Franchise hopefuls make down payment on dreams


September 29, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

Imagine going into an appliance store to check out the new television sets. You find one that has all the bells and whistles you want and you ask. "How much does it cost?"

The salesman replies: "Not so fast. Before I tell you how much it costs, you must pay me $100. If I decide not to sell it to you. I'll only give you $50 back."

That's the bizarre scenario, on a much larger scale, that will take place Tuesday, when the potential owners are scheduled to file their applications in the NFL expansion derby with a $100,000 fee. Only $50,000 is refundable.

Even though the league hasn't set the price on the franchises - or the terms (in 1976, they cost $16 million payable In installments) -- the NFL is collecting the $100,000 fee. That's supposed to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Not that the league is likely to be flooded with applicants. Some cities still are scrambling to find potential owners. Jacksonville, Fla., is supposed to announce one Tuesday. Baltimore, which may have four applications, could be the only city with more than one.

If there's one positive note about the collecting of the fees, it's that it could be a sign that the NFL actually is going to name two expansion teams next fall. The league still has left itself the loophole that it can delay expansion if labor-management problems are deemed an "impediment." It might be more difficult to call a delay after collecting the fees.

But now that the process has gotten this far, the expansion contenders are in for a long wait before the next stage takes place. The NFL is moving very slowly. The league is not due to cut the field of 11 cities to the finalists - how many hasn't been decided - until next March.

The question of whether the NFL really will expand is just one of many that the league can't or won't answer.

It's virtually impossible to handicap the field, because the NFL has given out so little information about what its criteria are going to be. The fact that the owners' applications were requested two weeks after city applications - In 1976, the league picked Seattle and Tampa, Fla., and then went looking for owners -- seems to indicate the selection of owners and cities will be closely linked.

It's also uncertain whether the league will pick one city that lost a team and one new city. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has given mixed signals on that issue.

One indication of expansion's unpredictability came last week when Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, came out in favor of St. Louis and Baltimore - two cities that lost teams.

As one of the newer owners, Jones was assumed to favor newer cities.

But he said: "They've had NFL teams in the past, and I have sentiment in that direction. I spent some great days watching NFL football in St. Louis."

So, the expansion hopefuls just can wait and wonder how it's going to unfold.

After all, this is a league that fined John Elway for throwing a ball to a kid in a wheelchair. Who can predict what it might do?

When New York Giants coach Ray Handley benched Phil Siinms for Jeff Hostetler, it seemed inevitable that there would be some public complaining.

The strange thing is that, when it happened last week, it came from Hostetler, not Simms.

He met with Handley on Monday to clear the air about some critical remarks Handley had made about his play. Handley had said there were six plays in Sunday's 13-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns that Hostetler should have handled better.

Asked whether the critical remarks should be kept private, Hostetler said: - I would prefer that. That's how it should be.

"There are some things that I definitely don't agree with. I've said my piece. This is one of those things that you learn as you do. Things come up and you try to handle them the best you can."

All this raises more questions about whether Hostetler can function in the New York fishbowl. He had a storybook playoff finish in relief last year, but it's different when you're supposed to be the main man.

Meanwhile, Simms won't stir anything up.

"Hey, listen, he (Hostetler) was very supportive of me always. . . so I have to be supportive of him." Simms said. "It's like somebody says, when somebody's nice to you, you can't be mean to them."

But it's got to be tearing Simms up to watch the Giants offense sputter without him.

His wife, Diane, said: "He's keeping a lot inside. I won't say he's a little moody. I guess he's a little caught up in his thoughts. He's been a little quieter."

Football people are wondering how the New York Jets will react to their heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday night. But coach Bruce Coslet is saying he has no second thoughts about not having his team fall on the ball in the last two minutes in regulation or for going for a field goal on first down in overtime.

The first question he was asked after the game was: Bruce, the obvious question. Why didn't you fall on the ball?"

He said: "What did you mean? When?"

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