MINNEAPOLIS -- National Football League owners approved a two-team expansion for 1994 yesterday, and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue immediately started the selection process by appointing three members of a new expansion committee he will chair.
After the 22-4-2 vote, Mr. Tagliabue also set up a timetable by saying that the field would be narrowed to the "final candidates" next March and that the two teams would be named by fall 1992.
The commissioner named Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell and San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. to the new committee. The other two members, also to be chosen from ownership, are to be appointed later. Because he is not an owner, Mr. Tagliabue will not have a vote.
This second-stage committee to evaluate potential expansion cities will replace the original, seven-member owners committee Mr. Tagliabue appointed last year.
Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, hailed the move by the owners and sounded optimistic about Baltimore's chances of being awarded one of the two teams to replace the Colts, which were taken to Indianapolis in March 1984.
"It's a feeling of exhilaration that our time and effort is beginning to pay off," Mr. Belgrad said. "I think if we're measured on our merits in the criteria usually presented for expansion, I think we come out in the top two."
Mr. Braman's place on the committee could be a plus for Baltimore because he has been one of the most vocal supporters of the city within the league.
"I support Baltimore. I like Baltimore," he said yesterday, but then added, "I like them all."
The only minus could be that, because Mr. Braman has been a public supporter of Baltimore, he might have to be careful to be very balanced in his views as a member of the committee.
As an old-line owner who has vivid memories of Baltimore -- Mr. Modell's Browns beat the Colts in the 1964 NFL title game -- Mr. Modell would be expected to be sympathetic to Baltimore. But he usually goes along with league policy.
Mr. DeBartolo didn't become an owner until 1977, so he might not be as sympathetic to Baltimore.
The NFL left itself one loophole to delay expansion. A statement issued by the league said the new teams would begin play by the 1994 season, "unless the commissioner and the expansion committee determine that labor-management issues constitute an impediment to such expansion timetable."
But Mr. Tagliabue played down the possibility of a delay, though a labor dispute between the owners and the National Football League Players Association has been dragging on in court for four years, with no end in sight.
Mr. Braman said the commissioner wants the committee to begin its work this summer.
Explaining why Mr. Tagliabue decided to chair the committee, Mr. Braman said: "You're dealing with a very activist commissioner who's vitally interested in what's going on in this league. I think he wants to see it kept on track. What better way than to chair it himself?"
The lack of a collective bargaining agreement was mentioned by the four teams that opposed the resolution -- the Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, Phoenix Cardinals and Detroit Lions -- and by the two that abstained -- the Los Angeles Raiders and Indianapolis Colts.
All three teams that moved in the last decade -- the Raiders, Colts and Cardinals -- opposed the resolution.
It took 21 votes to pass the resolution.
Besides Baltimore, other potential expansion cities represented at yesterday's meetings were Charlotte, N.C.; St. Louis; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Memphis, Tenn. At last three other cities -- San Antonio; Oakland, Calif.; and Sacramento, Calif. -- are also expected to bid.
A Portland, Ore., delegation attended, saying it was shooting for the next round of expansion, although the league has no such plans.