SANTA CLARA — The Bay Area could all but clinch the prize of hosting the 50th Super Bowl as soon as Friday, and it has as much to do with Florida politics as it does with Silicon Valley's snazzy new stadium.
NFL owners on May 21 will pick between the San Francisco 49ers' new Santa Clara stadium and South Florida to host the 2016 title game, but Miami's bid is in danger of being sacked prematurely.
The NFL has told Miami it needs to renovate the Dolphins' aging stadium to have a shot at hosting the game. But a weary Florida Legislature could not agree on the $350 million plan Thursday, even as the Dolphins tried a "Hail Mary," sending legend Dan Marino to Tallahassee to lobby lawmakers a day before their annual session ends. And even if lawmakers pass it Friday, an even bigger challenge looms: Convincing Miami voters, who polls show strongly oppose the taxpayer-funded renovation, to approve the measure in a May 14 referendum.
If lawmakers or voters kill the plan, even South Florida boosters concede, Santa Clara will be a virtual lock to win by default, bringing the Super Bowl back to the Bay Area for the first time in nearly three decades.
Despite the uncertainty in Miami, Bay Area leaders are taking a page from the Niners' playbook and preparing for battle.
"I think if you ask the great coach of the 49ers, Jim Harbaugh, before a game he's worried about his team" rather than the opposing team, said San Francisco philanthropist Daniel Lurie, chairman of the Bay Area Super Bowl Bid Committee. "We have a lot of firepower, and we're not going to worry about what Miami's doing. We're confident with what we have."
Lurie's team of local officials, celebrities and dignitaries will wrap up six months of prep work on Tuesday by overnighting a package to NFL headquarters in New York City that lays out their case. Up for grabs are hundreds of millions of dollars in potential economic activity and worldwide prestige to host what promises to be one of the biggest sporting events in U.S. history — not to mention home-field advantage for the Niners if, like last season, they make it to the Super Bowl.
As Lurie describes it, the Bay Area — with its vast network of hotels and freeways, to say nothing of its experience hosting major events and swarms of tourists — has been ready to host a Super Bowl long since 84,000 fans packed into Stanford Stadium in 1985. He said the bid meets all the league's baseline requirements laid out in the NFL's 200-page guidebook, which include space for a 10,000-person tailgate party, 35,000 local hotel rooms and a security perimeter to accommodate 2.5 miles worth of fencing around the stadium.
And now the region finally has its centerpiece: the $1.2 billion stadium needed to host 70,000 fans, pre-game events such as Media Day and, yes, keep the lights on during the nation's biggest TV broadcast of the year.
NFL staff members got an early peek at both regions' preliminary pitches last week. The 32 owners will review the full, massive proposals over the next two weeks before receiving 15-minute presentations from both bid committees in Boston on May 21. They will then cast secret ballots to determine the winner that day.