3-17-02, 8:20 P.M.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
ORLANDO, Fla. _This week's NFL meetings are located next to warm and wonderful Walt Disney World, where the Super Bowl MVP always comes the day after hoisting the trophy.
But this is the week the owners start debating whether to take the Big Game itself out of the usually toasty environments and take it outdoors up north.
With their eyes on New York and Washington D.C., for the Super Bowls from 2007-2009, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue has tapped Bengals executive vice president Katie Blackburn for her first major committee assignment on the league's revamped Super Bowl Policy Committee. She joins new members Mike McCaskey, chairman of the board of the Bears, and Art Rooney II, vice president and chief counsel of the Steelers. They join Colts CEO Jim Irsay, Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt, and Bills owner Ralph Wilson on a committee that loses Giants co-CEO Robert Tisch and expands from four members to six.
"Paul wanted to extend the reach of the committee with members who don't have a vested interest in the discussion," said Jim Steeg, NFL senior vice president for special events. "The same four have been on the committee for eons and Katie represents the new blood. People who have a fresh look at things and ask questions. This is the beginning for her. She's going to get her feet wet."
Blackburn doesn't want to talk about her assignment until the new-look committee's meeting on Tuesday afternoon, which starts what should be a three to six month process on the topic of cold-weather Super Bowls.
"We have to look at not only where we're going, but where we've been," said Steeg, noting the league
has ventured into such mid-major markets as Atlanta and Tampa Bay. "We're not in Los Angeles any more, so we've taken ourselves out of the top three or four markets (for Super Bowls). There's a couple of reasons to look at cities like New York and Washington even though it's in the north.
"They are media capitals and you have to ask, 'Does the game warrant a major market with the assets they bring?'" Steeg said. "Does it give the game focus internationally and domestically? In the long-term, it could help the long term with diversity ethnically and culturally. For instance, what kind of impact might that have on the Latino community's interest in the NFL if the Super Bowl is in New York?"
The NFL could also boost both cities in their bids for the 2012 Olympics. Steeg believes the impact of awarding Atlanta a Super Bowl a few months before the 1996 Olympic bids came out helped the city immensely.
DREW DROP NAMES:** Here's this week's assignment for one Patriots beat reporter at the meetings:
Sunday: Write a story on the prospects of trading New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe. Monday: A Bledsoe story. Tuesday, the day the AFC head coaches meet the media: Get Pats coach Bill Belichick to talk about Bledsoe. Wednesday: Sum up the Bledsoe stories of the week.
"It's all Bledsoe all the time," sighed the embattled scribe.
A quick survey of the hotel lobby of teams that are supposed to be interested in Bledsoe was lukewarm at best. And where do the Bengals stand with Bledsoe? They're not talking,
but they probably stand like everyone else in the NFL. They're not going to give up two first-round draft picks for him, which is reportedly what the Pats want. They're probably not going to give up one first-rounder, either.
But the only club official that talked openly about being interested in Bledsoe Sunday was Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, when he told ESPN.com his team is interested in any player if he fits the salary cap and the price is right.
Asked by the Boston scribe if the Bengals were interested, Bengals President Mike Brown said he never talks about another team's players. Then asked if he's talked to the Patriots about Bledsoe, Brown told him he never talks about talking to other teams.
With cornerback Artrell Hawkins agreeing to terms, it signals the Bengals are most likely out of the quarterback hunt as they cut into their free-agent pad. Yet, no other teams seem to be flocking to Bledsoe at the moment.
"I think the process is going to drag out. I don't see it moving quickly," said one NFC general manager.
As for Patriots owner Bob Kraft, when the name Bledsoe was mentioned, he waved it off and walked on.