01/24/2003 12:00AM

NFL denies its history with advertising ban

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The issue of the NFL refusing to air a Las Vegas tourism ad during Super Bowl remains a hot topic.

Sports Business Daily did a survey of media members and sports executives, asking the question, "Is the NFL being hypocritical by refusing to air an ad for Las Vegas tourism during the Super Bowl?" Out of 96 responses, 76 percent answered yes.

An estimated $75 million will be wagered in Nevada on the Super Bowl, which is a fraction of the billions of dollars wagered illegally through bookmakers, office pools, etc. Yet the NFL throws a penalty flag at Las Vegas because, heaven forbid, the city promotes gambling.

This holier-than-thou attitude belies the facts behind the founding of two NFL cornerstone franchises, the New York Giants and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In April 1925, Joe Carr, president of the NFL, offered the New York franchise to Tim Mara, a successful and well-known New York City bookmaker. The cost to Mara was $2,500.

The New York Football Giants, as they were called because there already was a New York Giants baseball team, began play that fall. Game attendance was atrocious and Mara was soon $40,000 in the red. Mara could afford it out of profits from his bookmaking business, but he still hoped to break even on the team.

At season's end, Mara scheduled a game against the Chicago Bears. The Bears had just signed Red Grange, an All-America tailback and the most popular college player of his era. The Bears-Giants game at the Polo Grounds drew more than 70,000 fans. The Bears won 19-7, but Mara's gamble paid off. Gate receipts totaled $143,000, which covered all his game and season expenses with a tidy profit left over.

Art Rooney Sr. purchased the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise for $2,500 from the NFL in 1933. It has been reported that Rooney's seed money came from racetrack winnings during an incredible hot streak at Saratoga and Empire City. The story is half true.

In a column researched by Pohla Smith that ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in November 1999, Rooney is said to have won $250,000 to $380,000 during a two-week win streak at Saratoga and Empire City. The time period, however, was August 1937. No one doubts, though, that Rooney's original $2,500 came from gambling winnings because he loved to bet and he was very good at it.

So while the NFL acts piously against gambling and Las Vegas, the very origin of the Giants and Steelers can be attributed to gambling gains.

Arena league season almost here

A final note concerning professional football and Las Vegas: As one pro season ends, another begins. The newly transplanted Las Vegas Gladiators of the Arena Football League begin play on Feb. 2. The Gladiators are at 4-1 odds to win the league title in the Arena Bowl. The San Jose Sabercats are favored at 9-5, while the New York Dragons are the longest shot at 50-1.

Previously published reports had shown that five Las Vegas pro football teams (Posse, CFL; Sting, AFL; Aces, WIFL; Aces, PSFL; Outlaws, XFL) have come and gone. In my own research I discovered a sixth failed team, the Las Vegas Cowboys of the Continental Football League. The Cowboys played two seasons: they were 1-9 in 1968 and 8-4 in 1969.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up Show.