the 1950s Grihalva had owned the closest thing to a professional basketball team San Diego could muster before creation of the National Basketball Association. They were called the Grihalva Buicks, and under coach Fon Johnson, they were exciting. Grihalva knew how sports affected a community, and he thought of himself as being civic-minded. Both he and Elser fully supported the Chargers’ move, and they made sure that whatever concessions were needed from the school board were granted to the football team.
With sports patrons like Elser and Grihalva behind the relocation, and speaking to the city councilmen about it, and with the all-powerful newspapers cheering it on, there was never any question that the city would vote to meet the team’s demands in upgrading Balboa Stadium, and give tacit support for building a new stadium to boot. (The city spent one million dollars to refurbish Balboa Stadium.) The businessmen, along with many of their friends, and Gregston and Murphy, also helped orchestrate a public campaign to sell 20,000 season tickets (at thirty-five dollars apiece) to show the fans’ support. They didn’t quite meet that figure, but they did get the team.
Sometime during the .campaign to bring the Chargers down, Dick Grihalva and Jack Murphy were driving out to a duck club west of Rancho Bernardo. Jim Copley and Bill Elser were also members of the club. “Jack said the chamber of commerce committee (headed by local Republican big shot Dr. Al Anderson] that was working on this was dragging its feet,” explains Grihalva. “And I knew Hilton. I was then selling his gull-wing Mercedes at my Buick dealership. But the chamber was dropping the ball, and somebody had to grab the bull by the horns.”
Murphy and Gregston had already met with a man named Abe Polinsky, who’d recently rolled into town from Duluth and purchased the Coca-Cola Bottling Company here. Polinsky had been involved with a sports promotion group in Minnesota, and he was looking to establish his name here. He thought it might be a good idea to assemble a group of sports patrons in San Diego. Polinsky tapped Murphy for possible recruits, and the columnist mentioned the idea to Grihalva, who knew everybody. Grihalva persuaded Bill Elser, insurance man Clark Higgins, KOGO television executive Jay Grill, Ford dealer Art Carey, and a few others to attend a formative meeting at the Town and Country Hotel in Mission Valley. They all agreed that what San Diego needed was a lobbying group for major-league sports, and they set out to get one hundred members who would pay one hundred dollars each to be a part of the Greater San Diego Sports Association. A couple of months later, the Chargers were here. When they arrived, Grihalva gave six of the team’s executives, including Sid Gillman and Al Davis, Buick station wagons to use. “It was fun,” beams Grihalva. “We were an exuberant group of guys who were going to get a football team down here, and we knew all the principals. Let the good times roll!”
The good times started rolling for San Diego in 1961, and they didn’t slow down until C. Arnholt Smith tumbled a decade later. Look at the list: the Chargers came to town, the community concourse and civic theater were built, Smith put up the first modem skyscrapers downtown, Shelter Island and Harbor Island were constructed, San Diego got a University of California campus, the sports arena was built and big-time hockey and basketball hit town, the Coronado Bridge went up, the stadium was completed, and the Padres entered the big leagues. It was a heady time, and the members of the sports association were right in the middle of it all.
The sports patrons made up the core of the good old boys who called all the local shots until Pete Wilson insinuated his boyish mug into the act. There was Frank Alessio, who owned the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company; publisher Jim Copley, leader of the conservatives and a man who refused to attend dinner parties if a Democrat was to be present, and an eventual purchaser of a five-percent interest in the Chargers; Anthony Ghio of the seafood family dynasty; Morley Golden of the construction company; Tom Hamilton, of the law firm Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, the man who drew up the association bylaws; John Hine, Art Carey, Dick Grihalva, L.H. Komik, Jim Lukens, Jim Brown, G.W. Peck, Ed Taylor, and Warren Swink, all car dealers and early members. There was Bob Breitbard, builder of the sports arena and trader of basketball franchises; several executives of C. Arnholt Smith’s First National Bank; John Mabee of Big Bear Markets; Eddie Leishman, chief executive of the minor-league Padres; Fred Neyenesch, the printer; Lou Overgard of Lion’s Clothing; Charlie Pratt of Yellow Cab; developer Harry Summers; and Clayton Brace, Bill Fox, and Jay Grill, local television station executives. And of course Gene Gregston and Jack Murphy were members. There were no women members until recently, when one or two have been added to the roster.
