O'Donnell went for the green, not gold

On The NFL

November 09, 1997|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Neil O'Donnell is learning the hard way that money doesn't always buy happiness.

The former Maryland quarterback signed a five-year, $25 million deal with the New York Jets in 1996 that included a $7 million signing bonus.

He rejected an offer from the Pittsburgh Steelers that was in the $18 million-$19 million range with a $4 million signing bonus.

Pittsburgh didn't offer him as much money, but it offered him a better situation: a perennially strong team with Super Bowl potential.

If he had stayed in Pittsburgh, O'Donnell probably would be starting against the Ravens tonight and possibly could have been driving for a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

That's because, with O'Donnell, the Steelers probably would have had a first-round playoff bye and home-field advantage in the divisional round, and thus an easier route back to the NFL title game.

Even if the Steelers hadn't made it back, it's likely that O'Donnell would be the quarterback and Kordell Stewart still would be "Slash," the backup quarterback/wide receiver/running back.

By contrast, in New York, O'Donnell has been benched and replaced by Glenn Foley.

O'Donnell isn't the type to carry an average team, and he hasn't responded to coach Bill Parcells' bullying, sarcastic style. The more pressure O'Donnell has faced, the poorer his play has been.

Parcells has tried to put the best face on the benching.

"Maybe this will do Neil a little good," he said. "I'm sure he doesn't feel that way, and I wouldn't expect him to. Maybe he'll get back his confidence and sit back and rest."

It's also possible that this will shatter his confidence, although he is not complaining publicly, calling himself a "team player."

It's also unlikely O'Donnell will ever make $25 million because the contract wasn't guaranteed. Even if the Jets decide to keep him after this season, he may be asked to take a pay cut.

Back in Pittsburgh, the Steelers now are happy O'Donnell didn't take their offer. It opened the door for Stewart, who has a lot more potential than O'Donnell.

If O'Donnell had stayed, the Steelers might have lost Stewart to free agency after the 1998 season, the way the Jacksonville Jaguars are likely to lose backup Rob Johnson after this season.

O'Donnell is left to think of what might have been and to know that the best offer isn't always the best opportunity.

Super dreams

John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, tried on Thursday in New York to sell an NFL advisory committee on the idea of Baltimore as a Super Bowl site.

Coincidentally, it was the second anniversary of Moag's crowning achievement, the announcement that the Cleveland Browns were moving to Baltimore.

Moag, Jim Brady, the state's secretary of business and economic development, and Carrol Armstrong, head of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, made the pitch at an informal meeting.

The committee members attending were Lamar Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts and Bob Tisch of the New York Giants. League president Neil Austrian and Jim Steeg, head of special projects, also attended.

"It was a very enjoyable experience," Moag said. "They were very straight with us. I think we made some good points. They appeared to be intrigued."

Moag met the weather issue head-on, noting that Baltimore's weather in January isn't likely to be a problem except that it's not suitable for golf.

But he noted that even if the weather is bad, it wouldn't hurt the game. He chronicled how some of the NFL's most famous title games have been played in bad weather, dating to the so-called "Sneakers Game" in 1934, when the Giants switched to sneakers at halftime and beat the Chicago Bears on a frozen field.

No years were discussed, but Baltimore's first practical shot is 2005. The next two open dates are 2002 and 2004, but they figure to go to New Orleans and a new domed stadium in Detroit, respectively. San Francisco already has the 2003 game in its soon-to-be-built new stadium.

Legal file

NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue testified last week in St. Louis' antitrust trial against the league, and the result was a lot of oral sparring.

For reporters who often have had difficulty pinning down Tagliabue on any subject, it had a familiar ring.

Alan Popkin, the attorney for St. Louis, said: "My judgment is he has a great difficulty saying yes or no to the simplest type of questions. I have a great deal of difficulty believing him."

At one point when Tagliabue was refusing to say yes or no, Popkin complained to the judge, "I object to the speech by the witness."

Meanwhile, Frank Rothamn, the league attorney, said of Tagliabue's testimony: "It went great. I think it was important that the people see him. He's a decent, sweet human being."

That was a reference to the fact that Tagliabue is as unpopular in St. Louis as he is in Baltimore because of how the cities were treated during the expansion derby.

The final arguments will come this week, then the case will go to the jury.

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