Money changing NFL's mind about Rams

ON THE NFL

April 09, 1995|By VITO STELLINO

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is bringing back instant replay to the NFL this week with a new twist.

The owners are going to try it off the field.

On Wednesday, less than a month after rejecting the Los Angeles Rams' proposed move to St. Louis, the owners are going to take a second look at a meeting in Dallas.

Upon further review, it will be no surprise if the owners approve it this time.

That's because Rams president John Shaw has boosted his offer to the league from $25 million to $40 million -- half of it up front -- and the alternative is fighting a court battle that would be difficult for the NFL to win.

It's obvious that Tagliabue badly misjudged Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. He assumed she could be persuaded to back down or sell the team.

Instead, she's ready to go to court, and St. Louis and Missouri will back her to the hilt.

The Missouri attorney general, Jay Nixon, keeps using war metaphors, talking about how his troops are in the landing boats and ready to hit the beaches. He knows he would become a hero in Missouri by suing the NFL, which is about as popular in St.

Louis these days as it is in Baltimore.

That leaves the next move up to Tagliabue. He started out wanting $70 million to $80 million from Shaw. He now has to decide whether to recommend the owners take the $40 million or spend a lot of time on the witness stand.

He would have a difficult time in court defending the league's so-called moving guidelines, which are now in tatters.

The way the Rams' move has been handled, the new guideline seems to be how much a team will pay to move.

Rams attorney Max Blecher told the National Law Journal: "This really is like any other commercial law dispute. It just comes down to money."

So much for the NFL's caring about the location of its franchises.

In St. Louis, they're throwing around harsh terms such as bribery and extortion.

The NFL prefers a more genteel term: relocation fee.

In any case, the league has enough court cases on its hands. It doesn't need to take on another one.

Joe Alioto, the San Francisco attorney who represented the Los Angeles Raiders when they won the right to move from Oakland, Calif., in 1982, is suing the league on behalf of two former New England Patriots owners, Billy Sullivan and Victor Kiam.

Sullivan already won a $57 million judgment that was overturned on a technicality. The case goes back to trial in October, and Alioto said Sullivan will win more this time because the value of franchises has gone up.

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is Baltimore.

Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag is moving ahead with plans to sue the NFL on grounds it illegally tried to keep a team from moving to Baltimore.

Jim Quinn, a New York lawyer who won the case on behalf of the players association when Plan B free agency was declared illegal in 1992, said Baltimore probably has a better case in court than St. Louis does.

"It's certainly not a frivolous case," Quinn said.

Quinn said the contention that the Washington Redskins tried to keep a team out of Baltimore would bolster the city's anti-competitive argument. He said the Raiders' case was helped because the Rams, at the time, wanted to keep them out of Los Angeles.

Quinn also said that Tagliabue, who isn't exactly noted for having a warm personality, wouldn't likely be an impressive witness for the owners.

Quinn said that when the jurors were interviewed after the Plan B case, "they didn't think [Tagliabue] was a good witness. They basically said he's just a lawyer, and nobody believes lawyers, at least not as witnesses."

Leverage

If the Rams' move is approved, Raiders owner Al Davis will have more leverage because he'll have the only team in Los Angeles.

His first decision will be whether to play his 1995 home games at Anaheim Stadium instead of the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The next question is whether the departure of the Rams will make it easier for him to get a new stadium in Los Angeles.

Davis, of course, is always threatening to move -- he even has been floating rumors that he could play in Oakland or Baltimore. But Davis has been talking about leaving Los Angeles for so long that he now sounds like the little boy who cried wolf.

Moving on?

If it's 1995, it has to be Prince George's County.

Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke continued to wander around suburbia last week when he said his preference for a new stadium is now Prince George's County, although he hasn't dropped his pursuit of Laurel.

Cooke, though, still hasn't figured out that suburban stadiums are an idea whose time has come and passed. They cause horrible traffic jams and don't bring in any development, which is why the Bullets and Capitals are fleeing Landover for a new arena in downtown Washington near a Metro stop.

Considering Cooke's track record, though, nobody is betting he ever will get a stadium built. It doesn't help that the land he now is talking about is an important geological site that scientists are trying to protect. That alone could cause more years of delay.

Goodbye to Ricky

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