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Original Issue


NFL: Sacked by Sullivan

The $114 million judgment against the NFL handed down in a Boston courtroom last Friday broadens the restructuring of the league that began last year when the so-called Freeman McNeil case opened the door to free agency. The NFL's antiquated rules governing ownership almost certainly will be rewritten, either voluntarily or through more litigation.

Former New England Patriot owner Billy Sullivan Jr. brought suit against the league because in October 1987 it would not allow him to sell public stock to help him pay his bills. As a result he was forced to unload the franchise one year later for what he considered an unfairly low price of $80 million. Last week's ruling effectively ends the NFL's prohibition against corporate ownership, which the league has always resisted on the grounds that it would upset competitive balance. (Of course, it is part of the game in the NBA, the NHL and Major League Baseball.) Theoretically, the value of individual NFL franchises now will be driven up, and even cash-poor teams should have money for larger payrolls and free-agency acquisitions.

A football term comes to mind to describe the NFL's performance in the Sullivan case. That word is fumble. First, some of the most damaging testimony against the league was delivered by no less an establishment figure than Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs. Hunt was forced to admit that the old American Football League did allow the sale of stock and that the NFL forced the no-corporate-ownership rule on the new owners at the time of the merger. Second, a 1985 memo written by a former Washington Redskin attorney that outlined the legal weaknesses of the rule Sullivan was challenging was admitted into evidence and strengthened the plaintiff's case.

Finally, the failure of the defense to call to the stand either Paul Tagliabue or his predecessor, Pete Rozelle, was extremely damaging to the league's case. When neither testified in support of their decisions in the Sullivan matter—at the time Rozelle was commissioner and Tagliabue was attorney for the NFL—Sullivan's lawyer and brother-in-law, Joseph Alioto, was able to suggest that their absence meant they could not justify their actions.

Eye in the Sky

Mitch Williams is no doubt glad that the World Series is over but no gladder than the men in blue, whose every ball and strike call was open to scrutiny by CBS's overhead camera. While the umps did a better job in the Series than they did during the league championships, they continued to call strikes on pitches that were well outside. Secretly they must have been relieved whenever ol' Mitch wound up and threw; any pitch that a catcher has to leap out of his crouch to grab can pretty safely be called a ball.

Gentlemen, we know the job's tough, but calling that outside corner is what you're getting paid to do. Someone like Philadelphia leadoff hitter Lenny Dykstra earns his millions making pitchers throw strikes, yet, on at least half a dozen occasions in the postseason, Dude could only shake his head when a pitch well off the plate got him into a hole. Of course, the camera also pointed out many instances when the umps were correct, particularly on checked-swing calls.

A larger problem is the relationship between the umpires and the men whom they adjudicate. In Game 6 of the National League playoffs, Cowboy Joe West, who is to arrogance what Madonna is to controversy, blithely waved away Phillie base runner Dave Hollins, who was about to demur after West called him out on a close play at home. The point is not that West missed the call; it's the imperiousness with which he dismissed Hollins. You don't need a skycam to see that Cowboy Joe needs an attitude adjustment.

War Games

Whatever one thinks of Houston Oiler offensive tackle David Williams's decision to stay with his wife after she gave birth to their first child on Oct. 16, there is one thing we should all agree on. It is time to bury the metaphor of football as war.

"This is like World War II, when guys were going to war and something would come up, but they had to go," said Bob Young, Houston's offensive line coach. That was part of the rationalization the Oilers used when they withheld Williams's game pay of $111,111 after he chose not to join his teammates in Foxboro, Mass., for an Oct. 17 game against the New England Patriots.

Wrong, Coach. Football is not like war at all. On the same weekend the Oilers faced the Patriots, NATO planes were flying sorties over Serbian gun positions in Sarajevo; U.S. Army pilot Michael Durant returned to his home base of Fort Campbell, Ky., after having spent 11 days, wounded, as a hostage in Mogadishu; and six U.S. warships assembled off Haiti to enforce a United Nations embargo.

As for World War II, which Young saw fit to invoke, consider that 50 years before the epic Houston-New England struggle, U.S. troops were inching their way across the Pacific on the eve of the battle of Tarawa. Casualties in that engagement: 4,500 Japanese, 3,000 U.S. Marines.

Is Bigger Better?

Golf's hottest trend right now is a slightly larger ball that theoretically curves less in the air, thus allowing golfers to keep their shots more on line. Low-handicap players don't like the larger ball because they can't hit a controlled fade with it, but it would seem to be a godsend for hackers, whose "controlled fade" is usually a monstrous slice onto an adjoining fairway.

Remarkably, these bigger balls conform to USGA rules, which are only slightly less forgiving than the Code of Hammurabi. But the rules stipulate only that a ball can be no less than 1.68 inches, which is the measurement for a standard ball. Spalding's Magna, for example, is 1.72 inches in diameter.

The big ball is popular—witness the 36 million Magnas sold since they were introduced in January—but there is something bothersome about the trend. As with those annoying tennis rackets that have gotten bigger and bigger, it sends the message that if you can't play the game, then you can always tilt the playing field.

What's next? Oversized baseball gloves and aluminum bats?



But His Players Loved Him

The average Iraqi takes his soccer about as seriously as the average Hoosier takes his basketball. But apparently a sense of decorum does prevail.

Last week the Iraqi Football Association, under the orders of Udai Hussein, son of president Saddam Hussein, removed national coach Adnan Dirjal after he lost control during his team's 3-2 loss to North Korea in a World Cup qualifying match in Qatar. Dirjal had bullied a ref, boycotted a news conference and thrown a chair onto the field. Gee, we can't remember when we've seen such a sorry exhibition.

Histroric Discount
Broadway Blues, a new book by longtime New York Daily News hockey writer Frank Brown, chronicles the woeful 1992-93 season of the New York Rangers. Though the publisher, Sagamore, intended to market the book at $19.95, Brown knew what price would hook Ranger fans, whose team hasn't won the Stanley Cup in 53 years; the book will sell for $19.40.

This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse Is upon Us

New Jersey Net general manager Willis Reed (below), who made $300,000 per season at the height of his career, was told by an agent that the Nets' eight-year, $69 million offer to Derrick Coleman was "credible but unacceptable."

They Said It

•Dave Wyman, 250-pound Denver Bronco linebacker, after getting burned on a 74-yard touchdown play by Los Angeles Raider receiver James Jett, a gold medal-winning sprinter at the 1992 Olympics: "I'm supposed to cover guys named Tank, not Jett."