Forget expansion, now and forever

MIKE LITTWIN

September 18, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

One theory has it that the universe is constantly expanding, which would explain Paul Prudhomme, the gun-slinging gourmet.

But not the NFL.

Definitely not the NFL.

The NFL stays the same size -- now, and unless I'm wrong, forever.

I mean you don't believe these guys when they say this latest delay may be hardly a delay at all, do you?

Sure, they'll expand soon. If certain conditions can be met. If it is discovered that Paul Tagliabue was really the fifth Beatle. If you can say Bundesbank without smiling. If the labor dispute is resolved (meaning: the player agree, as proposed, to play for free).

The NFL owners met in Dallas yesterday to plan their strategy following the recent federal antitrust court case, which they claim they won except when someone mentions expansion, whereupon they say maybe it was a draw. Because if they did win the court case, they were sort of obligated to expand, right?

So, did they win?

Doesn't matter. Baltimore loses either way.

Here's what they said yesterday: They were dumping the World League (what a loss) for now, and they were putting off expansion, but weren't ruling out 1994 as a possible date.

Here's what I have to say: Don't hold your breath.

The NFL was supposed to have picked two cities for expansion from the five remaining contenders on Oct. 20. Now, they don't say when they'll do the selecting. The no-timetable scenario is perfect for the please-don't-rush-me boys who run the NFL.

Besides, you know as well as I do that when the time comes, they'll just pop up with a new and better excuse. If they wanted to expand, they would.

They don't. They won't.

Instead, Tagliabue says, "Right now, the priorities are labor and a new television contract."

Have you heard that one before? Sure you have. Those are the only words, and in that precise order, I've ever heard the Tag-man say.

The owners in Dallas kept saying they expect the labor dispute to be resolved. In the meantime, players keep trooping off to court to file new lawsuits. Somehow, I think it may be awhile.

Of course, the truth is that the labor problem shouldn't have any bearing on expansion. I mean, what is it with these guys? What have they got against the concept? It's pretty clear that the NFL could support four new teams, six new teams. I know it's all about money, but how expensive could it be to change the letterhead on the stationery to add a few new teams?

As far as I can tell, the NFL is auditioning to be the poster league for population control.

And just when things were looking good for Baltimore's chances of making the final cut. Well, they were looking good if you thought the NFL was serious about expanding.

We tried so hard, too.

We served up all those crab cakes at all those league meetings.

We held that dumb exhibition game and even pretended to like it.

We smiled whenever the owners came to town. Can we stop this ridiculous smiling now? Isn't your face cramping up?

We even got incensed when Johnny U. dressed up to look just like Benedict Arnold and traipsed off to Spartanburg, S.C., for that pro-Charlotte rally. Seems kind of foolish now to have cared.

I just feel bad for the Baltimore Colt Marching Band. By definition, these guys are never going to give up.

My advice is to give up worrying about expansion. There are bigger problems in the world. You could be a bull who lives near Jackie Sherrill, just as an example. You could be named the Guv's new budget director.

Besides, tell the truth, the way the divisional race is going right now, how much time do you have to worry about football anyway? The Orioles are going to Milwaukee for four games and come home to play Toronto for three. That's real. That's going to happen. They're not going to change it. (At least not until next season, when the owners, I swear to you, are going to lock out the players. Has everyone gone nuts?)

It's make-or-break time for the Orioles -- not for expansion. I can't predict when, or if, that day will come. But if you want to insist on being optimistic, let's say maybe the NFL will expand someday.

We did send men to the moon. Communism fell. The Oakland A's traded Jose Canseco.

There are those who say anything's possible. If the NFL does expand, we'll know they're right.

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