The NFL announced yesterday that it will start the Plan B signing program on schedule Feb. 1.
It's a sign that commissioner Paul Tagliabue seems resigned that he can't get a collective bargaining agreement by March 1.
At his annual Super Bowl news conference Friday, Tagliabue said the league probably would delay the start of the Plan B signing period until March 1. He said "some progress" had been made in the talks and was hoping that a delay would speed up the talks.
Jim Quinn, the attorney for the players, responded Friday that there was no progress and said the players are preparing for their antitrust trial for free agency later this year.
Federal Judge David Doty has postponed the tentative starting date of Feb. 17, but said the trial will be concluded by the start of training camps in July.
Although there were indications that Gene Upshaw, the head of the NFL Players Association, was willing to go along with the Plan B delay, his advisers were against it, especially if the NFLPA had to sign off on the change.
When Tagliabue made the Friday announcement, he apparently thought the NFLPA would go along with it.
The players have been fighting a five-year legal battle for free agency they failed to get during a strike in the fall of 1987.
The teams also want to go ahead with Plan B since most of them have been preparing for it. Announcing the Plan B lists also will make it easier to decide which players will play in the World League of American Football this spring.
* Another one-sided Super Bowl could bring the game its second-lowest rating since 1972.
The game averaged a 40.4 rating and a 60 percent share of the audience in the 25 major markets for which A.C. Nielsen Co. had ratings data Monday.
If that figure stands up when national figures are announced today, it would top only the 39 rating in 1990 when CBS aired the San Francisco 49ers' 55-10 victory over the Denver Broncos, among ratings for the last 21 games.
* COLTS: Ted Marchibroda, fired by the Colts in 1979, may be only an interview away from rejoining the struggling franchise for his second stint as coach.
Marchibroda, Buffalo's offensive coordinator, was believed to be the top candidate for the job, and Colts general manager Jim Irsay remained in Minneapolis on Monday amid speculation his initial interview with Marchibroda was only a formality.