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Friday, December 14, 2012
Q&A: Fort Lauderdale mayor Jack Seiler, Part I

By Matt Fortuna

When Jack Seiler got on stage to speak during Notre Dame's football awards show last Friday, he said he saw room for one more trophy. Seiler will be there in South Florida when the Irish face Alabama in the Jan. 7 national title game. As a member of the Orange Bowl committee, it's kind of his job.

Seiler is the mayor of Fort Lauderdale, and he is a Notre Dame graduate, too. ESPN.com caught up with Seiler this week to hear his thoughts on hosting the national title game, along with his personal ties.

Here is the first part of the conversation, with part two coming later this afternoon.

I know your grandfather, Ernie, helped found the Orange Bowl. When did you first join the committee, and what do you aim to do with this event every year?

Jack Seiler: In '32 and '33 they founded the Palm Festival, and then in '34 it became the Orange Bowl. Back in '32 when they did it, the intent was to create a year-end bowl that would bring tourists to South Florida, bring a lot of excitement. And I guess it worked out OK for them. I'm in my 19th year on the Orange Bowl committee and I've probably spent more than half of that now on the board of directors. But the real goal hasn't changed. Obviously with the college football game we still want to create a great bowl game, a great bowl game experience, and bring tourism and attention to South Florida, so that hasn't really changed. And we've been very successful doing that. But now we've expanded into 30-some events. It is a way for those of us on the Orange Bowl committee to give back to the community. Not only bring tourism to the community, but to try to help the community, enrich the community, and I've been very lucky. We've had great success. We've had the most national championship games, as I think you probably know, we've had the most Heisman Trophy winners. So we've had a pretty good string of success as the Orange Bowl. We've just got to keep that going. Now we're on the verge of a new BCS rotation and we'll see how that plays out. But for us to be able to culminate this season with probably one of the greatest matchups in college football bowl history is fantastic.

How have the efforts been amped up in years like this one, when you host two games?

JS: I'll tell you what: It's a really, really busy time. That's all I can say. I've double-hosted now a couple of times, and it's an extremely busy but rewarding time. It's great for the community. It literally doesn't give the community a chance to catch their breath. You've got the college experience in town. You know how game day is on any college campus, so in essence we created a game week in South Florida, and you have it on really two fronts: Both teams and the game, and all of a sudden they play the game and you put them on a plane the next morning and about five hours later, you're rushing back out to the airport to meet the next group coming in. And the crazy thing coming in is we wear these Orange Bowl jackets for every single activity. It's been our tradition. And by the end of the two weeks that thing will stand up on its own. It's amazing. That thing goes to the dry cleaner and you just feel bad for the dry cleaner.

Can you estimate the potential financial benefits from the two games this year, especially with the title game featuring two of the most rabid fan bases in college football?

JS: The overall economic impact on South Florida on a double-hosting will be between $200 and $300 million. And remember, we've hosted Super Bowls, we have the world's largest boat show in Fort Lauderdale -- this is what we do. This is what we do very well. We host people. We bring visitors in. We bring guests in. We not only make sure they have a great time while they're here, we want to encourage them to come back and bring more family and friends with them. It's something we're very accustomed to doing, and I think we do it pretty well. The last time we had this BCS I think the estimated economic impact was around $200 million. Last time we had Florida and Oklahoma, and so you had at least a local school. Now you've got two basic national programs from out of state, two of the most legendary college football programs around. Great traditions, great history and great football teams.

If you're a college football fan -- I'm a huge college football fan -- you love this matchup, because you can think of 10 different ways that Notre Dame can't win, then 10 that Alabama can't win this game. And it's great for talk shows, it's great even in the community, when you're at the coffee shop or at the supermarket you're hearing people saying, 'I don't know if Alabama can score on that Notre Dame defense.' And you hear other people are saying, 'I'm not sure that Notre Dame defensive line can withstand the onslaught of the Alabama offensive line,' and you just realize there are so many great players and great matchups and great coaches. Two legendary coaches already. Both these guys have great records and obviously Nick Saban was here in the community when he coached the Dolphins, so that's a little bit of a storyline.