Officials hope a halftime tribute to civil rights at the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day will help defuse the backlash against Arizona and bowl officials since the state rejected a Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The state has experienced a strong reaction to the Nov. 6 rejection by voters of a paid state holiday honoring King. The backlash includes the possible removal of the 1993 Super Bowl from Tempe.So, the Fiesta Bowl has planned the civil rights tribute during the game between Louisville and Alabama.
"We had planned as far back as this spring to do a tribute to the Bill of Rights. Civil rights would have been part of that," bowl spokesman Brent DeRaad said last Friday. "After the King holiday vote, we sat down and discussed it and decided to expand the show and to make a statement to the rest of the country."
More than 800 singers, dancers and musicians will participate in a show Fiesta Bowl organizers describe as "the most ambitious and spirited halftime production in the history" of the game.
"The show is about the coming together of the Bill of Rights," said Karen Churchard, the bowl's associate executive director. "For us it was perfect ... that's what civil rights was all about."
The halftime show - "Celebrate America" - will feature singers B.J. Thomas and Chuck Jackson, both schools' marching bands and a variety of singers and dancers.
It also will include tributes to the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, King, Patrick Henry, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.
Last November, Arizona voters defeated two proposals to create a paid King holiday. One, which would have made room for King Day by dropping the state's paid Columbus Day holiday, was defeated 3-1. The other, which would have kept Columbus Day and added King Day, lost by a margin of about 1 percent.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced the day after the election that he would recommend the removal of the 1993 Super Bowl set for Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium in suburban Tempe, the same site as the Fiesta Bowl.
Two teams wooed by the Fiesta Bowl, Virginia and Notre Dame, then both in the running for the national championship, were said to have turned down bids because of the King controversy.
But DeRaad said both passed on the Fiesta Bowl because they got more lucrative offers to play elsewhere.
Virginia will play in the Sugar Bowl, which pays about $750,000 per team more than the Fiesta Bowl, and Notre Dame accepted a bid to play in the Orange Bowl, which pays about $1.7 million more. Fiesta Bowl teams get about $2.5 million each.
DeRaad said Virginia officials "did express some concern" about the King holiday controversy but "both just opted to play in higher-paying bowls."