How MLK Day Changed the Super Bowl

The United States observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day for the first time in 1986. Although the holiday was not observed in every state, Gov. Bruce Babbitt declared it an Arizona holiday through an executive order. This made Arizona one of the first 27 states to observe the holiday to honor King.

When Gov. Evan Mecham was elected a year later, the holiday was abolished. Mecham thought the holiday was created illegally because it was through an executive order, not a bill in the state legislature. Although the holiday officially passed in the state legislature in 1989, there was still controversy surrounding it in Arizona, and a ballot initiative was created for residents to vote on.

In the midst of the controversy, the NFL was deciding which city would host Super Bowl XXVII. Arizona received the Cardinals football team from Missouri in 1988, so the NFL was looking at Sun Devil Stadium as a possibility.

The NFL hesitated to award the Super Bowl to Arizona because of the issues surrounding King's holiday. State leaders convinced the NFL owners that the issues would be resolved, and Arizona was awarded the Super Bowl with one stipulation: If anything was done to dishonor King, the committee would move the Super Bowl elsewhere.

In 1990, opponents to the national holiday succeeded and the ballot initiative was rejected by Arizona voters. Many NFL players took notice.

The NFL selection committee rescinded Super Bowl XXVII and awarded it to Pasadena, Calif., costing Arizona potentially $350 million in business revenue.

Finally, in 1993, Arizona became the first state to make MLK Day an official holiday by popular vote. After the holiday was passed, the NFL awarded Arizona with Super Bowl XXX, which took place in 1996.

—Lindsay Nadrich

Photo courtesy of Rob Fitch/Black Star

Back to Central Arizona