During his legendary 40-year career at The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette newspapers, Bill Shover had a huge impact on the Valley sports world. He was involved in launching the Phoenix Suns, chairing the effort to bring Super Bowl XXX to Tempe, and playing an instrumental role in the creation of the Fiesta Bowl. Here Bill reminisces about the events and personalities that helped bring the Fiesta Bowl to life.
Nineteen sixty-eight was a memorable year for college football fans in Arizona. Both Arizona State University and the University of Arizona had enjoyed successful seasons heading into their annual rivalry game on November 20th in Tucson. Frank Kush’s fast Sun Devils, led by J.D. Hill, Woody Green, Fair Hooker, Joe Spagnola, Paul Ray Powell, and Ron Pritchard, had won seven of nine games including impressive wins over Wisconsin, 55-7, and Washington State, 41-14.
ASU officials, coaches, players, and fans yearned for a bowl game invitation. The school’s last bowl appearances had been in 1950 and 1951 in the local Salad Bowl games played in Downtown Phoenix. The Salad Bowl—and an earlier college All-Star Game, the Copper Bowl—had both since failed. ASU and U of A officials both approached the Sun Bowl seeking an invitation. At the time, of the 16 bowl games sanctioned by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), only the Sun Bowl and Rose Bowl games were played west of Dallas.
Sun Bowl officials announced they would invite the winner of the 1968 ASU vs U of A game. ASU agreed, but Wildcat coach Jim Larue balked, saying “Take us now” or the team would refuse the invitation after defeating ASU. Sun Bowl officials panicked and accepted Coach Larue’s ultimatum and the game would be referred to forevermore as the “Ultimatum Bowl.” An inspired ASU team defeated the Wildcats 30-7 and stayed home that year.
In the Phoenix area, smoldering anger burst into flames. At the annual Football Awards Banquet, ASU President G. Homer Durham declared that since ASU had been denied a bowl bid, “Maybe we should start our own bowl game.” In the audience was Glenn Hawkins, an avid Sun Devil booster and donor of the team’s award for outstanding sportsman. President Durham’s challenge evoked a strong response from an Arizona Republic sports editor who wrote a column marshaling community action. On December 21, 1968 Camelback Inn owner Jack Stewart authored a guest column in the Arizona Republic citing Phoenix’s advantages and its need to host a bowl game.
Much talk, but no action.
Glenn Hawkins came to my office on December 2, 1968 to solicit advice and seek newspaper assistance. We decided to seek input and, perhaps, organize wide support, not just from the newspapers. Since the holidays were looming, we decided to schedule a luncheon for Friday, January 3, 1968 at the old Adams Hotel in Downtown Phoenix. Glenn drafted a letter of invitation that he and I co-signed. The newspapers mailed it to 25 guests including:
- *Jack Stewart, owner Camelback Inn
- Don Meyers, Kleindienst law firm
- George Taylor, general manager, Phoenix Coca-Cola bottling plant
- Karl Eller, Combined Communications Corporation, KTAR and Channel 12, Eller Outdoor Advertising
- Jim Meyer, stockbroker at Thompson-McKinnon
- Ted Brown, Channel 12
- Ted Kort, Valley Big Bothers
- Al McCoy, KXIV
- *H.G. Listiank, KOY
- Bob Davies, KOY
- *Bob Allison, The Phoenix Gazette
- *Verne Boatner, The Arizona Republic
- *Jack Rainbolt, Channel 3
- *Steve Jensen, Channel 5
- *Al Moore, Phoenix Thunderbirds
- Jim Marshall, Phoenix Thunderbirds
- *Clyde Smith, ASU
- Ted Bredehoft, ASU
- *Dick Smith, manager, Phoenix Theater
- Michael E. Kennelly, unknown affiliation
- Joe Gaclolt, The Phoenix Gazette
- *Ben Foote, public relations executive
- *Gene Blanpied, Channel 10
- * Milt Graham, Mayor of Phoenix
- *Tim Hayes, Channel 12
- *Glenn Hawkins, advertising specialties
- Bill Shover, The Arizona Republic & The Phoenix Gazette
Years later, it is unsure who actually attended the luncheon, but it was perhaps 15 or so.
Glenn asked me to chair the meeting and to serve as leader of a forming committee. I declined, as I did not want the effort to appear to be a newspaper-driven campaign. I proposed Jack Stewart for the position, who stated he would accept if I would serve as a co-chairman, and I agreed to that.
Clyde Smith, ASU Athletic Director, advised us that the NCAA would be meeting the following week in Los Angeles and its Extra Events Committee would hear proposals from communities seeking bowl game sanction. I asked if anyone at the meeting could go to Los Angeles as our representative. Ted Kort, a volunteer with Valley Big Brothers, offered to hand-deliver a letter proposing a Valley-based bowl game.
