Owners likely to replay their no vote


March 22, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Kordell Stewart was still playing his Slash role when he was given credit for a 5-yard, second-period touchdown catch in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC title game two years ago.

The only problem was that Stewart's foot touched the back line and the touchdown shouldn't have counted. But the officials missed it.

Combined with the final play of that game, when the officials correctly ruled -- but easily could have been screened on the play -- that Aaron Bailey didn't catch a Hail Mary pass in the end zone, that game revived the debate over instant-replay review of officiating calls.

The league then decided to hold an experiment in the 1996 exhibition season on a new coaches' challenge format and presented the proposal to the owners last year.

Despite all the debate and controversy over the issue, most teams have made up their minds and refuse to change.

When it was was tossed out in 1991 after a six-year run, it fell four votes shy by a 17-11 margin.

When it failed again last year, it fell three votes shy by a 20-10 margin. The two expansion teams added since the 1991 vote, the Carolina Panthers and Jacksonville Jaguars, voted yes.

But just three teams changed votes. The Detroit Lions and Philadelphia Eagles changed from no to yes and Oakland Raiders boss Al Davis switched from yes to no.

The key swing vote was provided last year by New York Jets coach Bill Parcells, who disliked the proposal requiring a coach to give up a timeout even if his challenge was upheld.

If Parcells and Davis had voted yes, it would have passed, because Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says he'll switch from no to yes if he's the deciding vote.

Because Parcells was victimized by bad calls last season in two of his losses, there's been speculation he might change this week when the owners once again tackle the issue at their annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

Parcells has refused to give any interviews in the off-season, so nobody knows if his position has changed.

But Ravens owner Art Modell, a longtime supporter, predicts a limited challenge system will pass this time.

"Parcells might come around," Modell said. "Some of the people who were victimized by bad calls seem to be, if not for it, not as pronounced as against it."

But replay still faces an uphill fight. The problem is that there's a Gang of Seven that traditionally opposes replay. They're the Arizona Cardinals, New York Giants, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It takes only eight no votes to kill the proposal.

Of the seven, Bills owner Ralph Wilson seems to be the only one on the fence. He said he might support a "real simple" plan.

If Wilson votes no, replay will be in trouble, because Steelers president Dan Rooney is likely to switch to no.

He voted yes last year because coach Bill Cowher favored it, but Cowher is no longer keen on the challenge idea.

It may ultimately take a Super Bowl game decided by a bad call to bring back instant replay.

Players' bonanza

Many owners have spent the past several years complaining they didn't understand the kind of deal they were agreeing to back in 1993, when the players got free agency with a salary cap.

The agents immediately turned the hard cap into Swiss cheese with gimmicks like voidable contracts and huge signing bonuses.

But if the owners agree to ratify the new extension through 2003 this week, they can no longer complain they didn't know what they were getting.

The extension includes all of the provisions that allow agents to get around the cap, plus some new goodies, mainly an increase from 62 to 64 percent of the gross by the end of the deal and guaranteed contracts for vested veterans on the active roster for the first game. In the past, only half the year was guaranteed to a veteran on the opening-day roster.

As New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft, who plans to vote yes, said: "It's an awesome deal for the players. It didn't look like the owners got anything. Really, all we got was labor peace, which was important. It's a better deal for the players than the owners."

Some owners, though, say the owners gave up too much.

Modell, who supports the extension, said: "There'll be some no votes, but I think cooler heads will prevail."

In the end, though, it's likely to be approved because the majority of owners don't want to go to war with the players.

Also, there's nothing to stop the owners from refusing to spend up to $80 million when the salary cap is $52.38 million.

The problem is that each team justifies its own spending.

For example, Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver said: "I think it [spending] is out of control. But I don't know the answer. There's not a simple answer. If it continues to escalate at the level it appears to be going, there is going to be nothing but haves and have-nots."

But what about Jacksonville's $22 million deal for Buffalo linebacker Bryce Paup?

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