With expansion in low gear, stakes get higher


March 24, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

When the National Football League last expanded in 1976, it was a fairly routine matter.

The expansion committee studied the cities and made its recommendations of Seattle and Tampa Bay. The committee's decisions were virtually rubber-stamped by the other owners.

At the time, expansion wasn't considered a big deal. The league had mushroomed from 12 teams to 26 from 1959 to 1970 and figured to keep growing.

It didn't turn out that way. The league hasn't expanded in 15 years, and the stakes are going to be much higher this time. The NFL is going to expand by only two teams and might not do it again for a long time.

There also isn't much of a consensus in the league these days on decision-making; in fact, it is likely to be a free-for-all. It wouldn't be surprising if none of the cities can get 21 votes and the owners have to go to a majority ballot.

That was the lesson in the Los Angeles-San Diego battle for the 1993 Super Bowl that Phoenix lost, as Alex Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers, was a loser for the second time in a year.

Last March, he thought he had commitments for 23 votes. He wound up with seven on the first ballot and was eliminated. Phoenix beat out Los Angeles for the bid on the fifth ballot.

This time, the owners figured in advance that neither Los Angeles nor San Diego could get 21 votes. So they agreed to go to a majority vote after the first ballot.

Los Angeles beat out San Diego, 16-12, on the second ballot. nTC The fact that the Rose Bowl has 103,000 seats probably was the deciding factor.

But Spanos again was annoyed, because he felt some owners who he thought were on his side went against him.

The owners aren't close to deciding how the expansion balloting will be conducted, but it's a good guess that it will be a wide-open, spirited affair.


Paul Tagliabue still is getting on-the-job training as commissioner.

After spending two decades as a behind-the-scenes corporate lawyer, he's having trouble adjusting to the high-profile life as commissioner, in which each decision and statement get so much attention.

He learned a hard lesson in dealing with the 1993 Super Bowl. He took several wrong steps that made things more difficult for the league and damaged its image.

He waited until the end of the week to finally concede that the league probably made a mistake by giving Phoenix the 1993 Super Bowl last March when the state didn't have a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and then assuming the state's voters would approve one. That allowed opponents to argue that the league was trying to blackmail Arizona into approving the holiday.

Tagliabue also didn't take the setback well. By talking about "carpetbaggers" earlier in the week and making it sound as if the NFL were blameless in the fiasco, he came across as arrogant and self-serving.

Also, even though he obviously had the votes, he waited until the day of the vote to decide whether it would take 21 votes or just a majority to take the game away from Phoenix.

The result is that the Cardinals' franchise is virtually a basket case just three years after the team moved there from St. Louis. The fans -- even the ones who favored the holiday -- are irate. Selling tickets will be a real problem for a franchise that wasn't doing well before all this happened.

Tagliabue said he has some ideas for repairing the damage to the franchise but wouldn't elaborate.

He also has put a spotlight on the league's minority hiring record. The ranks of the owners, general managers, coaches and offensive and defensive coordinators include just two blacks -- coach Art Shell and offensive coordinator Terry Robiske of the Raiders.


"You're looking live at Barcelona."

You're likely to hear those words today from Brent Musburger. He's back and the World League of American Football has him as it kicks off its first weekend of play. The first ABC network telecast features that traditional rivalry between the Knights and the Dragons, the New Jersey and Barcelona varieties.

This is the new spring league set up by the NFL, but you'd never know it was involved.

The NFL was banning the Ickey Shuffle last week; the WLAF is trying to win acceptance and can't afford to act pompous.

It's trying to put the fun back in the game, and dancing and celebrating will be allowed.

A5 On top of that, there will be no instant replay.


The Washington Redskins will have a first-round draft pick for the first time since 1983 this year. But they'll be happy if they do as well as they did with their first pick in the second round last year.

Not only did rookie linebacker Andre Collins start all 16 regular-season games, he came on so fast that the Redskins are thinking about moving him to the right side. Veteran Wilber Marshall would be switched to the left side.

In the Redskins' disciplined defense, Marshall never got a chance to free-lance the way he did with the Chicago Bears. And coach Joe Gibbs said he thinks Collins might be more comfortable on the right side.


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