The reason the organizers recruited such a list of notables was simple: money. “We needed real dough, we knew that our plans would take big money, real money,” explains Bill Elser over lunch at the La Jolla Country Club. “The Chargers, without a doubt, had a commitment to getting a new stadium built if they came down and succeeded here,” says Elser. The elevator dealer was friends with city manager Tom Fletcher, and Fletcher told Elser early on that construction of a stadium would require a vote of the people, which itself would require an initial feasibility study on which to hang the arguments. “So we raised $35,000 and got the study done,” says Elser. This study, completed by a Phoenix firm, gave a positive reading on the economics of building a stadium here, and it recommended that the site be in Mission Valley. One of the original strategy sessions regarding the stadium was held in the fall of 1963 in Smith’s office at the U.S. National Bank building and included Smith (owner of the Padres), the editors of the two Copley papers, and the chief drum beaters Gregston and Murphy. After that meeting the men who attended it spoke individually with Mayor Frank Curran, according to Gregston, and the mayor then formed a committee which eventually called itself the All-American Stadium Committee. Members of the Greater San Diego Sports Association made up the core of the committee, and before the electorate voted a seventy-two percent yes margin to the idea in November of 1965, the association had funded the campaign with more than $50,000.
So rabid for a stadium was Jack Murphy, for whom the edifice is now named, that between 1964 and 1967, when it opened, the stadium was the most common subject of his column. And the idea was so exciting that it may have occasionally unhinged the man. Several of his columns dealt with an idea, proffered by a local design firm, for building a floating stadium in newly developed Mission Bay. Gregston, who never took the idea seriously, winces now at the mention of it. It seems preposterous to read now, but Murphy actually wrote:
[The 53,000-seat floating stadium] would dramatize San Diego’s position as an aquatic center, recreation-land to water skiers, swimmers, inboard and outboard racing, etc., and provide an attractive backdrop for television cameras. Yet there’s nothing arbitrary about the choice of sites. The floating stadium would be equally adaptable in Mission Valley, Kearny Mesa or elsewhere. Just dig a canal, pump in some salt water, and the stadium is ready for business . . .
Murphy printed drawings of this floating stadium in his sports section, and argued futilely for the idea to be taken seriously.
Jack Murphy was made president of the sports association in 1966, the year before the stadium was completed, and his first president’s message to the 116-man organization concentrated on another realm of local sports where a large infusion of money was needed: the football program at San Diego State. Coach Don Coryell, who had made the Aztecs into a powerhouse team in just two years, was being baited with a (then-) whopping $20,000-a-year contract to coach at the University of Arizona. Murphy and other board members who had had influence in getting State to hire Coryell originally weren’t about to watch him go. So they wrote up a contract, with the approval of the school, the state, and the athletic conference, to augment the salaries of both Don Coryell and his chief assistant, John Madden. In his message to the membership in January, 1967, Jack Murphy wrote, “Now we need help from the entire membership on this project. This organization does not make assessments, but we are asking, indeed eagerly soliciting, contributions. If each of you could contribute one hundred dollars per year for the next three years, this particular problem would be nicely resolved. . . . We are asking the membership to ratify the board’s decision.” And so it was done; Coryell’s salary was augmented by about $10,000 a year, until he left for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973. (Madden joined the Oakland Raiders in 1967.) It’s a measure of how both sports and journalism have since entered another epoch: today it’s inconceivable that a newspaperman would organize such an audacious act.
The push to get and keep Coryell here started a campaign to make the Aztec football team a national force, and that effort continues to this day. Right now the association is working out the details in a proposed $50,000 grant to the Aztecs, to be made some time this fall. “It would be the major expense for the association this year,” says Bob Payne, a Mission Valley landlord who is serving now as president of the 400-member association, “because Aztec football is the major problem in San Diego sports.”
The association is still smarting over its failure last year in its drive to help the university fill the stadium for the team’s home games. The group spent about $10,000 directly, and its members spent another $50,000 or $60,000 in the purchase of ads and tickets for the games, but it flopped. The stadium never got more than half full. “We’ve concluded we can only help financially,” says Payne. “We’re not ticket sellers.”
