NO FLIGHT FOR THE EAGLES
The game of holding cities hostage, one played with increasing success by pro sports entrepreneurs, was raised to a high art last week by Philadelphia Eagles owner Leonard Tose. After threatening to move the Eagles to Phoenix, the financially embattled Tose—he reportedly is $40 million in debt—agreed to keep them in Philadelphia in return for concessions from the city fathers that included construction of luxury boxes in Veterans Stadium, deferral of stadium rent for 10 years, a new practice facility and a bigger share of food and beverage concession revenues. Tose indicated that the possibility of a loan from the NFL had also entered into his decision to remain in Philadelphia.
Although city officials should be commended for having kept the Eagles in town, it's clear they had to swallow hard in doing so. Mayor Wilson Goode had sought without success to line up local financing to bail out Tose, but he also had threatened to go to court to enforce the Eagles' lease at Veterans Stadium, which runs until 2001. (The lease will be extended for another 10 years under last week's agreement.) For its part, the NFL had already resorted to legal action. Earlier last week it filed suit in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia to prevent the Eagles from moving to Phoenix. Obviously, the city and the league were using the stick as well as the carrot in dealing with Tose.
That the team of Van Buren, Bednarik, Carmichael and Montgomery could even have contemplated leaving town is distressing. The Eagles have been a Philly fixture for 51 years, and their departure would have been even more wrenching than the recent relocations of the Raiders and Colts. Unlike the Raiders, who quit Oakland after 22 years in that city, the Eagles hadn't voiced any serious gripes about their stadium. And unlike the Colts, who left Baltimore after 35 years there, Tose couldn't pretend that Philadelphia fans hadn't supported their team. Eagles rooters have been among the NFL's most rabid, a devotion not always warranted by the quality of the product that Tose put on the field.
December 24, 1984
Tose's only justification for threatening to leave was that he'd managed to get himself and his franchise, whose finances are hopelessly intertwined, deeply into hock. Losing money hasn't been easy in the NFL in recent years, but the flamboyant Tose squandered where he should have economized. He refused to give up his limos and other extravagances even as his debts mounted, and he amassed huge gambling losses.
When rumors of a possible move to Phoenix surfaced a few weeks ago, Tose said, "The only way the Eagles will move will be over my dead body." Early last week the real story emerged: Negotiations were under way for James Monaghan, a Phoenix resident, to pay Tose $30 million or more for a one-quarter share of the Eagles, who would move to the Arizona city. The news was a downer in Philadelphia, where a crowd booed Tose as he came out of a barbershop and where the Daily News' Mark Whicker wrote of Tose, "Loyalty? That's just a word in the dictionary...behind loser, a few pages behind liar."
Tose's fellow NFL owners weren't too happy with him, either. One reason: A Philadelphia-to-Phoenix move would have removed the NFL from the fourth-biggest TV market and put it into the 25th. But now, with the Eagles apparently secure in Philadelphia, the NFL should learn from the sorry experience and heed the suggestion of the courts by drawing up judicially acceptable guidelines that would allow franchise shifts only by those teams whose fans don't support them. The NFL then could make other teams stay put and spare cities and fans the sort of shameless squeeze play that Tose worked last week.
THANKS A LOT, SON
Marty Appel, vice-president of public relations for New York's WPIX-TV, which carries Yankee games, gave a talk on baseball the other day to a group of children at a local library, after which he invited members of the audience to ask questions. The first query was "How come the ball is so hard?" Appel was stumped. The second was "How come they call them 'stands' when everybody sits?" Stumped again. What made Appel's two strikeouts particularly embarrassing was that both questions were served up by his five-year-old son, Brian, whom Dad had been foolish enough to bring along.
The Dallas Morning News won a major battle in its escalating war with the Dallas Times Herald by hiring away the latter's longtime sports columnist, Blackie Sherrod. Sherrod's first column for his new paper will appear on Jan. 2, and the News is heralding its coup with a commercial on local TV. It begins in front of the Times Herald Building with Sherrod working at his desk as it's being towed through the streets by an unseen truck. As traffic cops clear the way, Sherrod taps away at his word processor, oblivious to distractions, until, at last, he arrives at the News' offices.
Among pedestrians who watch Sherrod pass by are Ranger manager Doug Rader, Maverick coach Dick Motta and former Cowboy Drew Pearson. In a rather glaring oversight for so accomplished a scribe, the absorbed Sherrod utterly fails to notice any of them.
