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Yo, Tags! Paul Tagliabue, new NFL commissioner. Hey, I know you've got to worry about the shiitake mushrooms and the baby radicchio for next week's Super Bowl party, but Tags, the old furnace needs a bit of stoking. Look, I know it's not easy following Pete Rozelle—the tan alone will take you three years to acquire—but let's face it, in the minds of some people you're already 0-1 in the Command Their Respect from the Start Department.
Denver coach Dan Reeves is calling you a "rookie commissioner." He says the Cleveland Browns took advantage of you last week when you let them come into Denver one day before the AFC Championship Game instead of the league-mandated two days. Even one of your main backers, Bronco owner Pat Bowlen, said you botched it.
Tags, above all you've got to show that you're running this league for the only constituency that really matters. No, not the folks who make Bud Light; the fans, Tags. For instance, a kid buys a pack of football cards, and you know what he gets inside? Pictures of NFL announcers. My kid is looking for, maybe, Cris Carter, and he gets Chris Berman. What's next, Great Kicking Tee Retrievers of the NFL? What kind of licensing deal is this, Tags? You need to make some changes. The NBA is right on your tail pipe. But not to worry. I'm here to help.
1) Kill sudden death. Well, not kill it, but fix it. Why should a playoff game like the NFC semifinal between the LA. Rams and the New York Giants a couple of weeks ago come down to who makes the best call on a coin flip? With so many howitzer-footed kickers around, the team that wins the flip is likely to win the game. Here's a better way: If the team that wins the coin toss scores, the other team, is given possession at its own 20. Heads or tails, each team gets at least one chance to score.
2) Enough with separate wild-card teams in each conference. Why did the Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins, with 10-6 records, have to be at home this month working on the rain gutters while the Houston Oilers and Pittsburgh Steelers, both 9-7, got to keep cashing checks? Keep the six division winners in the playoffs, but the four wildcard teams should be based on their records alone, no matter what conference they're in.
3) Bathrobes. O.K., this is a weird one, but everywhere I go I see the same problem. Naked football players yelling at women sportswriters, who are only doing their jobs. Despite what you may think, everybody hates these awkward locker-room encounters. All you have to do is issue every team nice, thick terry cloth bathrobes to be donned before the press is let in. Dressing can be done with backs facing the throngs. I know it can be done. I saw Marilyn Monroe do it once in a movie.
4) Make guys like Jim McMahon get rid of those Darth Vader masks that hide their faces. What's a kid who idolizes McMahon supposed to hang on his bedroom wall? Yeah, that's my favorite player in the whole wide world, Jim McMahon. I think. The game is still for kids. Oh, and get rid of those receivers' gloves. If stickum is banned, why aren't sticky gloves? Besides, they don't work. Ask Ronnie Harmon, that bobblin' Bill.
5) No more back-to-back timeouts. There is nothing more stultifying than having to sit through two timeouts before a crucial, late-game field goal attempt—except maybe having to watch still one more shot of Bubby Blister's mother.
6) Save instant replay on controversial calls. The fans deserve it, Tags. What the fans don't like is the monthlong delays before some of these officials decide whether the guy was in or out. Get some speedier guys up there, and force the networks to take one of their commercial breaks every time a play is reviewed. It would get one of those irritating interruptions out of the way, the answer on the call would be waiting when viewers get back, and fans would have to sit through fewer timeouts called by American Express.
7) Expand. Did you know that San Antonio is the ninth-largest city in the country? Put a team there, one in Jacksonville, one in St. Louis (with the NFL's first black owner, Walter Payton) and one in Charlotte, N.C. Don't look at me like that, Tags. Round up all the TV sets within two hours of Charlotte, and you have the fourth-largest TV market in the U.S. Once you get those teams in, create real geographical divisions. What possible rivalry could exist between Tampa Bay and Minnesota? But Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Charlotte and Jacksonville would get Dixie blood boiling. Or how about the Rams versus the Raiders twice a year?