Tagliabue with Modell, Davis is 1 for trophy case Tagliabue with Modell or Davis would be moving NFL moment

January 09, 2001|By Mike Preston

THERE REALLY IS a football god.

He is looking down and smiling upon Baltimore this week. Not only have strange plays and weird events put the Ravens in the AFC championship game Sunday in Oakland, but NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in a position of anguish for the remainder of the week. Two of the owners on the dark side, the Ravens' Art Modell and the Raiders' Al Davis, are involved in one of the league's featured attractions.

It's the Darth Vader Bowl.

And in 19 days, Tagliabue might have to hand one of them the prestigious Super Bowl trophy. (Please, football god, let it happen. I promise not to write anything negative for at least 24 hours.)

Wouldn't it be great?

The best scenario would be Modell taking the trophy, but if not, I'd settle for Davis. Modell would be a gentleman during the presentation because he has always been a league guy. But Davis, who does look like Elvis after visiting a fat farm, might spice it up a little.

Which one would The Commish prefer? Neither.

But if Tagliabue had his druthers, he'd choose Modell.

You see, Modell was only a headache and public relations nightmare for the league from 1996 until Cleveland got its team, name and colors back for the start of the 1999 season.

Elvis, oops, Davis has been sticking it to the league for years. He has moved from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland. There is speculation that he might move back to Los Angeles again.

Just kidding.

But this is true: Davis has already sued the league twice and was involved in litigation in 1980-81 and 1983-84, two seasons in which the Raiders won the Super Bowl.

He has hired a slew of attorneys again, and has two more lawsuits against the league, one to escape the team's stadium lease and another claiming Tagliabue and outgoing NFL president Neil Austrian deceptively set up an executive compensation fund totaling nearly $100 million to benefit themselves and other league officials.

There's more.

Davis recently said the $600,000 fine the league imposed on Cleveland officials Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark for illegally circumventing the league's salary cap when they were in San Francisco wasn't serious enough. He has been lobbying with other owners for a stiffer penalty.

"Al figures that if he can undermine Tagliabue in some way, he will eventually get him removed," said one top league official. "Al has always wanted to become commissioner. He bucked against Pete Rozelle and now Tagliabue. But what else is new?"

So, no way does The Commish want Davis to become his trophy king.

Modell has always been a league guy. He stood firmly with Rozelle and the league during those Davis lawsuits in the 1980s. Modell, though, moved his team, too.

But he did it only once.

That move, though, granted by league approval, made Modell Public Enemy No. 1 throughout the country. That sentiment seems to have faded nationally, but there is still some deep-rooted hatred in Cleveland.

"There is still bitterness there," Modell said last night in reference to Cleveland. "I've heard through a number of sources that say it has abated, but some of it has been deeply rooted through the media and city hall. Nationally, I've gotten letters and phone calls that show people are ecstatic about our success. I'm in Baltimore now and happy with the team's success. You think people in Omaha, Neb., these days care about the move from Cleveland to Baltimore?"

But Tagliabue doesn't seem ready to accept it yet. There isn't a league conspiracy theory that prevails among a lot of Baltimoreans, but Tagliabue occasionally slaps the Ravens on the wrist for the move. There was a reason the Ravens played five of their first eight games on the road this season, and it wasn't because they needed frequent-flyer miles.

In 1997, the Ravens were the only team to play three straight road games twice. That happened only once before in league scheduling - Green Bay had two three-game road stretches in 1996. Shouldn't the "Monday Night Football" schedule in 2000 have included Baltimore, a city rich in NFL tradition with a fast improving team and a new stadium?

The Commish knows he is not loved here. Despite eating some of the city's best crab cakes and being given red-carpet treatment, he stiffed Baltimore twice during expansion in 1993, putting teams in Carolina and Jacksonville. He then told the fans here they should spend money on museums instead of a new stadium and trying to lure a team.

He also allowed other owners to use Baltimore as a carrot to get better stadium deals from their respective cities.

That will never be forgotten.

Yet now, despite the setbacks, Baltimore is back in the title picture again with a team as resilient as the city's effort to return to NFL football. The Raiders are back with Davis as defiant as when he became owner of the franchise 37 years ago.

It would be great to see Davis, complete with white clothing, greased hair, Mr. T gold chain and sunglasses, stick it to The Commish. And even better for Modell to claim the trophy with fans in the background holding up posters of museums.

"Al and I were on opposite ends of some bitter antitrust suits in the '70s and '80s," Modell said. "But we've gotten closer in recent years. We're both football guys, not in X's and O's, but we'd like to see the league continue to flourish."

Al Davis and Art Modell. Art Modell and Al Davis. Let the Darth Vader Bowl begin.

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