After the meeting concluded, I used a pay telephone in the hotel lobby to call Mayor Graham. In those days, it was a lot easier to get in contact with the mayor. He agreed to sign a letter on City of Phoenix letterhead. I dictated it to his secretary, Louise Price.
Though we had no approved stadium, no conference affiliation, no funding, and only three volunteers on board, we decided to boldly surge ahead. We didn’t even have funds to host our luncheon, so I charged it to my expense account.
In Los Angeles, Ted Kort was warmly received by Forrest Eva Shevski, the University of Iowa Athletic Director and Chairman of the NCAA Extra Events Committee. Ted was informed of two previous Arizona applications: A doctor in Mesa and C.H. Alberding of Chicago, the owner of the Alsinott Hotels including Jokake Inn, Paradise Inn, and Royal Palms Resort in Phoenix. The unknown Mesa doctor and Mr. Alberding had each independently suggested a local bowl game; however, their requests had had no supportive plan. Later, Mr. Alberding claimed he was founder of The Phoenix Bowl. By coincidence, Jokake Inn would serve as temporary headquarters of the Fiesta Bowl.
Jack, Glenn, and I launched an effort that would include four founding board members. Jack selected his lawyer, Don Meyers, and his stockbroker, Jim Meyer. I selected George Taylor and Karl Eller. Don became our legal advisor and counselor, while Jim became our treasurer and chief financial officer. I selected Karl for his network television contacts and George for his marketing skills. A year later, George Isbell, Vice President of United Bank of Arizona, and Don Dupont, managing partner, Arthur Anderson Accountants, joined the newly formed Greater Phoenix Sports Foundation as founding members.
The original seven worked on ideas and strategies to build a proposal attractive to the NCAA. Jack Stewart and Don Meyers developed a partnership with the Western Athletic Conference. To prove our effectiveness, Jack offered Phoenix to the conference commissioner, Wiles Hallock, as a playoff site for the WAC basketball championship on a Saturday morning. Later that day, the regular season records of Brigham Young University and the University of Wyoming ended in a conference first place tie.
Wiles called me at home late Saturday afternoon saying they accepted “our offer.” Jack had not told me of his offer—or that I would manage a playoff game. Though surprised, I gulped and said we could hold a playoff game. Wiles suggested three days hence. I swallowed and agreed. Panicked, I called Jerry Colangelo, general manager of the Phoenix Suns, asking (begging) for his help. Fortunately, the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum—home court of the Suns—was available. Jerry not only agreed to offer basic assistance, he pledged the support of his sales manager, Harvey Shank, and the sales staff. They printed game tickets, arranged distribution through their sales outlets, and coordinated game preparations. The media helped our two-day game blitz. Two local high school bands and cheer squads performed as surrogate team entertainers for BYU and Wyoming.
We hosted a pregame luncheon for WAC and school officials, coaches, and players. The WAC gave me a plaque in appreciation.
Boosted by the local LDS population supporting the Cougars, the game produced a financial success, attracting a crowd of 8,000 plus. We accomplished what we had set out to do: prove our effectiveness to the WAC in organizing and hosting an event.
Soon after, we invited WAC officials to Phoenix—along with athletic directors and university representatives of ASU, U of A, BYU, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado State, New Mexico, and Texas El Paso—for a daylong “Let’s get a bowl” conference. Led by the enthusiastic and highly supportive conference commissioner, Wiles Hallock, the WAC became an essential part of our bowl-seeking team.
During the following months, Jack and I strategized our plan. Clyde Smith, ASU Athletic Director, assigned a member of his staff, Ted Bredehoft, as liaison. Ted, the Sun Devils’ wrestling coach and sports marketing manager, played an integral role.
Again, I sought the support of Jerry Colangelo. Beginning in 1968, the Suns’ first season, The Phoenix Gazette had sponsored the Suns’ annual NBA game played on Christmas Day. The sell-out games, televised nationally on ABC, were a box office success thanks to heavy sports page coverage and donated advertising space in the newspapers. In return, the Suns contributed a portion of game proceeds to the Gazette Youth Fund. I asked Jerry to allow me to direct the $20,000 donation to the Greater Phoenix Sports Foundation, a 501 © (3) non-profit dedicated to assisting our newly formed committee in its quest for a yet un-named bowl game (The Arizona Republic would later sponsor a contest to select the Fiesta Bowl name).
Jerry questioned why the Suns should help fund and support an effort to create a sports event that could, conceivably, compete with the Suns for print and broadcast attention. I quickly responded, “But Jerry, it’s only a game once a year.”
Today he laughs that the Fiesta Bowl seems to be in the newspapers and on broadcasts just about daily.
Each of our all-volunteer board members had assignments.
Jack and Don planned a bowl game with a purpose: To cast attention on an emerging drug abuse problem. That idea later developed into a national campaign in the Fiesta Bowl’s early years, “Get High on Sports, Not Drugs.”