Two years ago the association gave the university $33,000 to upgrade its weight training and practice field facilities. Now the discussion over the pending $50,000 grant centers on the issue of what conditions the group can place on the gift. Payne says they want it to be a matching grant, and that association members would be willing to help the school raise the other half of the money; he also says that the group wants to be sure all the money goes specifically to the football program, for such activities as recruiting, scholarships, and improved facilities. “We don’t want to dictate policy,” explains Payne, sitting in his spacious office in a secluded building behind the Old Ox restaurant. “But we see football as the panacea for their whole athletic department. The best way to raise money in a collegiate athletic program is to fill the football stadium.” And the best way to fill the stadium is to field a winning team, obviously.
The sports association’s fixation on the Aztecs has intensified since 1978, when San Diego State entered the Western Athletic Conference and the WAC approached the association with the idea of creating the Holiday Bowl. The association paid for the feasibility study to check how successful the game might be here, then took over responsibility for organizing the game. John Reid, who was director of the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona for eight years, was hired to run the Holiday Bowl in 1980, and two years ago he took on the additional task of being executive director of the sports association. He’s paid just over $50,000 a year, money that comes from both the sports association and the Holiday Bowl.
With each succeeding year that the Aztec’s don’t make it into the Holiday Bowl, the level of frustration for association members rises. “We started the Holiday Bowl five years ago with the expectation that San Diego State would one day be in it,” says Payne. “There’s no question that if San Diego State was to beat BYU and end up in the Holiday Bowl, it’d be a complete turnaround for major college football in this town.” So the patrons, like patient fathers, are offering their primary asset: money.
Why do these men, about thirty of whom make up a board of directors that meets once a month, put their valuable time and effort into such endeavors? “You’re doing well in business, something in the community needs to be done, you do it,” explains Bill Elser. “But this is a little more fun, because it’s something we'd get some use out of.” Jim Brown, a current board member and an important figure in raising money to underwrite the stadium construction campaign, agrees. “I’m a sports fan, I’ve always been interested in sports,” he says, sitting in his office at Marvin K. Brown Cadillac in Mission Valley. He’s wearing a lichen-green blazer, blue plaid pants, and a tie of pastel green hue. “It’s simply a bunch of men with no axe to grind, working to support sports. Because athletics are important to a major city.”
But on the question of the group members’ motivations, a cynic could of course contend that the businessmen are promoting sports in order to stimulate more business for themselves. “We just wanted to go big city,” counters Dick Grihalva, the original president. “It didn’t sell Elser any elevators, and I don’t know if it sold me any cars — hell, I was giving cars away to the Chargers. Abe [Polinsky] profited most, I guess, with his Coca-Cola. But once the stadium was built, they didn’t even put Coke in at first, they went with Pepsi.” (The stadium now sells both Coca-Cola and Pepsi.) The present group of influentials in the association includes various car dealers, along with parking magnate Evan Jones, who has the parking concession at the stadium and definitely profits from increased sports activity, Les Land, whose Triple L Enterprises supplies security and other support services for the stadium and the Sports Arena, Herb Klein, editor-in-chief of the Copley papers, and Leon Parma, major partner in the local Budweiser distributorship. Sports activity is good for all their businesses, of course.
“Sure, you have economic gain whenever you improve the quality of life in a city,” says Parma, sitting on a comfortable couch in his large office in Rose Canyon. “But if I took the hours I spent in public service — in the sports association — and applied them to my business, it would make much better sense economically for me. But I think every person has an obligation to serve his community, and I encourage all my people to involve themselves in civic affairs.”
Along one wall of Parma’s ornate office are two huge portraits, one of former Mexican president Jose Lopez Portillo, now in self-imposed European exile, and one of former Baja governor Roberto de la Madrid. Both portraits were tokens of esteem from the politicians to their good friend Parma. Along another wall are signed pictures from domestic Republican leaders, most notably Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford. Parma is in most of these pictures, beaming beside the men he has supported and worked with over the years. He refers to Ford as “my dear friend,” and served on his transitional team in 1974 after Richard Nixon resigned and Ford became president. In Leon Parma, the sports association has a man whose influence extends nationally in the field of politics and sports, and without him San Diego may not have been able to capture the 1988 Super Bowl.
