SAN DIEGO — Chargers owner Alex Spanos and his wife, Faye, invited visiting NFL team owners to join them for a bite of dinner Thursday.
They didn't serve wienies and beer.
At 320 guests, the Spanos' Super Bowl celebration was among the smaller bashes given during Super Week, but its size only served to make it the most select. Spanos, who founded his empire on the catering business he started as a newlywed, truly put on the dog for his visiting gridiron cronies, whose ranks numbered NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and his wife, Carrie, and Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and his wife, Annabel. (Bowlen's opposite number on the field Sunday at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, did not attend.)
The Spanoses gave their cozy little soiree in the Marina Ballroom of the new south tower of the San Diego Marriott, the NFL headquarters hotel and a site that by 6:30 p.m. Thursday seemed ready to pop its anodized steel rivets under the pressure of the crowd of registered guests and unregistered gawkers. The ballroom foyer, however, was an oasis of calm, even during a cocktail hour that prompted finger-pointing among normally well-mannered guests. (It was nearly impossible, for example, not to point when oddsmaker Jimmy (The Greek) Snyder strolled in with hotelier Barron Hilton, the man who first owned the Chargers franchise. Discreet fingers again wiggled at the entrance of comedian par excellence Bob Hope and his wife, Dolores.)
Somewhat out of keeping with the general tone of Super Week entertainments, the arrangements were elegant rather than flashy. A larger-than-usual horde of servers hovered much more quietly than usual with silver trays of champagne, glazed lobster medallions, smoked salmon puffs and tartlets filled with delicate bay shrimp; a mere glance from such folk as Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell or Dallas Cowboys President Tex Schramm was sufficient to attract the desired refreshment on the double. In a single, pointed bow to the raison d'etre behind the convocation, the obligatory ice carving dominated the foyer. This one, however, read "SUPER XXII BOWL," and each letter stood some five feet tall; the central Roman numerals were sculpted from crimson ice. Spanos aide Kerie Lloyd explained such remarkable details by noting that the party had been one year in the planning.
San Diego Super Bowl Task Force Chairman Bob Payne was among the first to arrive on the scene. Looking highly satisfied in a slightly dazed way--rather like the cat who ate more canaries than he had anticipated--Payne said that he was about plumb partied out, but that, after all, Super Week called for a routine that rose significantly above the mundane.
"This has been a great week for the San Diego catering industry," said Payne, grinning broadly. "I've never been to so many parties in my life. I don't know if I'd want to go through this every week, but it's sure been fun."
Alex Spanos certainly seemed to find the evening fun. "As a team owner, I think this is just the way to show the NFL that San Diego knows how to do it up right," he said. "Tonight is meant to show the NFL that we know how to give them a party better than anywhere else, and that San Diego is the place to be." Later, he told the crowd that he found it "tough to be on the outside looking in," but that he offered his most sincere congratulations to the Broncos and Redskins.
For their parts, the NFL big shots--Rozelle, Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Brennan, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney--seemed to be eating up the scene with oversized, sterling silver spoons. Spanos had arranged for Les Brown and His Band of Renown to be on stage, playing, the moment that the ballroom doors opened, and the dance floor filled repeatedly during breaks in the meal of smoked salmon, veal chops and baked Alaska fashioned in the shape of footballs.
The merriest moments came when Hope, a longtime Spanos buddy, took the podium. "This may be a party for you," he told the crowd, "but it's a wake for Alex Spanos. For a while, he was thinking of turning the team over to Jerry Falwell."
The comedian, never shy in his topical humor, managed to tie the game to one of the week's hotter news events, the televised exchange between Vice President George Bush and CBS News anchorman Dan Rather.
"The Super Bowl will be a hard-fought contest," said Hope. "It will kind of remind you of one of Dan Rather's interviews. I think he got Bush-whacked. It was kind of biblical--I think he interviewed a burning Bush."
The audience laughed and prepared to dance, but there was more--Hope dragged Spanos on stage to join him in a soft-shoe routine to the melody of "Tea for Two." Spanos, who does sometimes perform, had said earlier that he wished to be spared the experience that night. However, the team owner did acquit himself well in his unique version of the Super Bowl shuffle.