George, working with ASU, helped create a desktop-size model of the soon-to-be expanded Sun Devil Stadium. When we went to Washington, D.C. in January of 1969, the model would only fit on top of our taxicab, so we had to motor around town with our arms extended out the windows to hold the model in place. It was quite a sight.
Karl was to plant a seed with NBC for televising the game, seeking our first network contract. I think it was Don Meyers who negotiated the first contact with Mizlou TV Sports. Jim was to manage and seek funding as our first business manager/chief financial officer. I would assist fundraising and create the audio/visual and print presentation to the NCAA. I enlisted the service of Marlene Klotz and Pat Poulson in my department, and they produced a 10-minute presentation set to music. It highlighted the emergence of football power in the WAC, an impressive and expanded Sun Devil Stadium, the advantages of the Valley of the Sun, and the anticipation of a burgeoning community. Respectfully, we reviewed the fact that teams in the South, with won-loss records just above .500, were playing in southern-based bowl games while higher-ranked WAC teams were overlooked.
We rehearsed our roles in the presentation. On Wednesday, January 7, 1970, GPSF hosted a reception at the Towne House to preview our presentation to the NCAA. Guests included members of the Arizona Board of Regents, university officials, civil and political leaders, the media, and foundation sponsors. The audience, we felt, was impressed with our well-timed program. At the conclusion, I asked Jack Stewart to wrap up. In his raspy voice, Jack thanked those attending for their support and encouragement and urged future involvement. He then seemed to chide the Regents for permission to contract the use of Sun Devil Stadium. Seated in the front row was Regents Board Chairman Arthur Shellenberger. Schellenberger suffered a spine affliction and, with his head peering down to the floor, he muttered aloud: “Who’s that s.o.b. giving away my stadium?” That was the only untoward comment heard.
At home that evening, as I was packing for the Washington trip next day, Jack Stewart called me and asked pointedly, “Who told Rudy Campbell he would attend the presentation in Washington?” I explained to Jack that Rudy, the mayor of Tempe, had asked me if he could attend the presentation, as he happened to be in Washington on Saturday. I agreed that he should attend since he was the mayor of the host city for the proposed bowl—also, the meeting was open to the public. Jack shouted into the telephone, “He’s not going to attend and that’s that!” We argued and it became belligerent. I had seen Jack’s temper explode before and I finally realized he and I could not co-exist. Angrily, I said if Rudy’s not invited, neither am I. Fuming mad, I drove to Don Meyer’s home and gave him the case containing the video, the meeting script, and the copies of the presentation. I told him he would need to take my place. Don pleaded with me to reconsider, but I declined. Suddenly, George Taylor and Jim Meyer arrived at Don’s home and they urged me to go as planned. Again, I said no and returned home. On arriving, I was asked to return a call to Ted Bredehoft of ASU. Ted urged me to make the trip. Puzzled, I wondered why. Then I heard a voice in Ted’s background. It was his wife shouting, “Tell him what that s.o.b. said to you tonight!” Ted attempted to silence her. I asked what she meant. After some cajoling on my part, Ted revealed that Jack Stewart had called him and blamed him for suggesting that Mayor Campbell attend the Washington meeting. Jack also leveled other accusations at him and said that if I didn’t go to Washington, it was Ted’s fault; then he threatened that he would demand that President Durham fire him.
For reasons I never knew, the scheming Jack had always disliked Bredehoft. Because of Ted’s predicament, I relented and agreed to make the trip. At the airport, our traveling team separated Jack and me. We sat apart and did not speak to each other. We did share a two-bedroom suite that Jack had previously arranged, but there was little communication. Upon arriving, Jack once again surprised me—he’d invited Assistant U.S. Attorney General Richard Kleindienst (an Arizonan) who brought along U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell.
After exchanging pleasantries, we quickly moved to business. Mitchell said he knew I had had contact with the NCAA in years past and was curious about its authority and perceived powers. I still have a mind-picture of the avuncular Mitchell stretched across my bed, tobacco pipe in hand, asking me about the operation of the NCAA. He asked poignant questions and listened without taking a note. Recalling my previous contact with the NCAA while working in Indianapolis, I described the powers they could (or tried to) assert as being almost like a trust.
Executive Director Walter Byers, the recognized czar of the NCAA, and I had battled in the early 1960s. At the time, the Indianapolis Star employed me. Beginning in 1940, the Star sponsored a high school All-Star game between graduating senior basketball players from Indianan and Kentucky. It was a two-game classic played in June in Indianapolis and Louisville. Proceeds were used to benefit the blind in both states.
