A LEAGUE LOSES
This is an article from the Oct. 23, 1989 issue
NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle didn't look very happy last Thursday morning as he sat in the first-class cabin of American Airlines Flight 82, 35,000 feet above Arkansas, returning to New York City from Dallas and the league's third unsuccessful attempt to elect his successor. Frustration showed in his face, and he admitted that the interminable selection process—and the horrible thought that the search might have to begin again because of a split among team owners—was beginning to wear on him. "It started to get to me a bit [Tuesday night]," said Rozelle, referring to the first day of the fruitless meetings.
There is only one reason that Rozelle is still in the comissioner's job: childish obstinancy. As the NFL prepares to go to Cleveland for its annual fall meeting on Oct. 24 and 25, the owners are deadlocked 13-13, with two abstentions, over whom to elect as the next commissioner: Saints president Jim Finks, 62, or league lawyer Paul Tagliabue, 48. Finks's supporters are mostly veteran owners. Tagliabue's backers, many of whom recently bought teams, resent the old-guard owners, who controlled the search committee in the early going and recommended only one person, Finks, at the first election meeting, in July.
The result, says Browns owner Art Modell, "is the sharpest division I've ever encountered. I'd have to spend hours groping for something remotely like it." The attitude in both camps seems to be: You stick by your guy, we'll stick by our guy, regardless of the consequences. You've got some Irish wills? We've got some Italian tempers. Consequently, the chances are excellent that neither Finks nor Tagliabue will get the job. Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah.
"It's sad," says Hugh Culverhouse Jr., who has been representing his father, Hugh Sr., the Bucs' owner, at recent meetings and who has helped lead the Tagliabue movement. "We went around the room at the [Dallas] meeting and asked everyone to name everyone from his organization who could possibly be a candidate. We asked for anybody. The best candidates were Jim Finks and Paul Tagliabue."
Nonetheless, the clearest crystal ball says that neither candidate will get the requisite 19 votes in Cleveland and that Rozelle, who wanted to be off the job by September, will stay on through the end of the season. That's bad news for him. Rozelle is usually active behind the scenes at league meetings, especially when a dispute threatens unity. But Tuesday night in Dallas, instead of meeting privately with the warring factions and lobbying for a compromise, he sat in his hotel room, discussing the NFL's options with league legal counsel Jay Moyer. That was all he could do. The search had become too polarized.
Still, the owners have speculated on three possible compromises:
1) Finks is named commissioner, and Tagliabue is appointed to the new position of NFL president. "It's my dream ticket," says Modell. "Finks is the commissioner for three or five years, with Tagliabue the general counsel or president. It's a natural line of succession." No way. It won't work. Finks would be a lame duck the day he took office.
2) Finks throws his support to Tagliabue. Unlikely. Finks has told friends that he's in this for the long haul, and the owners who have backed him don't want him out of the picture.
3) A new search committee and a new executive search firm are picked and the selection process starts again. This nightmarish prospect might be the best hope to propel some vote-shifting as the owners prepare to meet in Cleveland.
Rozelle spent much of the weekend on the phone with owners, trying to bring the two sides closer together. "I'm not lobbying for anyone," he said between World Series pitches last Saturday night. "I'm just trying to see if there's some way to compromise without losing both guys."
Modell thinks the rancor of the seven-month search for a commissioner has left several veteran owners wondering if they'll stay in the game. "I came back from Dallas deep in the dumps of depression," says Modell. "I always think the games make everything worth it. But this thing really takes the starch out of the games for me."
IMBALANCE OF POWER
The NFC leaped to a 6-0 lead in games with the AFC early this season, and though the AFC had narrowed the gap to 8-5 after Sunday's games, there's no doubt in most minds which conference is superior: The NFC's 49ers, Rams, Bears, Vikings, Eagles and Giants are elite teams, while only the Bengals and maybe the Broncos in the AFC belong in that group. Recently Giants general manager George Young pointed out the preeminence of the NFC to Browns executive vice-president Ernie Accorsi, who has a different view. Says Accorsi, "I told him, 'We've had to play Boomer Esiason, John Elway and Dan Marino in successive weeks. You've played Bob Gagliano, Gary Hogeboom and Steve Walsh. Don't tell me our conference is weak when we've got to play those guys back-to-back.' "
TAMPA'S PENN RELAY
Tampa Bay's first-string safeties, Harry Hamilton and Mark Robinson, have much in common. They started together on Penn State's 1982 national championship team. They both went to Tampa in 1988, Robinson via a trade with Kansas City, Hamilton after being waived by the Jets. Both are academically successful: Hamilton is in his final year of law school, and Robinson has an MBA. And right now Hamilton ranks first and Robinson is tied for second in the NFC in interceptions. Hamilton got his fifth on Sunday; Robinson has four. "We've known each other so long it's like we each know what the other is thinking," says Robinson. "We both know how the other will react. That's important because our job depends on communication."
