Seen and heard at the annual NFL owners' meetings held last week in Rancho Mirage, Calif.:
Umpire Don Denkinger a factor in a National Football League decision? Art Modell, the owner of the Cleveland Browns, said Denkinger's controversial call in the sixth game of the 1985 World Series had been bothering him for months. As a result, Modell, along with 22 other owners, cast a positive vote to use a modified form of instant replay in the NFL.
"Baseball hasn't changed in 100 years," Modell said. "They keep showing that Denkinger call over and over. That's the kind of thing I care about; I don't want that happening. Showing it over and over, but doing nothing about it."
The NFL's use of the replays—it will be at the discretion of an official in the press box—will include plays of possession, such as fumbles, interceptions and receptions, and plays involving sidelines, goal lines and end lines.
March 24, 1986
"A major breakthrough," said Bill Walsh, the 49ers' coach. "The continued replays by networks affects our credibility. If the TV replay shows the official made the wrong call, the public is saying, 'Look, why can't they deal with this error?' "
"Our game is pretty good the way it is," said Chicago's Mike Ditka. "I just hope this doesn't affect the judgment of the officials on the field."
Just when they thought their distinguished careers were over, Steve Bartkowski and Joe Theismann seem to be in a seller's market. Bartkowski, a free agent who's 33 and has had five knee operations in his 11-year career, is on his most rigorous off-season workout program ever (weightlifting, running and racquet-ball) and has lost 15 pounds. Theismann, 36, is currently ahead of schedule in rehabilitating his right leg, broken last Nov. 18, and the Redskins are trying to work out his trade. The Rams will try out Bartkowski, and Theismann has made himself available to L.A.
Why would anybody be interested in these aging quarterbacks? According to scouts, this year's college draft will not be as deep there as originally thought. Illinois's Jack Trudeau has had knee problems, and BYU's Robby Bosco has impressed few pro teams. And the USFL pickings are mighty slim: The only quarterback anybody wants is Jim Kelly, and he belongs to the New Jersey Generals' Donald Trump.
"Quarterbacks are at a premium," said attorney Leigh Steinberg, who represents Bartkowski and 13 other pro quarterbacks. "With the smaller roster size and the high injury rate among quarterbacks, it's a good position to be in."
One of the trickiest areas of negotiating a leaguewide random drug-testing policy is how—or if—to deal with steroids. Most owners want to test for cocaine, marijuana and amphetamines.
Steroids are another matter. Said one NFL executive, "Thirty percent of the players in the league are on steroids. Fewer than that are on cocaine. We may never get the union to agree to a drug-testing policy if we say we'll test for steroids. Their constituents won't go for it."
Said George Young, the Giants' general manager, "Steroids are something we've got to stop. But they aren't the same thing as cocaine. Steroids give them a competitive edge. Steroids are a competitive problem."
Just listening to Mike Ditka's schedule the week before the meetings was exhausting: "I went from Chicago to Florida to Houston to Chicago to L.A. to Phoenix to Indy to Chicago to Pittsburgh to Palm Springs in one week."
After the meetings, the Chicago coach was scheduled to fly to Miami and back home—on the same day—just to make a bon voyage speech for a Bears fans' cruise to Nassau. He was supposed to take the ship trip himself, but was too tired.
Ditka has recently raised his speaking fee from $2,500 to $3,000, which mayor may not—deter some of the business.
Pete Rozelle finally had a chat with Patriots general manager Pat (John L.) Sullivan about his scuffle with Raiders linebacker Matt Millen following the Patriots-Raiders playoff game in January. "I told him that I didn't plan on being on the sidelines anymore," Sullivan said, "and the commissioner said, 'That sounds like a good idea.' End of conversation." The point is probably moot because, said Sullivan, "I don't think we'll own the team next season."
One gag gift Sullivan received after the fight was a Raiders helmet with the mandatory label altered to read: WARNING: THIS HELMET SHOULD NOT BE USED TO BUTT, SPEAR OR RAM IRISH MANAGEMENT TYPES. Sullivan claimed Millen hit him with his helmet.
Millen, who hasn't heard a word from the league, begged to differ. "I hit Pat with my fist," he said.
Gene Stallings, the Cardinals' new coach, may be best remembered for the controversy he created while head coach at Texas A & M from 1965 to 1971. In his first year on the job, some 60 players resigned from the Aggies' squad because of Stallings' strict discipline. He was also opposed to an integrated team, saying, "I've got nothing against the Negro athlete, but I don't believe he fits into our plans right now."
Stallings, the Dallas Cowboys' defensive backfield coach for the last 14 years, has learned from his mistakes. "I was 29 when I had that job," says Stallings, now 51. "I was perhaps a little young. I was also too tough, although I didn't think so at the time. You know, I've coached a jillion blacks since then. Looking back, I think we were way behind recruiting blacks, the whole Southwest Conference was. I'll always regret that.
"You've got to be able to recognize that change is necessary. That's one of the most important things as a coach. Sometimes you realize too late. Hopefully, I've matured—just through living—since those days. I'll be a different head coach."
Odds and ends: Jack Donlan, executive director of the management council, gave his annual state of the union address. He said seven teams lost money in '85 and predicts 14 teams will be in the red next year. A few owners proposed that the league cancel next year's meetings in Maui to save money. "Somebody suggested we hold the meetings in New York," Donlan says. "I said, 'How about Youngstown?' "...Groups in town lobbying for NFL expansion teams: Oakland, Sacramento, Montreal, Jacksonville and Phoenix. Rozelle is noncommittal on NFL expansion, but lobbyists believe Oakland is first in line for a team, with Phoenix second. The target year is said to be 1988.... Mike Lynn, Minnesota's general manager and the man caught in a bitter court battle over the sale of the Vikings, pranced around the pool wearing a T shirt that read MY LAWYER CAN BEAT UP YOUR LAWYER. Said Lynn, "In this league, you have to have a sense of humor." ...Chicago's Super Bowl ring is largely a Walter Payton design. "That's only fitting," said Bears president Mike McCaskey.... The discussion of roster expansion was tabled until the June owners' meeting. Explained Tex Schramm, "Going [from a 45-] to a 49-man roster, or making allowances for a third quarterback, could be used in an irresponsible manner by the USFL in their lawsuit [which is scheduled to begin in mid-May]. We didn't want to be accused of cornering the market." ...Georgia Frontiere left the meetings, steaming. The Rams' owner figured she had laid the groundwork for the NFL's upcoming London game by speaking to promoters and providing Rams uniforms for U.S. service teams based in England. So Frontiere, who summers in London, felt slighted when Rozelle picked the Cowboys for the Aug. 3 game against the Bears at Wembley. Said one Cowboy higher-up, "The Rams were never going to go. Look, when Prince Charles visited Dallas recently, he asked for two Cowboys T shirts for his sons—not Rams T shirts."
DAVIS DEALS WITH SOME WEIGHTY MATTERS
Another mystery surrounding Al Davis is his weightlifting equipment. Everybody knew that Davis had arrived when his barbells, dumbbells and weight bench appeared on a terrace overlooking the golf course and the hotel's bar and restaurant. But did anybody actually see him lift that 160-pound bar? Nope. Davis boasts of daily workouts, but some league types like to tease Al—they claim he never takes his shirt off—and dismiss his weight-lifting exploits as more Davis folklore.
One story has it that at an earlier league meeting Davis was psyching himself to lift, breathing loudly and deeply, moving around his weight set, flexing his muscles, when Miami's Don Shula, out for a jog, passed by. Shula stopped, walked over to the weights, lifted them with one hand and said, "What's the big deal, Al?"