When Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, was quoted in The New York Times last Sunday as saying he'd choose Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis in the NFL expansion derby, he didn't appear to dampen the optimism in the other contending cities.
Although Modell, who is on the expansion committee, backtracked quickly from that statement and said he was using those two communities as an illustration of a city new to the NFL and of one that had had a team, the fact that Charlotte and St. Louis appeared to be on his mind seems to have some significance.
If the NFL picks Charlotte and St. Louis a year from now as its two new expansion franchises, it would raise questions about whether there was a level playing field in the expansion derby.
But officials from Baltimore, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., three other leading contenders, appeared to be undaunted.
Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said: "He's [Modell] a good team player, and I'm sure he'll read the analysis of the applications. You have to realize you have a product to market and do your homework in the most positive way."
Pepper Rodgers, a former coach who is spearheading the Memphis effort, said he met with commissioner Paul Tagliabue about 10 days ago with the two new potential Memphis owners, Paul Tudor Jones and Billy Dunavant.
"I'll take our chances right now," Rodgers said.
Chick Sherrer, president of Touchdown Jacksonville, said his city's selling point is that the visiting team will take home between $1.1 million and $1.2 million per game.
"We just think the revenue is going to drive this deal, and our
deal is in place for 30 years," Sherrer said.
There's bound to be a lot of speculation on how the vote will come out -- especially on the Sunday pre-game shows. Modell's comment is likely to fuel the Charlotte-St. Louis speculation.
Belgrad said he'll ignore it all.
"I don't give a quarter for any of these predictions. The process is just beginning," he said.
When the Los Angeles Rams play the Atlanta Falcons in Jacksonville on Saturday night, it'll be the first of four exhibition games played in potential expansion sites this season.
On Aug. 10, the Kansas City Chiefs will play the New York Jets in St. Louis. On Aug. 22, the Rams will play the Houston Oilers in Memphis, and, on Aug. 23, the Washington Redskins will play the Jets in Columbia, S.C.
It's noteworthy that the Jets play in two of these games because only they and the Redskins don't put exhibition games on the season-ticket package.
The novelty of exhibition games at potential expansion sites appears to be wearing off. Sales are slow in all four cities, although Rodgers insists he'll get a sellout crowd or close to it.
It'll be perceived as a setback if any of the cities doesn't draw a big crowd.
In reality, though, one exhibition game doesn't prove anything. Any of the cities can support an NFL team if it's run well and has a good stadium. After all, pro football is a smash in Green Bay, Wis.
Baltimore is making plans to play host to an exhibition game next August. It would be the first pro game played in the city since December, 1983, when the Colts played their last game, against the Oilers.
Baltimore officials hope that holding the game on the virtual eve of the naming of the expansion teams will help draw a big crowd, but they'll still have to do a first-rate marketing job.
The NFL has problems keeping its expansion story straight. Ten days ago, it announced that the deadline for cities to file applications was Sept. 16. The application form says Sept. 15. It's a small matter, but seems to show the league is being a bit careless.
The legal file:
Among the best-kept secrets in sports are the financial statements of 27 of the 28 NFL teams. Except for the Green Bay Packers, a community-owned team, the teams are private corporations that do not file public reports.
But when the free-agency trial starts in Minneapolis on Feb. 17, the financial statements of some of the teams may become public record.
That's because federal judge David Doty ruled last week that NFL teams have to turn over their financial statements since 1988 to the players' attorneys.
"Everybody's salivating to see them," said Jim Quinn, lawyer for the players.
Meanwhile, in the price-fixing case filed by the owners against the NFL Players Association, a magistrate ruled the owners can get depositions from at least 23 agents, including Tony Agnone of Baltimore.
But the magistrate delayed the start of the taking of the depositions until the week of Aug. 12 and decided that only three agents can be deposed each week.
The Baltimore Colts band -- keeping the torch alive for Baltimore football -- played at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and enshrinement ceremonies in Canton, Ohio, yesterday.