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Super Bowl XXXIX should've been in Oakland
By Monte Poole, STAFF WRITER, OAKLAND TRIBUNE
For the next eight days, Jacksonville, the Florida city unable to be Miami or Tampa or Orlando, will host Super Bowl XXXIX, thus making its first attempt to hog the international spotlight.
It's an opportunity for the NFL to see Jacksonville's act in the clutch.
An opportunity that was sought by Oakland and could have gone to Oakland.
One man, Zennie Abraham, who attempted to facilitate a deal to bring Super Bowl XXXIX to Network Associates Coliseum, insists it should have gone to Oakland.
"Yes, in capital letters," Abraham said. "We could have kicked ass."
Now the CEO of Sports Business Simulations, Abraham spent five years working for the City of Oakland, the last two as an adviser for the city's Community and Economic Development Agency (CEDA), where he reported to Robert Bobb, then the city manager.
For nearly two years beginning in late 1998, Abraham's crusade was to bring a Super Bowl to Oakland, which stepped in when it became apparent San Francisco might not get a new stadium and certainly wouldn't by 2005.
With several local media representatives, including myself, serving as consultants, Abraham chaired meetings and maintained dialogue with the NFL officials who oversee the Super Bowl.
After several presentations to league executives and NFL owners, Oakland was one of three finalists bidding for the 2005 game. Miami and Jacksonville were the others.
At a Nov.1, 2000, owners meeting in Atlanta, the Oakland delegation -- Bobb, Abraham, Mayor Jerry Brown, Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele, this paper's former publisher P. Scott McKibben and others -- received the news of its second-ballot elimination.
What went wrong for Oakland? The predictable. It was undermined by its eternally volatile mix of politics and sports.
While Oakland could match or exceed Jacksonville in most significant categories -- funding, facilities, access, hotel rooms, climate -- it was undone by Mayor Brown's lack of commitment as well as the acrimonious relationship between the Raiders and Oakland/Alameda County.
Brown was 10 minutes late for a scheduled two-hour meeting in NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's New York office and left more than an hour early, Abraham said, leaving a newspaper publisher to sell the mayor's city and the rest of the Bay Area.
Two league owners informed the Oakland delegation that it was "hurt by some of the legal stuff" and Davis' relationship with the league and fellow owners, Abraham said.
While the Bay Area offers three major airports and more than twice the minimum hotel room requirement, there were hurdles.
The cooperation of San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, as requested by the NFL, was a challenge; he seemed to consider an Oakland-hosted Super Bowl a threat to future opportunities for San Francisco.
The Coliseum required an 8,000-seat expansion, which was conceivable. Various sites in Oakland and San Francisco needed to be secured to host scores of league-related events.
While the Bay Area has hosted only one Super Bowl, in January 1985, Oakland has since been home to three World Series, a baseball All-Star Game and an NBA All-Star Game.
In other words, the Bay Area is more experienced than most regions for a major sports event.
And it's far better equipped than Jacksonville, which is straining under the pressure even before 100,000 convene this week.
Six cruise ships, one of which barely passed its sanitation inspection, are being used to meet the hotel-room requirement. Some visitors are being asked to bunk in Daytona Beach, 90 miles south. Prices are astronomical.
"That never would have happened here," Abraham said.
If Jacksonville can't get its act together and more horror stories emerge this week, the NFL may never return.
For the moment, though, Jacksonville is on stage, having ousted Oakland and Miami 51 months ago.
Why Jacksonville? Because the NFL rewards owners who "play ball" and cities that hustle. And because its team owner, the Jaguars' Wayne Weaver, and local politicians worked aggressively and in harmony to lure the game.
"One thing that stuck with me is hearing one of the NFL people say that the mayor must work in concert with team owner," Abraham said. "They should enter meetings and make presentations essentially hand-in-hand."
Fat chance of that in Oakland. We are cursed with politicians on one side of the room, and Raiders executives on the roof. They'd sooner slap each other than make eye contact.
Someday, some way, the Bay Area will host another Super Bowl. If Jacksonville, one of the most sparsely populated areas (1.2 million) in the NFL, can get one, why not Oakland?
If Detroit, which opened Ford Field in 2002, is considered deserving, why not Oakland?
"The Super Bowl can still be gotten — if we get our political act together," Abraham insisted. "There has to be cooperation in the Bay Area. And they have to go after it aggressively.
"Is (San Francisco Mayor) Gavin Newsom the guy to get it going? Maybe. But the next mayor of Oakland will have an incredible opportunity."
Meanwhile, Jacksonville is on the clock. For the city Floridians derisively refer to as being in "south Georgia," it's a chance to step out of the shadows of its more inviting and glamorous neighbors.
A chance blown by the Bay Area, even if it was a longshot.
Monte Poole can be reached at (510) 208-6461 or by e-mail at