What Eagle fans need: Arena team

February 23, 1993|By Glen Macnow | Glen Macnow,Knight-Ridder News Service

Here's what Philadelphia Eagles fans need to take their minds off Reggie White's imminent departure and owner Norman Braman's ill-conceived shots at the city, its mayor and its fans: More football.

The indoor Arena Football League is planning to expand for its seventh season, beginning in May. Philadelphia is among four finalists for a new franchise.

Perhaps you haven't been waiting all your life for this brand of Roller Derby football, which is played on a 50-yard rug ("He's at the 15, the 20, the 25, the 20 . . ." ), surrounded by mesh screens (balls bouncing off the mesh are live) and covered with Smurf-sized squads of eight.

And perhaps you don't envision paying money to see a minor (very minor) league that has brought back the drop-kick and single-unit football. But the organizers of Arena Football bet that you will.

Silly as this game might seem, it has been successful. League-wide attendance averaged 12,270 last season, and one team, the Tampa Bay Storm, drew 20,092 per game. Hey, the Sixers should be so popular.

Those numbers equate to happiness for Spectacor, the firm running the Spectrum. Recent downturns in the concert industry have hit the company hard. Meanwhile, Spectacor still is struggling to obtain financing for the long-promised Spectrum II. A new attraction that would fill the arena six nights a year would be the first good news in a while for Ed and Jay Snider, who run Spectacor and the Flyers.

"We've been trying to get a team here for three years, but this time it looks a bit more favorable," said Spectrum general manager Roger Dixon. "I know that the league wants to be in this market."

The hang-up thus far has been ownership. Spectacor wants no financial stake in the team, and two prospective ownership groups have backed out. One remaining possibility is the tandem of former Eagles Ron Jaworski and Tom Brookshier.

Brookshier said last week he was still studying the financial viability of investing in Arena Football. But he was clearly enthusiastic about the possibility.

"We'd call the team The Birds," Brookshier said. "We'd dress them in white and green and get people like Harold Carmichael and Wilbert Montgomery involved. We'd make it a home for retired Eagles."

We can't vouch for how well those guys would run a franchise. But we'll bet they wouldn't start any silly feuds with the mayor or their paying customers.

Re-signing rush on

With the free-agency period set to start March 1, some clubs are scrambling to re-sign their best players this week. Why? Because locking up a star now saves a club from having to make him one of its three protected players next month.

Remember, every NFL club may hold onto one guy by declaring him its "franchise player," and two others by naming them "transitional players" subject to a right of first refusal. All other unsigned players will hit the open market with no restrictions.

That's why the San Francisco 49ers, for example, are pushing hard to get quarterback Steve Young to agree to a contract this week. If they don't sign Young by March 1, the 49ers will make him their franchise player. If they do sign him by then, they can use the designation for one of many other talented free agents.

Either way, it's expected that Young will become the NFL's highest-paid player, surpassing Dan Marino's six-year, $26.6 million contract ($4.43 million average).

Hiring roulette

* Here's a hiring that makes no sense: Ray Perkins as New England's offensive coordinator. Perkins, a failure at Tampa Bay, runs a dull offense, rarely gets along with players and never develops quarterbacks. And don't forget, he abandoned Arkansas State for the Patriots, two years after claiming he wanted to return to the college scene to do something for kids.

Quarterback Warren Moon on the Houston Oilers' hiring of Buddy Ryan to coach the defense: "Nobody really understands the Buddy Ryan move. A lot of players are aware that [head coach] Jack Pardee didn't have a whole lot to do with that hiring. That makes the players wonder, 'What are they doing over there?' "

* New Bears coach Dave Wannstedt wants to unload William Perry, assuming anyone is interested in a bargain-priced, under-performing heavy appliance. . . The time has come to pull the Pro Bowl out of Hawaii, let fans vote for starters, require that players show up and organize an NBA-type weekend of contests. Either that or can the whole game.

Boomer headed East?

First trade of the off-season could be Boomer Esiason to New York. Jets general manager Dick Steinberg and Bengals general manager Mike Brown met last week and haggled over a price for the 32-year-old quarterback. Cincinnati wants a second-round pick; the Jets don't want to pay that much. Presumably, Esiason would replace Ken O'Brien as backup to Browning Nagle -- or start if Nagle fails to improve. "Nagle is a guy we think can be a winning quarterback," said Steinberg, "but you don't play with -- just one quarterback."

A lot of talk?

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