Spring football officials have right attitude to reach goal line

Phil Jackman

December 11, 1991|By Phil Jackman

WASHINGTON -- To paraphrase that eminent philosopher Andre Agassi, attitude, not image, is everything.

The gang rode into town looking the part of all the others hoping to get a new league off the launch pad with one notable exception: They appeared well versed on the subject of fledgling sports operations.

Too often, well-heeled gents with a couple of bucks to blow and an overwhelming desire to see their names and faces thrust before the public get involved in sports franchising. They talk humbly, but in their hearts see themselves as big shots. Fans, TV and all else are duty-bound to flock to their enterprise yielding untold riches.

These new kids on the block will be known as the Professional Spring Football League and the Washington Marauders will play in RFK Stadium beginning Feb. 29. No, the date is no joke, there actually is a Feb. 29th next year. OK, you can start salivating now.

Before lapsing into the question of whether or not we need, desire or will support football running from George Washington's to the country's birthday (July 4), an introduction of the cast of characters is in order at this time.

The commissioner of the PSFL is Rex Lardner, a man with an imposing track record when it comes to sports, media relations (especially television), marketing and nurturing ideas.

Lardner's right hand men will be chairman of the board Judge Peter Spivak and director of football operations Walt Michaels. What they bring to the table is gobs of experience at all levels of football, not all of it successful in nature.

"In looking back over the three seasons of the U.S. Football League [1983-85], it's pretty well agreed that the league did a lot of things right," said Lardner. "In many ways the USFL is serving as a prototype for us. At the same time, it made mistakes and we think we can correct them."

For starters, the PSFL will establish a salary cap and (it says) stick to it. It will exercise a measure of financial control

over all members. It will maintain the regional concept, players being assigned to teams in the areas where they are known. It will attempt to make the league "work" for the family, entertainment joining the game itself as the show.

Most of these essential ingredients were part of the USFL package to begin with, but they soon fell by the wayside. George Allen put a torch to the salary cap idea even before it was announced. The league was coming along nicely and would have made it sticking to the spring, according to the NFL, but Donald Trump pushed and pushed for a move to the fall. Poof! Scratch one fledgling football league.

Of course, a TV contract would help, initially. But Lardner, an expert on the subject, having worked for NBC, CBS, TBS and Sportstime Cable, isn't about to let it become the linchpin of the whole operation. He says, "Testing has shown us there is a market for spring football out there. The goal is to develop it and have it grow naturally."

E.J. Narcise, a sports marketing executive with experience in baseball as well as football, will manage the Washington franchise and he says he was pleasantly surprised at the quality of players showing up at tryout camps so far.

"But it figures," he said. "Each year, there are 5,000 senior players coming out of college and only about 500 of them get drafted. Only 100-150 stick with teams. Does this mean all those others can't play football? Of course not."

For emphasis, on hand at yesterday's news conference were a couple of players expected to be part of the Marauders' show next spring, former West Virginia whizbang Major Harris and ex-Redskins wide receiver Charlie Brown. They spoke of the PSFL as being an "opportunity" league, not a "developmental" league as the NFL likes to call its spring offspring, the World League of American Football.

"I don't think there's any doubt there are scores of football players out there in the 24-25-year-old age range who can entertain us but simply don't get the chance because of the arbitrary decisions of NFL teams," contended Narcise.

"More important, though, are our actions before we get on the field. A lot of us have lost our perspective. Pro franchises don't exist for the fans; actually, they exist because of fans."

Like countless others before them, the men of the PSFL talked a good game. Better yet was the attitude they projected: sincere, committed and willing to work.

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