In my position as game director, I carefully made sure college coaches could not make contact with the players. Because the players were no longer in high school and not yet enrolled in college, they were in a no-man’s-land of jurisdiction. Promoters were creating All-Star matches nationally for personal profit and to showcase talent without control. To stop this bandit abuse, Byers proposed a ban on all athletes participating in these games. He moved to disqualify All-Star players who participated from playing in their freshman year. The NCAA would approve only games sanctioned by state high school athletic associations. To many, Byers’ position seemed arbitrary and a violation of individual rights protected by the Constitution.
To circumvent NCAA punishment that could eliminate the Indiana All-Star series, I asked for intervention from Eugene C. Pullman, publisher of the Indianapolis newspapers. The Indiana High School Athletic Association granted sanction and the Summer Classic was saved. Byers resented my maneuvering, I was told, as it had thwarted his control. During this period, the NCAA also pushed other legislation that denied personal rights. As I told this to AG Mitchell, he didn’t comment but his eyes seemed to light up.
The following afternoon, Saturday, January 10, 1970, we made our first bowl proposal to the NCAA Extra Events Committee, chaired by Stan Bates, Athletic Director of Washington State University. In addition to seven GPSF board members, our team consisted of AG Mitchell; Assistant AG Kleindienst; John Ingersol, Director of Dangerous Drugs and Narcotic Division, U.S. Justice Department; Commissioner Hallock; and ASU Athletic Director Clyde Smith. Tempe’s Mayor Campbell was in the audience but did not speak.
The press was not allowed inside the meeting room. The respective sports editors for The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette, Verne Boatner and Bob Allison, waited outside. I led our presentation showing the newspaper-produced slide show and the model of Sun Devil Stadium. Don Meyers, Karl Eller, and George Taylor also spoke. John Ingersoll directed his comments in support of our anti-drug purpose and how a college bowl game could support the efforts of his department. I nearly forgot Attorney General John Mitchell until prompted. Mitchell reiterated the opportunity a bowl game could offer and said President Nixon joined him in urging the NCAA to sanction the Arizona Bowl. Mitchell also said that if approved, he and his famous wife, Martha, would attend the first Arizona Bowl Game (they did attend and Mr. Mitchell emceed the first Fiesta Bowl Queen Contest). Then he leveled the hammer.
Forcefully, Mr. Mitchell emphasized that he not only was in charge of the United States Department of Justice, he also directed a staff dedicated to investigating civil rights and antitrust violations. It was a not-too-veiled threat and a direct challenge to the assumed authority of the NCAA. There was stunned silence. Mitchell then left the stage and approached each of the seven members of the Extra Events Committee saying, “You’re going to vote for Phoenix, aren’t you?” Mr. Mitchell knew one member from Syracuse University, and addressed him by name. What we witnessed was White House pressure; this was later revealed after the Nixon era ended. Though shocked by the direct appeal by AG Mitchell, we believed our proposal had been effectively delivered.
Shortly after returning to the hotel, I received a telephone call from Chairman Bates. I started to apologize for government influence, but before I could, Stan interrupted saying the committee could not approve a first-time applicant. He complimented our presentation and said they would recommend sanction the following year, and that is what happened. In January of 1971, the NCAA approved the Arizona Bowl Game and sanctioned it that April.
After returning to Phoenix, Jack Stewart called and asked if he could visit me in my home. He brought along gifts: a signature Camelback Inn plate and an autographed copy of his book, We Met at Camelback. Jack said, “Because Walter Byers resents you, Bill, your participation could hamper our NCAA sanction process.” I knew that he was snookering me, but I also knew he and I could not work harmoniously together. I offered to step aside on the condition that, after he served as chairman of the first bowl game, he would resign and I would return to the board. Shortly thereafter, at a meeting of the GPSF board, I submitted my letter of temporary resignation. The meeting was held in the original Kiva Club atop the Hotel Westward Ho.
I had not prepared the board members for my decision, but I convinced them that Jack and I could not work together. I also did not like what I believed to be the subterfuge reason of the anti-drug campaign. In my letter, I pledged the continuing financial and promotional support of the newspapers (which would include The Arizona Republic contest to name the bowl). Karl Eller did not favor my departure and the sudden move to install the irascible Stewart as chairman. Sensing an internal conflict brewing on the board and a possible Jack versus Bill debate, I withdrew quickly and wished them success. Stewart enjoyed a successful year as chairman, basking in the limelight and even placing his own portrait on the cover of the 1971 Fiesta Bowl game program. True to our agreement, Jack retired after the first Fiesta Bowl, which featured Florida State vs ASU. He was too ill to attend the second game and died shortly after selling the Camelback Inn to Marriott Corporation.
In 1972, I returned to the board, joining the original members and George Isbell and Don Dupont, with Don Meyers serving as chairman.
Looking back, I’m proud of everything that we accomplished back then and the ongoing success that the Fiesta Bowl has enjoyed. It has taken its rightful place among the major bowl games.