The NFL's annual meetings in Maui last week had a nice, old-fashioned feel to them. Why? No lawyers. No heavy pronouncements about restraining orders and injunctions and litigation. No solemn-faced characters with their somber suits and attachè cases. It was a week of football: instant replay; the new TV package; a $40 million pension for the old-timers; rule changes; trade rumors involving quarterbacks Steve Young and Doug Williams; expansion lobbyists in the corridors and anterooms; and wondrous tales of college seniors who had gone "off the charts" in scouting workouts in Indianapolis.
Everyone applauded the owners' decision to award $60 a month for every year of service to 948 veterans who played before 1959, when the original pension plan was adopted. While long overdue, the owners' largess was also an excellent tactical move because the NFL Players Association would begin its convention in Los Angeles just five days after the owners ended their meetings. Number three on the players' wish list was pension-plan improvements, including money for the old vets. It was good p.r. for the owners to satisfy one of those demands even before it was presented. It could help take the edge off a convention that got volatile five years ago, the last time the contract was up. That convention set the tone for the players' strike that canceled seven games.
Meanwhile, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle made another neat move by saving instant replay. As presented to the owners by the league's four-man competition committee, instant replay was doomed to failure.
Dallas president Tex Schramm sold fellow committee members Bill Walsh and Don Shula on the notion that instant replay deserved two more years. (Paul Brown was the only holdout.) But two years was too long for the owners. "Put it in for two years, and we'll never get rid of it," said Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson. One club official said he counted "only five solid votes" for Schramm's proposal.
Enter Rozelle. He chopped the two years to one and put it in a form people could understand—i.e., no changes in the way replays were judged—and the owners went for it, but just barely.
My feeling? It deserves another shot, but Schramm, with his idea of replacing the replay crew with working refs, was on the right track. Instant replay was voted in because the fans wanted it. To kill it after a year would be too fickle.
Replays aside, I got a kick out of watching the other owners' reaction to Raiders boss Al Davis. Some of them went out of their way to be cordial, letting bygones be bygones and welcoming him back to the family. Others turned up their noses at him. After all, the guy did take the stand for the USFL in the $1.69 billion lawsuit. Davis left the Maui meetings early, and Cleveland owner Art Mo-dell optimistically speculated that Davis was one of the boys again. Rozelle was having none of it.
"There's been talk of burying the hatchet," said Rozelle, "but it serves no purpose. I haven't had a hatchet in Al's back. Look, put yourself in my position. He said I scalped Super Bowl tickets because I gave six of them to a longtime friend. He said I wanted to buy the L.A. [Rams] franchise for myself and friends of mine. He said a number of other things. I became the symbol of his resistance. I'm only human. He's not my favorite person, but I won't treat his club any differently than any other club."
Davis has enough problems without worrying about what people think of him. The Raiders, who are coming off an 8-8 season, have the highest payroll in the NFL (the average Raider player salary for 1986 was $240,000, according to the Los Angeles Times), and now they're trying to trade for a veteran quarterback. That will cost them big bucks, unless they can peddle Marc Wilson. Even if they do, they'll probably have to pick up some of Wilson's contract, which reportedly guarantees him $1 million for 1987.
The Raiders are projecting Rusty Hilger, who threw only 38 passes last year, as their starting quarterback, which is whistling in the dark. Their personnel department is studying everyone who threw a pass in anger last season, but the best of the bunch is Doug Williams, Washington's 31-year-old backup. Williams has Raiders written all over him, provided his knees are sound. He's big, he has a gun for an arm, he stands tall in the pocket, and he's almost impossible to sack. Plus he's a leader, a terrific club guy. For one brief moment he was on the trading block, but the Redskins pulled him back. It will take at least a first-round draft choice for the Raiders to get him.
"Let me tell you a story about Doug Williams," says Bill Tatham, the former owner of the USFL's Arizona Outlaws, who was in Maui lobbying the NFL to place its next franchise in Phoenix. "When we folded, I lost $21 million. I called Williams in to tell him it was over, that the shop was closed. I owed him a lot of money, high six figures, and I wanted him to know he'd get paid.
"He said, 'Look, you've lost enough. I'm building a house in Zachary, La. It'll cost $175,000. Give me that, and we'll call it square.' It just about brought tears to my eyes. I mean, how many ballplayers would act like that?"
On the personnel front, the 49ers, who have two first-round and two second-round picks in the April 28 draft, lead the wheeler-dealers. They would like to trade up for one of the blue-chip runners,. Auburn's Brent Fullwood or Miami's Alonzo Highsmith or Texas A & M's Roger Vick or Perm State's DJ. Dozier. Everyone is guessing that the Niners will also make a move for Tampa's Steve Young, and they're looking at Cards linebacker E.J. Junior.
Philly coach Buddy Ryan says he covets Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth. Indianapolis is willing to trade the No. 2 pick, most likely Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett, if the price is right. If Ryan gets the Colts' pick, would he really take Bosworth over Bennett, a Lawrence Taylor clone?
The star of last month's workouts in Indianapolis was Purdue defensive back Rod Woodson, a 200-pounder who can play wideout and also run back kicks. He went off the board in almost all categories—best 40-yard clocking among the DBs (4.32), second-best vertical leap (36 inches), best 20-yard shuttle-run time among all the players.
The fastest 40 was run by Alabama's tiny (5'7", 164 pounds) wideout, Greg Richardson, who had a 4.27. The strongest athlete was William & Mary's 270-pound tackle, Archie Harris, who bench-pressed 225 pounds 36 times. But pound for pound, the honor went to Bethune-Cookman's 187-pound safety, Mark Irvin, who did 21 reps at 225—more than nine tackles, six guards and three centers could do. Talk about your strong safety.
And talk about your sleepers. Consider a 6'1½", 262-pounder from Winston-Salem named Donald Evans, who ran the fastest 40 (4.58) among the linebackers, had a vertical jump of 31 inches and was fifth overall in the bench press with 29 reps. "He's a real unknown," says one scout. "Didn't play as a junior and missed three games last season. There's almost no film on him."
The biggest disappointment was Missouri tackle John Clay, who had been projected as the No. 1 or No. 2 offensive lineman on the board. He showed up in Indianapolis at 320 pounds, clocked a miserable 5.50 in the 40, did just 16 reps in the bench press—and left people scratching their heads. Scouts who like Clay insist he just didn't take the combine workouts seriously. Scouts who don't like him say, "We told you so."