Browns move a crisis Oilers move: so what?

ON THE NFL

November 19, 1995|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Maybe it's a question they should start asking on the late news: Do you know where your NFL team is tonight?

For the second straight week, an NFL team announced it was moving last week when Bud Adams, owner of the Houston Oilers, signed a new deal with Nashville, Tenn.

The move isn't as final as the one Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell announced in Baltimore the previous week, because Nashville fans have to buy almost 45,000 permanent seat licenses to make it official.

There's another big difference: While the proposed Browns move has caused a firestorm in Cleveland and around the country, the Oilers' move was greeted almost with a yawn.

Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen said: "The Cleveland situation stirred up a hornet's nest in the league. It's a very different situation than this, obviously."

In effect, Houston officials told the Oilers that if the price of keeping the team is a new stadium, it's not worth the price.

Houston Mayor Bob Lanier said: "You have to consider whether or not you think it's wise to spend taxpayer money . . . . for that particular form of entertainment. I wouldn't do it without the taxpayers voting for it. I haven't seen a deal that I would vote for myself. We're struggling for money for a lot of things. I think we ought to have a sense of priorities."

Even though the Browns mean more to Cleveland than the Oilers do to Houston, the teams do have similar records during the past three decades.

Granted, the Browns had a great era from 1946 to 1955, maybe the best era ever, when Otto Graham took Paul Brown's team to the championship game in the All-America Football Conference and the NFL for 10 straight years, and won seven of them.

But that was 40 years ago.

Since Adams founded the Oilers in 1960, there is not that much difference between the two clubs. The Oilers won the first two AFL titles in 1960 and 1961. The Browns won their last NFL title in 1964. Neither has made it to the Super Bowl.

The Oilers had a run in the late 1970s with Earl Campbell. The Browns had the Kardiac Kids in 1980. Both teams had a run in the late 1980s, the Browns with Bernie Kosar, the Oilers with Warren Moon -- although both quarterbacks eventually were dumped by their teams in unpopular moves.

Both owners fired popular coaches. Modell sacked Paul Brown in 1962, and Adams fired Bum Phillips in 1980.

Still, there are obviously some intangibles involved here. The Browns are embedded more into the fabric of a Rust Belt city like Cleveland than the Oilers are in the Sun Belt city of Houston.

If more cities like Houston start deciding NFL teams aren't worth the price of a new stadium, teams are going to lose leverage in their quest for better facilities.

The aftermath

There has been much hand-wringing around the country that the Browns' and Oilers' moves could turn fans off, but the NFL doesn't seem to be hurt. Strikes and replacement games couldn't hurt the league, and, for the short term, the franchise shifts don't seem to make a difference.

For example, the Cowboys-49ers game last Sunday got the highest TV rating for a Sunday game in a decade.

Even in Cleveland, the fans are angry but are too addicted to the game to turn off their TV sets. The 19.5 rating (percentage of TV sets tuned in) for the Cowboys-49ers game in Cleveland was higher than it got in several cities, including Baltimore, where it got a 16.7.

The Browns-Steelers game on Monday night got a 37.3 rating in Cleveland while in Baltimore, which hasn't quite adopted the Browns yet, it got a 16.2 rating.

Meanwhile, Cleveland is pursuing the lawsuit route in an attempt to block the Browns' move. The problem is that unless commissioner Paul Tagliabue gets the owners to reject the move in January, that's a tough fight to win. Baltimore tried it and lost.

A better avenue is to go out and steal another team, although Ohio Gov. George Voinovich doesn't like that idea. "I think a lot of people around here won't support that," he said.

Baltimore made that mistake back in 1984 when civic leaders decided not to support an attempt by a local group to buy the New Orleans Saints and move them here because Baltimore had just lost a team.

Since the NFL isn't going to expand again any time soon, it is virtually inviting cities to raid teams.

The Browns could start with Tampa Bay, where a seat-deposit campaign hasn't gone well. Last year, the Browns grossed $64 million, according to Financial World magazine, while the Bucs grossed $56 million. Cleveland could make an attractive offer to the Bucs.

High prices

Since the Browns are likely to be in a rebuilding mode when they arrive next year, Baltimore fans aren't going to have to think about the Super Bowl any time soon. But if you think permanent seat licenses are expensive, wait until you find out what it would cost to go to the Super Bowl.

The NFL has jacked up the highest ticket price to $350, but scalpers are starting at $1,450 for the cheap seats in Phoenix next January and going to $3,000 to $4,000 for the good seats.

"Face value has no relevance whatsoever," said one ticket broker. "You can't get them at that price, so who cares what it says?"

Another said, "To us, they're gold."

Super Bowl tickets are becoming like yachts. If you have to ask the price, you can't afford them.

Up the ladder

Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions plays in his 99th game today. He goes in with 9,646 yards rushing and an average of 4.95 yards per attempt in 1,947 carries.

The only two players ahead of him at the 100-game mark were Jim Brown, who had 10,833 yards with a 5.18 yards average on 2,091 attempts, and Eric Dickerson, who had 10,818 yards with a 4.61 yards average on 2,346 tries.

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