From 1958 to 1962 Parma was in Washington, D.C. as Congressman Bob Wilson’s chief assistant. Through Wilson, who eventually became the senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, Parma was able to hobnob with the country’s most powerful leaders. “What it probably gave me was an understanding of what government’s all about, what political life is all about, and how to deal with people in public life,” Parma explains. He drew heavily on this experience as head of the city’s Super Bowl Task Force.
Parma, who played quarterback at San Diego State from 1948 to 1950, says the first mention of landing a Super Bowl for San Diego occurred at the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay last January. Each year a small group of men (and their wives), loosely grouped with a few Chargers executives, attends the Super Bowl together. This group includes Parma, Copley executive Herb Klein, Chargers general manager Johnny Sanders, former Congressman Clair Burgener, and New York Congressman Jack Kemp, who once played quarterback for the Chargers. The night before the game there was a reception for Congressman Kemp at the Clearwater Hotel, outside Tampa Bay, during which Parma was talking with Sanders and Klein when the subject of the recent stadium expansion arose. The conversation naturally drifted to the increased possibility this expansion would offer for getting a Super Bowl in San Diego, and Parma says Sanders immediately left the room and called Chargers owner Gene Klein, to see what he thought of the idea. Sanders returned with the news that Klein thought they should pursue the matter.
When Parma and Klein reported this to their fellow patrons in the sports association, that group made the two of them a committee to explore the idea further. At the league meetings in March, which took place in Hawaii, the Chargers submitted San Diego’s name as a contender for Super Bowl selection. The first major step in the process was to take place April 12, when all the interested cities met with league officials in San Francisco. “Johnny Sanders and I figured we’d better get with the mayor before that meeting,” Parma says. On April 4, Parma and Sanders, along with Herb Klein and Gene Klein, met with Mayor Hedgecock, City Manager Ray Blair, and Assistant City Manager John Lockwood in Hedgecock’s office. Lockwood reported that initial discussions with the Hope Consulting Group, original designers of the stadium, were positive on the question of whether the stadium could seat the minimum 70,000 people required by the NFL for a Super Bowl. With this, the city felt it could support the endeavor to get the game. Hedgecock, who was in the middle of his re-election campaign, wanted to be sure the Super Bowl didn’t turn into a political campaign issue, so he asked Parma if the sports association would lead the drive. With Parma’s affirmation, the mayor appointed him head of the city’s Super Bowl Task Force. As chairman of that group, Parma asked for the mayor’s commitment to attend the meeting with the NFL in San Francisco, and Hedgecock agreed.
Five days later task force members (who included representatives from the chamber of commerce, the convention and visitors bureau, the Hotel/ Motel Association, the Restaurant Association, the Chargers, and the mayor’s office) had to appear before the city council rules committee in order to get its backing. The project involved possible expenditure of city money on the stadium, so formal city approval was required. The city gave the task force two weeks to come up with formal statements of costs and other details. That same day the task force held its first meeting, and parceled out different responsibilities to the various members. Three days later Parma, the mayor, and other members of the task force went to San Francisco.
“In San Francisco it was evident that the league didn’t have a grasp of the hotel situation, and how we were going to expand the stadium with temporary seats,’’ says Parma, “So we asked if they’d like us to come to New York to discuss it with them in their offices. They said yes.” The San Diegans took this as a definite signal that the league was interested in getting the game here. None of the other competing cities was invited to New York for informal talks. Though it was up to the owners to decide which cities would get Super Bowls, obtaining the league’s blessing was crucial.
On May 1, Parma, Chargers executive Jack Teele, Marty Breslauer, assistant city property director, and John Reid, executive director of the sports association, arrived in New York. Through Teele’s and Parma’s influence they got an audience with NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle that night. Rozelle is a close friend of Jack Kemp’s, and through Kemp has become friends with Parma and his wife Barbara. The commissioner had questions about the playing field in San Diego, recalling what an embarrassment the field was last year during the Dallas game, when not even green dye could hide the mud from a national television audience. The group explained the recent revamping of the field, presumably to Rozelle’s satisfaction. The next day the delegation met with the man in charge of the Super Bowl for the NFL, and for two hours answered in detail the league’s questions about hotels, the field condition, and the stadium seating arrangement. The task force, using some of the$100,000 the sports association made available to it, had hired famed stadium architect Ron Labinski, who had worked in many of the NFL’s stadiums and was highly regarded by the owners, to design the temporary seating arrangement. He found a way to expand the seating from 60,100 to 75,820, using a combination of bleachers and benches that includes a temporary row of seats all the way around the top stadium deck, behind the upper row of permanent seats. And to a question the league had about the possibility of limiting all the airplanes and helicopters flying above the stadium, which was a serious concern during the game at Tampa Bay this year, the San Diegans assured officials they’d check with the FAA and the Montgomery Field tower and try to make some kind of arrangement. (Planes and helicopters will be strictly controlled, and mostly prohibited, above the stadium on game day.)
