Expansion a test of Tagliabue's power

PRO FOOTBALL

May 12, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

Paul Tagliabue, the commissioner of the National Football League, was at a news conference last week when it was announced there will be expansion by two or four teams next year.

Don't get too excited.

It was World League of American Football that announced it's expanding.

The story is different in the NFL. It has been more than 13 months since Tagliabue said in a conference call April 4, 1990, that the NFL would expand, "possibly by 1992, certainly by 1993."

It's too late to expand for 1992, and now the question is whether Tagliabue can twist enough arms to make expansion a reality in 1993.

He'll present his case for expansion Wednesday to the seven members of the expansion and realignment committee in New (( York at their first meeting since October.

On May 22-23 in Minneapolis, he'll make the case to all the owners to see whether he can persuade them to go ahead with expansion.

There doesn't seem to be a groundswell for expansion among the owners. ESPN commentator Fred Edelstein told USA Today last week that the NFL will decide not to expand because the owners don't want to divide the television money two more ways.

Edelstein, though, doesn't have a good record. He predicted, among other things, that the Cardinals would move to Baltimore and the Raiders would go back to Oakland, Calif.

Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, a member of the expansion committee who says he's open-minded on the issue, said of Edelstein: "He's right about one out of 20 times. He's an .050 hitter. He couldn't even be a utility infielder for the Indians. I don't think Bob Woodward used him as a source for the Commanders."

If the owners -- expansion, it would amount to a public rebuke of Tagliabue's "certainly by 1993" statement.

"The issue now is the credibility of the commissioner," said Pepper Rodgers, the former coach who's heading the Memphis, Tenn., expansion effort. "His credibility is on the line."

After all, Tagliabue persuaded the owners to yank the 1993 Super Bowl out of Phoenix when Arizona voters rejected a holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Now he's got the task of persuading them to look at the big picture -- or at least a small portion of it.

If the owners really looked at the big picture, they'd be thinking of 36 or 40 teams. They'd be thinking of such things as two teams in Chicago.

But the NFL owners don't seem to have the vision to think in those terms. Persuading them to go to 30 will be tough enough for Tagliabue.

*

Don Strock, a former Miami Dolphins quarterback, is writing an autobiography that looks at the dark side of pro football.

In the manuscript, he says the use of stimulant pills and painkilling injections were widespread during his 14-year career. contends that until 1978, team doctors dispensed the drug Ritalin, a trade name for methylphenidate hydrochloride, a central stimulant often used to treat depression. He said it gave the players a "jolt of energy."

The team doctors at that time were Herbert Virgin, who died in January 1989, and his son, Charles, who no longer is involved with the team and declined to comment.

The current team doctor, Dan Kanell, said he rarely uses painkillers, much less drugs such as Ritalin.

*

There's good news for the Washington Redskins, who have beaten the New York Giants only once in the past 10 non-strike games: Giants coach Bill Parcells is playing Hamlet again.

The Redskins' only non-strike victory over the Giants in the last four seasons came in 1987 when the Giants were defending champions and Parcells tried to leave to take a job with the Atlanta Falcons.

His contract has a year left and Parcells keeps saying, "I don't know what I want to do." The word was even leaked to The New York Times that he's had an audition with NBC-TV.

Giants general manager George Young said he's having amicable talks with Parcells and that the TV report isn't a negotiating ploy. But if Parcells doesn't extend his contract before the start of the season, it would be a huge distraction for the team.

*

It didn't take long for the Phoenix Cardinals' first-round gamble drafting defensive lineman Eric Swann, who didn't play college football, to backfire.

He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last week after tearing cartilage in a minicamp drill and will miss the team's June rookie camp. It'll be a setback for Swann because he's so inexperienced and needs all the work he can get.

*

Minnesota Vikings running back Herschel Walker proved that a dog is man's best friend -- at least his is. Walker was overcome by carbon-monoxide poisoning when he was listening to a tape in his car with the motor running and the garage door closed. His dog, Al Capone, alerted his wife by his barking and she called paramedics. Walker recovered during a three-hour hospital stay.

Walker said he wasn't trying to commit suicide, and his coach, Jerry Burns, said: "Herschel told me a lot about his dog. The dog must be pretty smart. What happened to him sounds kind of strange, but he's as emotionally stable as any guy I've been around."

*

The honeymoon may be ending for Bobby Beathard in San Diego. Beathard admitted he made a mistake when he drafted Jimmy Laister, a offensive tackle from Oregon Tech, on the sixth round without finding out he has a heart flutter. Laister took medication for the ailment while playing in his senior year, but the ailment flared up and caused him to leave the team on the second day of minicamp. He said he won't be able to play.

A San Diego paper ran the story with the headline: "Smartest man in pro football duped." Beathard was dubbed the smartest man in the game by Sports Illustrated when he built a pair of Super Bowl champions in Washington, but now he's got to prove himself over again to the San Diego fans.

The San Francisco 49ers are gambling on shot-putter Randy Barnes, who has been banned from track and field for steroid use. They're going to try him as a defensive lineman even though he hasn't played football in seven years since he was in high school in West Virginia.

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