THE GANG OF 11
This is an article from the July 17, 1989 issue
Senior writer Paul Zimmerman on the NFL owners 'failure to name a commissioner last week at a meeting in Chicago: When Pete Rozelle was elected NFL commissioner in 1960, the process took 23 ballots and more than a week. Last Thursday the six-man search committee appointed to find a successor to Rozelle came to the owners' meeting expecting a first-ballot confirmation of its sole nominee, Saints president and general manager Jim Finks. For approval, Finks, 61, needed the votes of 19 of the 28 owners.
But a dissident movement was afoot. The week before, Bronco owner Pat Bowlen, one of the leaders of the movement, had called Steeler owner Dan Rooney and Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, both members of the search committee, and warned that unless they made changes. Finks wouldn't receive 19 votes. "I told them our people were upset with the makeup of the search committee and the fact that we were going to be presented with only one name." says Bowlen. "I told them the best thing would be to postpone the meeting and arrange a new format presenting more nominees. They thanked me and paid no attention."
The search committee took a straw poll and found that Finks still had the backing of 20 owners. Confident that their man would be approved, the committee met with Finks on July 4 in New York City and worked out a five-year contract. Two days later, owners gathered at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare for a scheduled 2 p.m. vote.
The rebels, most of them newer, younger owners who felt that they had been denied a say in the selection process, met privately at the hotel. Their ranks had grown to 11—enough to block Finks's approval. They decided to ask the league to extend the search, give them information about other candidates and add three more owners—probably Bowlen, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. of the 49ers and Mike Lynn of the Vikings—to the search committee.
The full group of owners didn't meet until 4:30 p.m. There was an immediate vote on Finks: 16 yeas, 11 abstentions, one absentee. A second ballot produced the same result. The owners debated until 11 p.m., then adjourned.
They did agree to add Bowlen, DeBartolo and Lynn to the search committee. That committee will prepare dossiers on seven candidates, including Finks, and the owners will consider them before voting again later this summer. Finks is still likely to emerge as the winner—"If [the search committee] had done it right, he'd be our commissioner right now," says Lynn—but only if the wishes of the dissenting Gang of 11 are followed. The group wants the search committee to eventually drop three old-guard members and become a transition committee that would help the new commissioner into office and consider changes in the league's management structure.
"There's been a palace guard that's surrounded Pete Rozelle," says Bowlen. "Now that he's retiring, we don't want to see it happen again. When we wanted a restructuring of the committee, the old-guard owners refused to address it. If they continue to, then you won't have a vote on a commissioner."
THE FAST-BREAK LOOK
When the Indiana Pacers took the court in Boston Garden for a game in January, newly hired coach Dick Versace all but shielded his eyes. "Those are the ugliest uniforms I've ever seen," he told assistant Dave Twardzik. But Versace figured Pacer president and general manager Donnie Walsh was teasing him recently when Walsh said sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner was redesigning Indiana's uniforms. "When I found out it was reality, I thought it was a stroke of genius," says Versace.
Flo-Jo, who retired from track in February, designs clothes as one of her many vocations. Her most eye-catching creations were the one-legged bodysuits she wore at the Olympic trials in Indianapolis last summer, but she has also done men's track outfits and casual attire. It is intriguing to imagine the Pacers in lacy one-leggers, but Flo-Jo has ruled that out. She hasn't ruled out anything else.
Versace, who favors gaudy neckties, vows not to impose his taste on Flo-Jo. "I'm enough of a Renaissance man not to tamper with an artist," he says.
There were at least two reasons behind the firing of Chicago Bulls coach Doug Collins. One was the smoldering power struggle between Collins and Bulls vice-president of basketball operations Jerry Krause. Insiders say that Collins, who in his three seasons as coach often disagreed with Krause on personnel decisions, and who was replaced as coach by one of his assistants, Phil Jackson, would have been fired sooner if the Bulls hadn't performed so well in the playoffs. Chicago reached the Eastern Conference finals before being eliminated by the eventual NBA champion Detroit Pistons.
