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Tuesday, January 2, 2001

Kauai tourism
scores with NFL
Quarterback Challenge

By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE -- Riding the crest of what they consider last year's enormously successful NFL Quarterback Challenge, organizers on Kauai are planning an even bigger and better show for Feb. 8.

For the uninitiated, the NFL Quarterback Challenge is a contest consisting of agility and throwing competitions. The contestants must be members of the NFL Quarterback Club. What it does best is provide fans with informal, entertaining shots of the players clowning around between events.

This year, Jake Plummer of the Arizona Cardinals was the overall winner for the second year in a row.

The event was taped in February but not shown on CBS until the weekend before the start of televised preseason play in July. CBS saved it until football-starved fans were becoming desperate, and their strategy worked: The NFL Quarterback Challenge drew more television viewers than any made-in-Hawaii sporting event except the NFL Pro Bowl, organizers said.

An estimated 2.2 million households tuned in on July 22 and 2.4 million on July 23. The event is taped in one day but split into two segments. (In a little TV sleight-of-hand, the announcers changed clothes halfway through the event to make it appear to cover two days.)

The NFL Quarterback Challenge was born on Kauai as an annual post-Pro Bowl event in 1989. But Hurricane Iniki in 1992 caused such severe damage to Vidinha Stadium that the event was moved to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. When the contract with Disney World expired last year, Kauai entered a bid and, largely at the urging of the NFL Quarterback Club, the event returned to Lihue last February.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has helped fund the event to the tune of $350,000 each year.

Both this year's event and the one in February are primarily the work of Pam Parker of the Kauai Economic Development Board .

"One of our disappointments last year was that Kurt Warner of the St. Louis Rams, who was everybody's hero in the Super Bowl, couldn't even be invited because he wasn't a member of the Quarterback Club," Parker said. "That's how obscure he was at the start of the season.

"On the flip side, two of the quarterbacks who did come to Kauai in February -- Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles -- both emerged as genuine superstars this season."

But what Parker (and tourism officials) watched even more closely was how much air time Kauai received. Part of the deal with the NFL was that vignettes of the players doing touristy things like fishing and surfing would be shown before and after each commercial break.

The stopwatch showed Kauai received 15 minutes and 2 seconds of "vignette exposure" during the two hours. The goal for the coming event is 18 minutes.

One plan Parker is cooking up is to try to hold two of the CBS commentators to a challenge they made last year. One of the taped vignettes showed announcer Bonnie Bernstein in a canoe paddling on the Wailua River with several of the quarterbacks. Bernstein, on camera, called her fellow announcers, who were absent, "wimps." Retired New York Giants quarterback and now CBS announcer Phil Sims responded by challenging Bernstein to a canoe race at the 2001 event.

"I'm going to do my best to hold them to that, and I want it on national TV," Parker said.

Parker also wants to expand on some of the events that were never broadcast but proved immensely popular on Kauai.

This year, all the quarterbacks autographed four footballs. Three were given to Kauai charities to be auctioned off at fund-raising events. The fourth went to Wally Wallace, a key organizer of the first Quarterback Challenge who was terminally ill and died shortly after last year's competition.

Parker plans to ask the players to autograph a larger number of footballs in the coming event so more charities can benefit.

Almost as an afterthought, several of the quarterbacks last year addressed hastily-arranged assemblies at all three of the island's high schools. Their impromptu talks on staying in school and away from drugs drew rave reviews from both teachers and students. Parker wants to expand the list to 11 schools for this year's event.

"Value of NFL charitable contributions on Kauai: $210,000. Value of inspirational speeches: Priceless," Parker said.

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