Mystery in Seattle: The Sea-hawks say they will do nothing out of the ordinary to prevent puncture wounds to players in this week's game against the Broncos at the Kingdome. In Seattle's last home game, against Kansas City on Oct. 8, four players—three Chiefs and one Seahawk—suffered small puncture wounds in their arms and legs. Seattle running back Curt Warner sustained a wound to his left leg that required treatment during the game, and Kansas City nosetackle Dan Saleaumua received stitches for a cut in his arm. One theory is that some nails were inadvertently left behind after a strike-vote meeting of Boeing employees held in the dome the previous week. Kingdome officials scrutinized the playing surface, but in 100-plus man-hours of sweeping the turf with metal detectors found no clue to the cause of the weird wounds....
The Steelers' three quarterbacks, Bubby Brister, Todd Blackledge and Rick Strom, are all single, and all of them live with one or both of their parents in suburban Pittsburgh....
In the first 19 minutes of Sunday's loss to Detroit, Tampa Bay's defense outgained its offense 84 yards to minus-two. The Bucs' offense didn't pass the defense in yardage until 17 minutes were left in the game....
Giants running back Ottis Anderson's 101-yard performance in New York's 20-17 defeat of Washington was his first 100-yard rushing day in four years and two weeks....
Times have changed in Miami—where season-ticket sales at Joe Robbie Stadium have declined by more than 17,000, to 35,289, since it opened in 1987, and a home game hasn't been televised (a game must be sold out 72 hours before kickoff to avoid a local blackout) in nearly two years....
Las Vegas bookies have increased the betting spread against the Cowboys each week this season; they were 14-point underdogs against the 49ers Sunday. Even so, the Cowboys have failed to beat the spread each week.
THAT TODDLIN' DEFENSE
Chicago is 0-2 without the brute inside force of defensive tackle Dan Hampton, who earlier this month had the ninth knee operation of his 11-year career and will be out for at least another four games—if he comes back at all. The Bears, who fell 33-28 to Houston on Sunday, have allowed an average of 37.5 points and 436 yards in their last two games. Without Hampton, the defense has lacked its customary fire. "I think people are taking too many things for granted," says middle linebacker Mike Singletary.
STATS OF THE WEEK
•With their 31-14 win at Dallas on Sunday, the 49ers have a better record on the road (50-14-1, .777) since 1981 than any NFL team except Denver (52-13, .800) has at home.
•After the Jets' 29-14 loss to the Saints, coach Joe Walton has squared his regular-season record at 50-50-1. Now no coach in Jets' history has a winning record.
•Entering Sunday's game with Pittsburgh, Cleveland's Bernie Kosar had thrown three interceptions in his previous 218 passes. Against the Steelers, who beat the Browns 17-7, he threw three in his first 20 attempts and finished with four overall.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Packers at Dolphins. Green Bay is 0-5 in this series, dating back to 1971. The Dolphins' margins of victory: 21, 24, 20, 10 and seven points. But this year Green Bay quarterback Don Majkowski is outplaying Dan Marino, and for the first time a Green Bay win over Miami won't be a surprise.
Vikings at Lions. Against Minnesota at Pontiac last year, Detroit set back Thanksgiving Day football with one of the worst offensive performances in NFL history. In losing 23-0, the Lions went 44 minutes without making a first down. In a blizzard, that might have been understandable. But under a plastic sky? Ridiculous. Detroit won its first game of the year Sunday, but this week, simply improving over the Debacle under the Dome may be victory enough.
Giants at Chargers. With this matchup, New York begins a series of five games in eight weeks in the West, at San Diego, Phoenix, Anaheim, San Francisco and Denver. In Weeks 12 and 13, New York plays at San Francisco on a Monday night and then at home against Philadelphia. Of course, the Giants remember that in '86 they played a Monday night game in San Francisco followed by a game in Washington in Weeks 13 and 14, and won both. Then they went on to win a championship.
THE BO FACTOR
Since signing Bo Jackson in 1987, the Raiders have had a schizophrenic offense. When Jackson, who has missed the early part of each season while playing major league baseball, has not been in the lineup, the Raiders have passed far more than they have run. With Jackson (who made his '89 NFL debut Sunday and gained 85 yards and one TD on 11 carries), they have run more than they have passed. The different styles of attack have had little effect on L.A.'s record; the Raiders are 8-10 with Jackson and 6-10 without him. But offensive backfield coach Joe Scannella cautions against making generalizations about Jackson's impact, because in his brief NFL career Bo has already played for three coaches—Tom Flores in 1987, Mike Shan-ahan in '88 and now Art Shell. "With Shan-ahan, we ran more like Denver, with deceptive kinds of runs," says Scannella. "With Flores and with Art, it's power running." It will be interesting to see if Shell's offense, which seems to fit Jackson perfectly, will be more productive as well as more ground-oriented than that of his two predecessors. Here are the Raiders' offensive numbers with Jackson and without him since the start of the '87 season: