SI Vault
John Walters
January 29, 1996
Super Bowl host city Phoenix, like the rest of the 48th state, is sizzling, with more visitors, new residents and big-time sports events than you can shake a cactus at
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January 29, 1996

Barzen Arizona

Super Bowl host city Phoenix, like the rest of the 48th state, is sizzling, with more visitors, new residents and big-time sports events than you can shake a cactus at

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Laws: It is legal to carry a concealed weapon in Arizona but illegal to bad-mouth a vegetable. (Growers can sue if their products are maliciously defamed.)

Even time itself: The Grand Canyon State is one of only two states that do not observe daylight saving time. As if it needs to. Summer temperatures in Phoenix routinely dance above 110°. Sky Harbor Airport, now the world's 18th busiest, was forced to close in June 1990 when temps above 120° rendered cockpit instruments dysfunctional. It was so hot that, as one local put it, "patio furniture stood on one leg."

Which reminds us: If some cruel quirk of fate puts you in Phoenix in the summer, try the 10-Second Test. Place two bare feet on black pavement at 3 p.m., the hottest time of day. Try keeping them there for 10 seconds. For best results, use someone else's feet.

Fiscally speaking, the greatest outlaw in Arizona history has to have been Charles H. Keating Jr. His California-based Lincoln Savings & Loan Association bilked investors out of $2.6 billion in the '80s, a crime for which the 72-year-old former NCAA swimming (butterfly) champ is now serving a 12-year sentence in federal prison. Keating, who moved to Phoenix from Cincinnati in 1976, also had a sense of humor, albeit a cruel one. At The Phoenician, a five-star resort he built in the tony suburb of Scottsdale, the maids who turned down the beds left not only mints but also booklets titled Stories for Bedtime. These contained pearls of Keating's acquired wisdom, such as: In today's uncertain and deceptive world, it's good to be a man of principal—and to put it in the right bank.

But hey, that was just Charles being Charles.

In Greek mythology the phoenix was a bird that descended onto a pyre and burned, then rose from the ashes to live again. Self-destructive, self-renewing. Sort of like sports in Phoenix over the past decade.

The descent can be traced to 1986, when, on his fifth attempt, Evan Mecham was elected governor of Arizona. His predecessor, Bruce Babbitt, had enacted a holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. by executive order. It was hardly a radical gesture, considering that 47 other states had taken similar action. Within a week of taking office in January '87, Mecham voided the holiday.

It was a harbinger of a governorship in which Mecham would display all the enlightenment and honesty of a used-car salesman—which he was. He insulted ethnic groups as if he were Archie Bunker (sample: "Japanese really like to play golf, and...when you say we've got over 200 golf courses in Arizona...suddenly they've got round eyes"), and his comments often found their way into the national media, sullying the state's image. Mecham was both a tyrant and a buffoon, and he was impeached in '88 for having used state money for his auto dealership and having hidden a campaign loan of $350,000. Babbitt, normally the most reserved of politicians, said, "Evan Mecham proves that Darwin was wrong."

Mecham was gone, but the damage had been done. On Nov. 4, 1990, two days before Arizonans would vote on the King holiday for the first time, CBS broke the story that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue would recommend to the league's owners that the 1993 Super Bowl, which had been awarded to Phoenix only six months earlier, be moved if Arizona did not approve the holiday. "When I saw that," recalls Fiesta Bowl executive director John Junker, "I thought, Oh, boy, that killed it."

The image of a diamondback rattlesnake, tightly coiled and with venomous fangs bared, applies here. Polls had shown that a favorable vote on the holiday proposal was a gimme. As it turned out, voters in Phoenix and in Tempe, where the Super Bowl would be played, in Sun Devil Stadium, did vote for the holiday, but the proposal was defeated statewide. To show how cussedly independent they can be, Arizonans essentially threw away the Super Bowl, by a vote of 50.8% to 49.2%.

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