?The Rooney Rule. Named after Steeler president Dan Rooney, this provision forbids each of the four teams in last season's championship games—Buffalo, the Dallas Cowboys, the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins—to sign a free agent unless it first loses one. Each of the next four teams in the playoffs—Washington. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the San Diego Chargers—can sign no more than one free agent until it loses one. After that, each of the eight teams can sign one player for every player it loses.
On March 2 White and his agent, Jimmy Sexton, met at Sexton's office in Memphis. Sexton began the week thinking that he could get at least $2.8 million a year for his client. By Sunday he knew he would get at least $3.5 million. Only quarterbacks Warren Moon of Houston and Dan Marino of Miami receive more in salary.
Would White move from Philadelphia, a city he has grown to love? Almost certainly. And it would pain him. Philadelphia fans have great affection for him; the city held an unofficial Rally for Reggie at JFK Plaza last week. But the Eagles have not offered White a new contract, deciding to save money and take the first-and third-round picks they will get as compensation for losing him. Says White, "I've never felt like [Eagle owner Norman] Braman has done everything it takes to put a championship team on the field."
The competitors in the Reggiestakes were told by Sexton what was important in luring White. White wanted to go to a franchise intensely committed to winning, because in 16 years of high school, college and pro ball he has never been on a championship team. And wherever he goes, he wants to establish a Christian ministry and work with the needy of the inner city.
White and Sexton began returning phone calls. Washington general manager Charley Casserly pitched the Redskins' winning tradition. Next, player and agent talked to Detroit Lion coach Wayne Pontes and Phoenix Cardinal coach Joe Bugel. Then came the Browns, with Sexton reaching director of pro personnel Mike Lombard! Jet G.M. Dick Steinberg and coach Bruce Coslet pitched their program for 20 minutes. Next on the line was Modell, with a how-do-you-do call. The Falcons followed. "Hey, Coach [Jerry] Glanville," White said into the phone. " Deion Sanders promised me if I came, he'd buy me a church." The Seattle Sea-hawks concluded the marathon.
White went out for some Tennessee barbecue to digest it all. "The thing that worries me a little bit," he said, "is that with teams like Cleveland, Detroit, Phoenix, Atlanta and the Jets, they might figure, Our savior has arrived. In Washington, I think there'd be less pressure. I don't mind pressure, because I bust my butt on every play. But I don't want anybody to think I'm the only guy out there. Still, this is a great position to be in."
White will visit Atlanta, Detroit, Green Bay, the Jets and Washington—at least—before it's over. Strange choices, perhaps, if he wants to win a Super Bowl, but White is somewhat restricted by the Rooney Rule. So, who will land Reggie White? Well, he loved everything about Cleveland. The Browns can write the book about chasing a superstar. Washington, the team with the best chance to go to a Super Bowl, has two obstacles in its path: the salary cap and the loss of coach Joe Gibbs, who retired last Friday (page 36). White is intrigued by the idea of playing on the big stage of New York.
The guess here: Unless the Redskins wow White on his visit, little Sarah Saunders will get her wish. "I've already got a nickname if it's Cleveland," White said Saturday night, flying to Dallas. "The Big Dawg. That's what they called me in college." Kind of catchy.