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SUPER BOWL XXVII : Phoenix Fans Wash Away Sorrows : Scene: But for bar employees, The Big One That Got Away means more than a good time.


PHOENIX — Mad, but not holding a grudge.

Not here in America's Original Sports Bar. Not really. For a while there, but not anymore.

Sports fans watching Super Bowl XXVII--The Big One That Got Away, the Lost Super Bowl, are two ways local newspapers have referred to it--were too absorbed in screeching, shouting, pumping their fists and drinking Sunday to have much energy left to dwell on old news. While many acknowledged anger that this had been their Super Bowl, few were willing to let it spoil a good time.

Phoenix was awarded Super Bowl XXVII, but Arizona voters in 1990 rejected a ballot measure that would have made Martin Luther King's birthday a paid state holiday. At the time, 47 states celebrated the holiday. The NFL decided to move the game to Pasadena.

In 1991, Arizona voters overwhelmingly approved a new state holiday for King. Too late. This became the Super Bowl That Lost Its Way.

Arizonans were angry over being dictated to by the NFL, which had let it be known before the 1990 vote that unless the holiday was approved, the Super Bowl would be moved. One poll found that 63% of those surveyed changed their votes to oppose the holiday because of the ultimatum.

As a topic of conversation, the controversy had mostly died, but more than a week of Super Bowl hype seems to have revived the bitterness. Even the almost-certain decision that Phoenix will be awarded the 1996 Super Bowl has erased the memory of being the butt of national jokes and having been portrayed as racists.

"I'm still enraged by it," said Mike Baldenearo, shouting above the din created by 80 televisions and more than 1,300 patrons in this sports bar in central Phoenix. "Everyone has been talking about it this week. It's hurt our economy. It's hurt our image. This game should have been here. But, hey, I'm going to make the best of the day."

Disc jockey Michael Magana said he would not be reminding patrons of the reason the game was in Pasadena, instead of a few miles away in Tempe. Bad for business.

"The whole city is (upset) about it," he said.

Perhaps. But most fans interviewed Sunday said they refused to let politics be a part of their festivities.

"I think the whole thing was political," said Rhonda Ferguson, taking time out from cheering for the Buffalo Bills. "But today, it's not anything I'm going to break a sweat about. It's still just a game."

Steve Cameron, sitting near a full-size boxing ring in the middle of the bar, said he agreed with the NFL's decision to move the game, although he was disappointed to miss the spectacle of a Super Bowl first-hand.

"I think a lot of people have been thinking about it this week," he said. "But when the game starts, hey, it's the Super Bowl. I love it."

Little seemed to intrude on the good times in the 40,000-square-foot bar. In addition to the regular-sized sets, nine big-screen televisions showed the game. The walls were lined with photographs of sports heroes and football helmets and other sports items hung from the ceiling.

However, as bar manager Craig Hollenbeck noted, if the game had been held at Sun Devil Stadium, his coffers would have been richer to the tune of $100,000.

Waitresses didn't even want to think about the tips they might have pulled in during a week of Super Bowl celebrations.

"I'd be making my car payment," said Ellen O'Halloran, holding aloft a tray laden with beers. "It'd pay my week's rent. Geez, I hadn't thought about it. Thanks a lot. Now I'm depressed."

Things were much the same at the Cheyenne Cattle Co., which features a faux stuffed Buffalo near the entrance. Manager Cregg Butler estimated his dance club would have brought in an additional $50,000 if the Super Bowl had been in town.

At Hooters, yet another bar in the same Arizona Center shopping complex, business was slow.

"When we thought we were getting the Super Bowl, everyone was talking about how we all wanted to work," waitress Chandra Estes said.

"The tips would have been great. But I don't think people are dwelling on it, even as mad as we all were. Especially not today. Everyone wants to have a good time. Not to spoil it."

Then there was Tom Foley, whose left biceps was encircled with tattooed barb wire and whose right arm was covered with a fierce pterodactyl flanked by another tattoo of a brimming beer mug.

His attitude for the day seemed to speak for all.

"I'm mad they had to put politics where it didn't belong," he said, sipping a brew.

"But it's over, man. And, you know, it's just football."

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