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McEwen archive: Welcome to the NFL, Tampa Bay

NEW YORK - Originally Published: April 25, 1974 At precisely 5 p.m. yesterday afternoon, Pete Rozelle walked into Suite 404 of the Drake Hotel, sat down in a straight chair, shook hands with a New Jersey writer, and three minutes later told the 31 people there: "The National Football League today voted to expand to Tampa, Florida, and to at least one other city to be chosen later this year." "The teams are to be ready for the 1976 season."
"The franchises will cost $16 million each." He paused. During the pause Tampa Sports Authority Chairman Chuck Smith, part of the Tampa delegation in the room said under his breath: "HOT DAMN!" Bill Marcum, promoter of all those preseason games at Tampa Stadium, turned to Commissioner Rozelle's chief aide, Jim Kensil, and said: "Hallelujah, it's been a long time." Leonard Levy, tireless chairman of the West Coast NFL Franchise Task Force, said to the world: "Godamighty, Godamighty." All about, representatives from Phoenix, Seattle, Memphis and Honolulu were stunned. They hadn't expected this. Work had begun to leak that Tampa was well ahead of the other franchise-seekers, but most thought the NFL would announce expansion by at least two cities now - not just Tampa. Then Rozelle began to make it clear that this was what Dan Rooney's committee had recommended after its yearlong investigation. Then he made it clear that Tampa was selected first because Tampa was far better qualified for entry. Pressed by reporters from other cities, Rozelle said Tampa came up short in no way during the inquiry. At one point right after the announcement, Leonard Levy was shoved forward and identified to Rozelle. The commissioner stood up, walked to Levy, and said: "Welcome to the N-F-L, sir." Levy thanked him and made precisely the right speech to the reporters. Later, he thanked Rozelle for the cooperation his staff and Rozelle said "you people have been fine and most cooperative, too." Earl Emmons, Tampa Chamber of Commerce rep here, to a reporter from another city, pointed to Levy, Smith and Marcum and said: "If those men had been paid by the hour for the work they have done in the civic interest in this matter, they could retire." Smith said that he now will see that enlargement plan of Tampa Stadium will be implemented. He expects construction to start within six to nine months and "we will be ready to start our new sports career in 1976 in time for the start of our pre-season. OUR PRE-SEASON. Doesn't that have a ring to it?" Marcum, whose next goal is to be part of the ownership group the NFL will select, said: "Instead of a million thanks, let's give a half-million, one for each of the fans who have soon those 12 pre-season games we have had in Tampa in the last six year." Marcum said he personally "could not be happier. After all these years and the help of so many people, it has happened." Smith said: "This has to be the biggest single successful community effort in our area's history and I said area. This was a joint effort of the people of the Tampa Bay area, and of the elected officials as well." Levy said: "I am so happy. I tell you I am so happy the NFL selected us. And I just have to say that it is judicious. None of the other areas have worked as long and in so many ways to get where we are today. No people in an area could have been more cooperative. This is no victory for any one but for all the citizens of our area. It's their victory." Tampa apparently had extraordinary strong support from some of the club owners. It was no secret Carroll Rosenbloom of the Los Angeles Rams was a solid, unrelenting booster. And the expansion committee chairman, Rooney of Pittsburgh, has seemed right along to be pro-Tampa. The vote was not unanimous, Rozelle said, but it was more than the minimum of 20. Some think it was 24 "for" and 2 "no's." Rozelle said a player stocking plan, and assignment to division and conference will come later. But, speculation here continues that the Tampa Whatnots will be placed in the Central Division of the National Football Conference. Clubs in the Central NFC are Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Green Bay. It would give that division a warm-weather site. Notably, as Rozelle was making his historic announcement, there lay on one table a brochure Marcum and his ownership group put our a few months ago. It was titled: TAMPA - The 27th League City. Ain't it a blessin'?
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