Super Bowl 36 Was Almost Torpedoed by an Auto Dealers Convention

Super Bowl XXXVI will go down in history as the day Tom Brady won his first championship and kick-started his legendary career. The Patriots’ first title was especially poignant, as it came in the shadow of the attacks of September 11th.

Those same terrorist attacks pushed the game into February, marking the first time that the Super Bowl had ever been played that late in the calendar. With the late start came an additional challenge for the NFL, one that has been nearly lost to the annals of time.

An unthinkable tragedy causes a ripple effect

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In week one of the 2001 season, the New York Giants lost to the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. Mere hours later, the city of New York suffered a loss of infinitely greater magnitude. Understandably, after the events of September 11th, no one felt like playing football the following Sunday.

The NFL took an extraordinary step and postponed the second week of games to the very end of the season, on Jan. 6-7. This also meant that the entire playoff schedule would also have to be moved back by one week. This included Super Bowl XXXVI, originally scheduled for January 27th at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.

With the new kickoff date of February 3rd, the Super Bowl took place after January for the first time. Since then, the big game has played out in the month of January only once.

The NFL deals with car salesmen

Unfortunately, the decision to move the Super Bowl to the first Sunday of February caused an unforeseen scheduling conflict.

The National Automobile Dealers Association had rented the New Orleans Convention Center for that very weekend. Of course, when the Super Bowl comes to town, it takes over the entire town — not just the stadium. The NFL also required the use of the convention center for various Super Bowl-related activities.

Having two major events take up an entire city on one weekend would not be possible, so the league had to strike a deal quickly. Two weeks after the 9/11 attacks, NFL officials met with NADA President Phil Brady to discuss the possibility of swapping weekends. It would be easier said than done. According to the Washington Post, the auto dealers had already reserved 16,000 hotel rooms in New Orleans for that weekend.

The NFL and NADA strike a deal

Super Bowl XXXVI at the Superdome
A look from upstairs at Super Bowl XXXVI at the Louisiana Superdome | Kevin Reece/Getty Images

If the league could not strike a deal, it had few alternatives. One option was to go ahead with the game on the original date of January 27th. Unfortunately, this would require striking one round of playoff games. This would require shrinking the playoff field considerably in the middle of the season. The NFL would also need to refund its television partners $80 million, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Another possibility would be to play the game in February as planned, but move it to another location such as the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. The Rose Bowl had previously hosted five Super Bowl games and was more than capable of hosting a sixth.

Fortunately, none of this was necessary. By Oct. 4, the league struck a deal with NADA. The auto dealers agreed to move their convention to the original Super Bowl date on the last weekend of January. In return, the league paid NADA $7.5 million to cover relocation and allowed the organization free advertising during the NFL playoffs.

It helped that the owner of the New Orleans Saints, Tom Benson, was once an auto dealer himself.