Baltimore is learning Tagliabue is not a deadline kind of guy

PRO FOOTBALL

December 15, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

Baltimore found out all there was to know about the NFL's expansion process last week.

Unfortunately, that wasn't very much.

The NFL said it doesn't know when the owners' expansion committee will meet, it doesn't know how many cities will be on the short list in March, it doesn't know what the price of the teams will be and it doesn't know whether it will follow its timetable of naming two teams by October.

It was obvious when the 10 cities made their presentations in New York last week that the NFL still had not formulated detailed expansion plans -- even though it has said the field will be cut in three months and the teams named in 10 months.

"Deadlines aren't my specialty," commissioner Paul Tagliabue said in answer to a question about the failure of Nashville, Tenn., to find an ownership group to post a $100,000 fee by the so-called Oct. 1 deadline. As it turns out, his deadlines are flexible.

The major unanswered question is whether the league will name two teams by 1994.

Tagliabue said that if labor-management problems aren't "resolved," the league may not expand.

A spokesman added quickly that he was only repeating the previous position that the league wouldn't go ahead if labor-management problems turn out to be an "impediment."

The next day, Tagliabue said the league could expand without a collective bargaining agreement.

What has to be resolved for the league to expand?

The league isn't answering that question, but the best guess is that expansion could hinge on the antitrust trial in Minneapolis next year. Regardless of which side wins, there will be an appeal, so it won't decide the issue.

If the owners win, they'd likely be in a good mood and be ready to expand. If they lose, they might decide to wait pending an appeal.

It would seem difficult for the league to halt the expansion process after collecting $100,000 from the ownership groups and calling them to New York for presentations last week.

But it's obvious the league is willing to do that.

"They knew the ground rules," a spokesman said of the participating cities.

So Baltimore and the other cities can only wait and wonder.

Until the league promises to expand regardless of labor problems, don't expect it to happen by the October deadline. As Tagliabue said, deadlines aren't his specialty.

*

Now that Baltimore has made its presentation, officials will turn their attention to selling out the exhibition game scheduled for August between the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins.

Plans are being made for a heavily promoted one-day ticket-sale extravaganza the day before the Jan. 26 Super Bowl.

Nearly 25,000 tickets have been requested by fans who mailed postcards.

*

Don't expect referee Gordon McCarter and replay official Fritz Graf to be asked to handle the Super Bowl this season.

They blew several calls in the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game last month, including one on which Graf refused to overturn what game officials had said was a fumble by Emmitt Smith; replays showed clearly that Smith had dropped a pass. After that game, Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson made a public tirade about the officials.

Last week in Kansas City, McCarter and Graf created a delay of 8 minutes, 10 seconds. Replays are supposed to take no more than two minutes. The play involved was a lateral fumbled by the San Diego Chargers.

San Diego coach Dan Henning, who said the league told him that the McCarter crew had blown five calls in an earlier Los Angeles Rams-Chargers game, said McCarter also blew five in the Chiefs-Chargers game.

Henning said of the delay: "It's just like playing Scrabble. They have a clock up there that they hit when the review starts. If you can't come up with a word in two minutes, you pass."

When Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard called the league to complain, he was told Graf made a call in 1:33 and the rest of the time was taken by discussion on the field.

*

Dexter Manley's retirement after flunking another drug test will fuel the image that the league still has a drug problem.

But either the players have managed to beat the tests or the league's problem is on the wane.

Only two players have been suspended this season -- the Pittsburgh Steelers' Tim Worley (six weeks for cocaine) and Terry Long (four weeks for steroids).

*

Joe Walton's tenure in Pittsburgh became shakier last week. The assistant coach got into a shouting match with quarterback Neil O'Donnell in the fourth quarter of a game against the Houston Oilers, then told backup Bubby Brister to warm up. Brister told Walton his knee was stiff and that he didn't want to mop up in a rout. Walton didn't force the issue, and O'Donnell finished up.

Brister met with coach Chuck Noll on Tuesday and said that if Noll had asked him to go in, he would have, but he didn't think Noll would have asked him to go in under those circumstances. It's also unclear why Noll was letting Walton have such latitude.

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