After the New York meeting, the task force had two weeks to plan for the owners’ meeting, where the Super Bowl sites for the next few years would be selected. The fancy brochure had to be assembled, a short film produced, 10,000 hotel rooms had to be committed, transportation arrangements for Super Bowl week had to be worked out. Parma and his cohorts knew how rigorous the competition was; senators and governors from states interested in getting the Super Bowl had lobbied hard at the San Francisco meetings. And like all of the other thirteen cities in the competition, the City of San Diego agreed to waive the stadium rent and the city’s cut of the concession and parking fees for the Super Bowl game. San Diego normally gets thirty percent of every dollar spent at the stadium on food and drink and ninety-five percent of the money collected for parking; the stadium receives about $60,000 rent for a football game. SO the city is giving to the NFL approximately $350,000 in parking, food concessions, and the rental waiver. But the rent does have to be paid, and the the cost of staging the game has to be licked up by somebody, and the 15,000 temporary seats have to be paid for. It’s estimated that these costs will reach $900,000. The city has allocated $400,000 to underwrite the Super Bowl, money which will come from hotel room taxes. The remaining $500,000 will be raised from the business community by the Greater San Diego Sports Association. On paper it’s all very tidy.
At the owner’s meetings in Washington D.C. San Diego had a lot of high-powered help. Senator Pete Wilson couldn’t visibly lobby for the city he once headed, since other California cities, including San Francisco, Anaheim, and Pasadena, were also vying for the game. But he still helped. His chief aside, Bob White, and the senator’s wife, Gayle Wilson, attended a reception Pete Rozelle threw for members of Congress and all the team owners two nights before the site selections were to be voted on, and the two of them took the opportunity to talk about San Diego. Congressman Jack Kemp, recently appointed vice chairman of NFL Charities, helped lobby for San Diego by speaking personally with the owners, as did Congressman Bill Lowery. Leon Parma, through his connections to Rozelle and to Congress, was able to wrangle an invitation to the reception, and he, too, took the opportunity to lobby the owners. And earlier in the day Gayle Wilson had hosted a luncheon in the Senate dining room for Carrie Rozelle, Joanne Kemp, Joyce Klein (Gene Klein’s wife), and Barbara Parma.
Leon Parma was leaving nothing to chance. When he took the concierge aside and paid her to deliver San Diego’s Super Bowl brochures to the owner’s rooms, Parma was thinking of their wives. “I figured that if the book was sitting around in their rooms, momma would definitely flip through it, and it was put together so well that just flipping through it got its points across. And she might get the owner to look at it.”
Who know if it worked? Parma gives most of the credit of the landing of the Super Bowl to Gene Klein. San Diego’s twelve-minute presentation to the owners was given by Parma, Mayor Hedgecock, and Herb Klein, and then it was up to Gene Klein to make his own case for San Diego. He reportedly based his appeal on strictly “logical” grounds, arguing above all else that San Diego deserved a Super Bowl. He released all the commitments he held from various owners, and bade them “vote your conscience.” It succeeded.
“In 5.3 days $110 million will be spent in San Diego,” says Parma, restraining his obvious glee. “And that money benefits more than just the hotels and restaurants. It’s pervasive, it changes hands five or six times before it leaves San Diego. What better business is there than to get people in to spend money for three or four days, and then go home?” Since only 7500 tickets will be available to San Diegans, they’ll have to be content to watch the game on television, like everybody else. They’ll see the usual week of hype before the game, of course, and the world’s media will do the usual pre game flacking for the local attractions, and the weather will probably be sparkling and untold millions of people will see that San Diego is a nice place to visit. And when these millions arrive, the town’s genesis from the bush leagues to the big leagues will be complete, and by then, unless you sell beer or hotel rooms or transportation or curios, you may be trying to recall just what was so bad about being in the bush leagues anyway.