NFL reaches agreement for Super Bowl in New Orleans on Feb. 3

Thursday, October 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Super Bowl is one of the world's biggest extravaganzas. Now it's running into another one _ Mardi Gras, and the combination could mean that New Orleans will have its biggest party ever.

The NFL finally got its postseason in order Wednesday when it agreed to pay the National Automobile Dealers Association $7.5 million to switch dates. That means the Super Bowl will be played Feb. 3, while the car dealers, who were supposed to meet in New Orleans that week, will take the week before Jan. 27, the original date for the Super Bowl.

All this stems from the NFL's decision to call off the second weekend of the regular season _ Sept. 15-16 _ because of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Those games will be played Jan. 5-6, and the playoffs will be pushed back a week, forcing the first February Super Bowl ever.

That's where the Mardi Gras comes in _ the later date puts the Super Bowl into the first week of that event. Sixteen parades are scheduled to roll through New Orleans streets on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the two days before the game and the day of the contest.

The NFL has seen that before _ last January, the much smaller Gasparilla festival in Tampa snarled traffic for more than eight hours in the city.

But that's for the future.

For now, the NFL has its full regular-season schedule intact as well as a full playoff schedule. And the $7.5 million is piddling compared to the sums the NFL would have had to pay back to the networks had it canceled one week of playoffs.

``We deeply appreciate the willingness of Phil Brady and America's new car dealers to work with us,'' commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. ``Thanks to their leadership, our fans and teams can look forward to a full complement of playoffs and to a great Super Bowl weekend in New Orleans. We trust that the NADA will enjoy a super convention as well.''

Tagliabue also praised Tom Benson, the New Orleans Saints' owner, for his help.

Benson, a former auto dealer, said he talked to a lot of friends in the business in recent days and wasn't sure a switch could be made.

``Everybody had to cooperate on this in all the little things that were involved,'' he said. ``At first, everybody said it couldn't be done.''

Benson called it a good move for the city.

``There were a lot of problems, things going on,'' he said. ``And you can see it cost a little money, too, but it was worth it.''

In addition to the $7.5 million payment, the NFL agreed to match NADA payments of up to $500,000 for Sept. 11 relief efforts.

After it put off the second week of the season, the NFL presented several scenarios for the playoffs.

One was to condense the playoff field from 12 teams to eight and skip a week of playoff games. But that would have forced the NFL to repay the networks for the games _ and the networks wanted as much as $80 million.

Another was to condense the playoffs, with teams playing as many as three games in 10 days.

The third was to switch dates with the auto dealers, an agreement that took nearly two weeks of negotiations. The major problem was logistics _ especially switching hotel rooms.

As for the Mardi Gras, organizers met with members of the hotel industry, city leaders and police officials to discus logistical problems the Super Bowl would create.

Along with the parades, they need to work out arrangements for the carnival balls that accompany them, and for large blocks of rooms.

Police Superintendent Richard Pennington said his biggest concern would be two Sunday parades in New Orleans, and those can be rescheduled. Arthur Hardy, publisher of an annual Mardi Gras guide and an authority on the celebration, said all the parades might be pushed back to the previous weekend.