As host to Super Bowl XIX, Stanford will receive 1,500 tickets to the game. The school plans to allot some of them to Stanford officials, corporate benefactors and contributors to Stanford Stadium's renovation. In addition, the Cardinal athletic department will use some of the tickets to woo high school recruits.
Or will it? NCAA legislative assistant Jamie McCloskey says the Stanford scheme would violate his organization's rules prohibiting the use of "excessive entertainment" in recruiting. "It puts Stanford at an advantage over other schools," McCloskey says. "Miami can't take recruits to the Orange Bowl. Kentucky can't take recruits to the Final Four, which it will host in March." But Stanford associate athletic director Alan Cummings hopes the NCAA will change its mind. Another NCAA rule allows schools to give recruits complimentary tickets to on-campus events, and Cummings earnestly argues that the Super Bowl in Stanford Stadium falls into that category.
Perhaps because Stanford has never before played host to a Super Bowl, Cummings doesn't believe that an on-campus event can also be excessive. Just wait, Alan.
GOODBY TO OK CITY
No sooner had the 1984 National Finals Rodeo ended on Dec. 9 in Oklahoma City (SI, Dec. 17), where it has been held for the past two decades, than the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association voted to move the event, starting next year, to Las Vegas. Oklahoma City had put up $700,000 in purses for the NFR, but Vegas's civic high rollers offered $1.59 million (corporate sponsors provide $200,000 more) as well as increased arena seating capacity and the promise of greater media exposure.
The PRCA's move followed fierce lobbying by both Oklahoma City and Las Vegas boosters. After buttons reading NFR DON'T GAMBLE—STAY IN OKC flowered in Oklahoma City, others appeared saying LAS VEGAS 1985, $1,500,000 PRIZE MONEY is NO GAMBLE. Bryan McDonald, one of the PRCA's 10 directors, told SI's Bruce Anderson that he and two other association officials were questioned by the FBI about whether any of the Vegas people had offered them bribes. Las Vegas partisans suggested that influential Oklahomans were somehow behind the FBI's interest for the purpose of getting more details of Vegas's bid.
"We think our town offers a more wholesome way of life than Las Vegas," Gerald Marshall, former chairman of Oklahoma City's Chamber of Commerce, had said before the PRCA's vote on the matter. "Rodeo is a red-white-and-blue affair. A family affair." In the end, however, the rodeo folks chose Nevada dollars over Oklahoma apple pie. "Oklahoma City has nurtured us for 20 years, but there comes a time when a parent has to let go," said bull rider Bobby Del Vecchio. "We've growed up. It's time to move on."
IT HAS COME TO THIS
Most people don't have lucrative, multiyear contracts with their employers. But then, most people aren't in professional sports, where such deals have become commonplace, as last week's announcement of Henry Rojas's new four-year, $230,000 pact with the Phoenix Suns joltingly illustrates. Rojas is the Suns' gorilla mascot.
A STUDY IN RED, BLUE—AND LOTS OF GREEN
It wasn't long ago that Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall refused in a TV interview even to talk about intrastate rival Louisville. There was also the time that Hall wouldn't let one of his players pose for pictures with one of the Cardinals. So strongly did Hall feel about nonfraternization that last year he made an emotional appeal before his school's athletics board against playing regular-season games with Louisville, which the Wildcats hadn't done since 1922. But the board ignored his counsel, cold war gave way to detente and last Saturday night Kentucky lost 71-64 to Louisville in the second installment in the schools' current four-year, home-and-home series. What's more, Hall and Louisville coach Denny Crum made a joint appearance the day before the game at a Louisville store where they autographed a poster on which the two are shown arm wrestling for the greater glory of Converse shoes.
Ah, the amazing powers of remunerative commerce. Hall has had a long-standing relationship with Converse and pulls in more than $100,000 a year for outfitting his team in that brand and for conducting clinics and making speeches for the firm. Crum was in the Pro-Keds camp until this year, when he switched to Converse in a deal that figures to bring him 100 grand a year, too. Crum says that the poster "promotes a little goodwill between the schools. The idea is to show that we're foes and we compete, but we're not enemies." He didn't need to add that it also behooves him and Hall to be nice to Converse.
THEY SAID IT
•Glen Kozlowski, Brigham Young wide receiver, whose team is playing in the same bowl for the seventh straight time: "Last year we got official Holiday Bowl watches. This year, the bowl has offered to fix the official Holiday Bowl watches."
•Hubie Brooks, New York Met shortstop, after he was traded last week to the Montreal Expos: "Damn, I've got to face Dwight [Gooden]."