A second reason for Collins's firing was reportedly his hard-driving style, which was said to have rubbed some of his players—and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf—the wrong way. Collins's occasional spats with Bulls star Michael Jordan apparently had little to do with his dismissal, however. Most Chicago players, in fact, seemed startled by the move. "Look at the man's record [137-1091] and how popular he was with the fans." said one. "Then they fire him just when the team is close to becoming a title contender. It's crazy, absolutely crazy."
SOCCER'S TRAGIC SECRET
Sovietsky Sport, a Soviet sports newspaper, reported last week that the worst soccer tragedy in history had been covered up by Soviet authorities. The paper reported that at an Oct. 20, 1982, match in Lenin Stadium between the Moscow Spartak club and the Haarlem club of the Netherlands, at least 340 spectators died when the crowd surged toward the field following a goal by Moscow Spartak. Officials had crammed all 10.000 fans into one section of the 100,000-seat stadium to facilitate security and the postgame cleanup. Near the end of the game, police began herding spectators up a lone icy staircase toward a single exit, when Spartak scored its final goal in a 2-0 victory. The departing fans heard a roar and reversed direction. The crush of bodies ensued. According to Sovietsky Sport, Soviet authorities held the corpses for two weeks before telling next of kin what had happened and releasing the bodies for burial.
How could such a disaster have remained secret? To many Soviets, it wasn't a secret—but no one dared talk about it until now. Dutch players and journalists recall being hurried out of the stadium as soon as the game ended. "We tried and tried but we couldn't get any information that night." says Dutch television reporter Gos Kuyer. Adds Haarlem goalie Edward Metgod, "On our way back [to the hotel] we saw many ambulances. We were wondering what had happened."
At the time, Western news reports were sketchy; they noted that "more than 20 deaths" occurred at the game. Says Metgod, "The real facts leave me dumbfounded."
SUPPLEMENTAL SIGNAL CALLER
Everything keeps coming up quarterbacks for new Dallas Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson. Last Friday, after the Cowboys selected Steve Walsh, who had called signals the last two seasons for Johnson at the University of Miami, in the first round of the NFL's supplemental draft, Johnson pondered his good fortune and declared, "It's Christmas."
Dallas, which has played quarterback roulette in the decade since Roger Staubach retired, is suddenly the QB store. The Cowboys' future is No. 1 draft choice Troy Aikman, who has signed a six-year, $11.037 million deal with a no-trade clause for 1989. Behind Aikman are a passel of passers available to the highest bidder. Scatter-armed Steve Pelluer (career totals: 28 TDs, 38 interceptions) and 37-year-old Danny White don't have much market value, but Scott Secules, a 1988 sixth-round pick out of Virginia, could fetch a second-or third-round future choice. Walsh is prime trade bait; competent NFL quarterbacks are in short supply, and no better prospect is likely to emerge in next year's draft. Though Walsh has only an average arm, he went 23-1 for Johnson at Miami. "You cannot put a value on a guy who wins games like that." says Johnson. By the weekend, Dallas had three solid offers for Walsh.
Any team taking a player in the supplemental draft must give up a pick from the same round in the next year's regular NFL draft. But that only partly explains the curious turn of events at last week's draft. Atlanta, with the first supplemental choice, passed, though the Falcons almost surely could have gotten more than their 1990 first-round choice in return for either Walsh or another highly regarded available quarterback, Timm Rosenbach of Washington State. Dallas took Walsh with the second pick, but the next 10 teams chose no one.
Rosenbach was finally selected by Phoenix, drafting 13th. He had figured to be the first player chosen, but money may have scared teams away. Rosenbach's agent, Gary Wichard, has hinted that his client will ask for a deal as lucrative as the one Aikman received.
Walsh was momentarily speechless when Johnson called him on Friday afternoon and told him he had been added to the Cowboys' quarterback corral. "He was in shock," Johnson said. So were many NFL-watchers.
THEY SAID IT
•Ralph Kiner, New York Mets broadcaster, during a recent telecast: "All of the Mets' road wins against Los Angeles this year have been at Dodger Stadium."