Tagliabue: NFL won't abandon Cleveland But no details offered on plans to stay there

January 27, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX -- Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday that the NFL is not going to abandon the fans of Cleveland.

"We share the emotion of our fans such as those in Cleveland. We understand what they feel and we're not going to abandon them," Tagliabue said during the opening statement of his annual Super Bowl news conference. "We want teams to stay where they are and we want them to do it in suitable stadiums."

During the question-and-answer session, though, Tagliabue would not give details about how the NFL plans to stay in Cleveland, now that Browns owner Art Modell has signed a 30-year lease to play in Baltimore.

Tagliabue said he had meetings with Cleveland officials this week.

"Our goal is to identify some specific recommendations that we can make to our membership in February so that we can do our best not to abandon Cleveland fans," he said. "How we do that and what we're discussing, I can't get into the specifics, but Mayor [Michael] White has made it clear and I've made it clear that we're looking at a number of alternatives."

The owners will meet Feb. 8-9 in Chicago to vote on the Browns' proposed move to Baltimore.

"Our goal will be to have teams in Cleveland, but in Baltimore as well," Tagliabue said.

Tagliabue also said Cleveland recognizes the need to build a new stadium. "That's not a demand coming from the NFL. It's a recognition by Cleveland . . . that they want to create a new facility for the NFL," he said.

Cleveland's public stance is that it has a $175 million project to renovate Cleveland Stadium.

Modell, who watched the news conference on television from his home in Florida, said he hopes Cleveland gets a team but he is not involved in those talks. "The important thing is to get my organization to Baltimore," he said.

On the possibility of a new stadium in Cleveland, Modell said, "If ++ they build a new stadium for somebody else, so be it. That's history. I'll do everything humanly possible to help them get a team."

Tagliabue also was asked why Baltimore didn't get an expansion team in 1993 if the league cares about tradition and history.

Tagliabue said that Baltimore's stadium deal "was probably at the top of the list in terms of revenue potential, [but] our membership was talking about expanding the reach of the NFL to new areas."

Tagliabue said the eventual winners, Carolina and Jacksonville, had two things going for them: "No. 1, hotbeds of interest in football; No. 2, new areas."

He suggested that putting teams in Baltimore and St. Louis would not have stopped franchise moves, saying, "Carolina still would be looking for a new team and Jacksonville would still be looking for a team, and Tennessee would still be looking for a team."

Tagliabue also was asked about the fate of several cities that NFL clubs have abandoned or are thinking about leaving -- Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle and Phoenix -- but declined to discuss specifics of each situation.

He also defended the use of permanent seat licenses to help fund stadiums as a better option than taxes.

When he was asked about selling PSLs in Baltimore, where public funding is available for a new stadium, he said, "I understand that, but I also understand that was a decision made by public officials in Baltimore, not a decision made by the commissioner's office or the members of this league."

On other subjects, he said:

* There is no move to reinstate instant replay. "A majority is in favor but we would need three-quarters. I don't see many people changing their minds."

* The Raiders probably will continue to practice in Los Angeles while playing in Oakland. "We're anxious to see the Raiders go to Oakland. Ideally, you would like to have a team reside where they play, but that is not always the reality. I am aware they are still adjusting to the transition."

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