The NFL opened Super Bowl week Monday by canceling its traditional Friday night party and saying it intends to play its title game but will monitor the Persian Gulf war until kickoff.
"We expect to play Sunday's Super Bowl game between the Bills and Giants as scheduled," the league said in a statement. "We will take events in the Middle East into account up to kickoff."Super Bowl week annually is a time for football and celebration, both at the Super Bowl site and in many parts of the country. In light of the war in the Middle East, we plan this week to emphasize the game itself and the rich tradition of the Super Bowl silver anniversary year, while moderating league-sponsored social events."
The lavish Super Bowl party is the social highlight of Super Bowl week, with tickets often as difficult to obtain as game tickets. With Monday's announcement, the NFL set the tone for a less exuberant week leading to the championship game.
"We recognize that the American people will not be paralyzed by the events in the Middle East," the statment said, "but the words `priorities' and `perspective' are important during Super Bowl XXV activities."
The NFC champion New York Giants spent the day in Tampa after an early morning flight from San Francisco. The AFC champion Buffalo Bills were to arrive Monday night.
After the conference title games Sunday, players met at midfield and knelt in a prayer for peace. The display was not lost on President Bush, an avid sports fan.
"The president has said that the nation must continue its business and that includes the need for recreation," Marlin Fitzwater, the president's press secretary, said Monday from Washington.
"In the case of the NFL, certainly they have been a leader in showing support for the troops. You all know the steps that they have taken to demonstrate that through the emblems on their uniforms and helmets and the statements that have been made during the game."
Although minor demonstrations against the war occurred at San Francisco's Candlestick Park and Rich Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, there were no reports of violence. Inside the stadiums, American flags dotted the stands. A similar display is expected at the Super Bowl.
The Giants advanced by dethroning the two-time defending champion 49ers 15-13, while the Bills crushed the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3.
In a season filled with paybacks, the Giants are looking to settle one last debt in the Super Bowl.
The Bills defeated the Giants 17-13 on Dec. 15, a game in which both Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly and New York quarterback Phil Simms were injured. Kelly has returned and seems in top form. Simms watched last Sunday's 15-13 last-second triumph over the two-time defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers from the sidelines on crutches.
The Giants have not missed a beat without Simms. Backup Jeff Hostetler has led New York to four straight victories and eased the sting of a 7-3 loss to the 49ers on Dec. 3.
But that's been the story of New York's season - settling debts with the other NFL teams. New York ended a four-game losing streak against Philadelphia in the opener, ended a three-game losing streak against the Los Angeles Rams at mid-season and defeated the Chicago Bears for the first time since 1969 in the playoffs.
The Giants left San Francisco on a charter flight immediately after the NFC title game, arriving at Tampa shortly after 2 a.m. EST. They are listed as 6-point underdogs by Nevada oddsmakers and are now one step from their second Super Bowl title in four years.
"Everybody can make their own history," said Hostetler, who has yet to throw an interception in a postseason game. "I never dreamed I'd be taking the team to the Super Bowl. So many people have been doubting me, doubting the Giants . . . We want to make them all believers."
Buffalo also made a lot of believers by manhandling the Raiders in the most lopsided AFC title game.
"We knew we had it, but I think we surprised L.A. a little bit because maybe they didn't think we'd be that tough," Kelly said. "Nobody thought we could score 51 points on this team."