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THE LONG GOODBYE
The most unpleasant thing about the end of the Pete Rozelle era is that it won't end. And even when the league's 28 owners get around to picking a successor to Rozelle, who announced his resignation as commissioner almost six months ago, the hangover could last for years. As the NFL begins its 70th season, permanent divisions are forming among owners that even the most diplomatic of new commissioners may not be able to bridge. Here's the status of the stalled search:
•The candidacy of New Orleans president and general manager Jim Finks is in grave danger, with one owner even saying the election of Finks is impossible. Several of the 11 dissident owners who blocked Finks's election in July seem convinced that a football executive can't run the league as profitably as a business executive can. Seahawk owner Ken Behring, one of the 11 and also a member of the search committee for a new commissioner, favors a business guy. "I'd like to get new candidates with fresh ideas," says Behring.
•Rozelle, who promised the owners he would stay on until a successor was found, has sold his New York home, rented a hotel room in Manhattan and is prepared to work through the season, if need be. But he's not happy about that prospect, and he hopes a new man is found by the league's next business session, Oct. 24 and 25 in Cleveland.
•Finks, NFL counsel Paul Tagliabue and two or three businessmen from outside the league will probably be the finalists when the six-man search committee makes its recommendations—possibly before the October meeting—to the club owners. The meeting could be a bloodbath because of the widespread support for Finks, who had the backing of 16 owners in July. Nineteen votes are needed for election.
Sides seem to be hardening. Most of the opposition to Finks comes from the newer owners, who have paid so much for their teams that they want to have a big say in league matters, especially financial ones. General manager George Young of the Giants calls it a conflict between the low-debt-service owners and the high-debt-service owners. What he means is this: Denver's Pat Bowlen and Dallas's Jerry Jones paid huge sums for their teams and need to make money to justify their investments; they want smaller training-camp rosters and bigger dividends from such off-field sources as NFL Properties. "The game doesn't seem to be a priority to these owners now," says one old-guard personnel director.
Behring says he thinks the recent division over the commissioner "is the best thing that could have happened to the league. It's brought about changes and new thinking." Maybe that's so, but can there be real peace after this civil war?
PLAN B FOR BUCKS
That was a pretty expensive practice the Oilers ran on July 28. It cost them $50,000. That's the amount they paid this spring to sign tight end Calvin Ma-gee. Magee had been left unprotected by Tampa Bay under this year's Plan B free-agent experiment—in which each team could protect only 37 players on its roster—and the Oilers got him for the 50-grand signing bonus. He practiced that one day in July, said his knee couldn't take the rigors of the NFL anymore, and quit, pocketing the bonus.
Green Bay cut four of its 20 Plan B free agents a week before the first preseason game, costing the Pack $87,500.