Monday, February 5, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, February 5, 2001

Why not kick off here, too?

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Staff Writer

In a two-touchdown Pro Bowl first quarter yesterday, AFC quarterback Rich Gannon had all the answers.

After the game, the Dan McGuire Player of the Game award winner lofted a pretty good question, too.

"The NFL goes to Tokyo, to Europe, to Mexico in the preseason," Gannon said. "Why not (come) here?"

Why not, indeed?

It has been 24 years since the NFL played its first and, so far, only exhibition — or as the NFL prefers to term it "preseason" — game in Aloha Stadium. Long enough that two of the quarterbacks in the San Francisco 49ers’ win over the San Diego Chargers, Jim Plunkett and Norm Snead, are considered museum pieces.

In the nearly quarter-century since 36,364 turned out for that game, the NFL has found its way back only at Pro Bowl time.

And that’s too bad, because while the league has found a steadfast following that has resulted in 21 sellouts in the 22 Pro Bowls here — the exception being only the strike-abbreviated season of 1982 — the annual experience has merely served to whet appetites, not satisfy them.

It has left hanging the question: If the NFL can finish its season here, why not prepare for its kickoff here, too, with a regular exhibition game?

"Absolutely, no question about it, (this) would be a great place to have a game," said Gannon, who spent part of his sideline time yesterday watching beach balls bouncing throughout the sun-splashed crowd. "The fans are phenomenal. They understand football and they enjoy football. I don’t see why we don’t play a game here. I think the players would love to come here for one."

Exhibition games, which are usually tied to season ticket packages, are becoming a hard sell in some places around the NFL these days. But then, the Pro Bowl had the door slammed in its face just about everywhere it wandered — seven different cities in as many years — until it landed on these shores in 1980.

"I think it could do quite well here," Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said. "I think the real issue is breaking up training camp with that kind of a long trip."

Better than 50/50

A member of his staff said the issue has been discussed before but for various reasons a game hasn’t happened.

In 1992, when the Astrodome was tied up with the Republican convention, bowl game impresario Lenny Klompus said he had a handshake agreement to bring the Houston Oilers here against the Chargers, but Aloha Stadium was unavailable because of renovations.

Klompus said he hasn’t given up. "I’m optimistic it is something we can still do," he said. "I’d say the chances are better than 50/50 (in the next five years). With the number of NFL people we’ve had come out for the Hula Bowl — and all 32 teams have been here — I think there are people in the NFL open to something like that."

Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said, "I’d support something done under the (authority) of the league. I’d expect it would sell out if we played San Francisco or somebody like that."

Bowlen added: "We’re going to Mexico City and these other places every year now. So Hawaii isn’t that long of a trip anymore."

As the annual February sellouts suggest, where there’s a turnout like yesterday’s 50,128, there’s bound to be a following in August, too.

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