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Joe Henderson: When NFL suddenly needed a Super host, it knew who to call

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

It wasn’t luck that Tampa was selected Tuesday to host its fifth Super Bowl.

When the National Football League learned the new stadium being built in Los Angeles won’t be ready in time for the game in 2021, it had to find a city not only ready to step in on short notice, but one with a proven record of excellence.

Tampa checks all the boxes, and that’s because the team Rob Higgins has assembled at the Tampa Bay Sports Commission is as fine as any in the country and better than most.

Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer deserves applause. Tampa’s battle-tested political leaders, especially County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn, should take a bow. Higgins is the guy who really makes it happen though.

Smart, well-connected and experienced, Higgins understands better than anyone what has to be done in the trenches to successfully pull off a Super Bowl. NFL owners and leaders know that, which is why I have to believe the decision about what to do took about 10 seconds.

“Hey guys, that new stadium in Los Angeles won’t be ready for the 2021 Super Bowl. What should we do?”

“Um, let’s move it Tampa.”

“All in favor?”

“Aye!”

“Opposed? Anyone? No, great. Let’s go eat.”

I would imagine Higgins’ No. 1 obstacle in the coming months will be keeping his cellphone charged. The man is going to be busy. He will have to get renewed pledges from business, civic and political leaders that were part of Tampa’s bid package for the 2019 and 2020 games, but I can’t imagine that will be much of a problem. I am certain he will have cooperation from all the major players in the area: the convention and visitors bureau, Tampa International Airport, local and state security agencies, and so on.

The Super Bowl occupies an outsized place in Americana. By the time 2021 rolls around, it will be 37 years since Tampa hosted its first Super Bowl.

That game represented important psychological validation to people here that Tampa Bay had a place among the important locations in the country. Interestingly, Tampa’s main competitor to host that game was Los Angeles. The winning team that year? The Los Angeles Raiders, who beat the Washington Redskins 38-9.

Tampa essentially turned itself over that week to the NFL, and in return team owners basked in the love. That set a standard for future bids by other cities, which meant Tampa had to keep getting better and more creative to stay among the regular sites that get to host this game.

It must have worked because with this game Tampa will rank fourth on the list of cities that have hosted the largest number of Super Bowls.

We live in a pretty cool place, huh?

“Aye!”

Opposed? Anyone?

Didn’t think so.

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Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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