An owner's head, not his address, is what matters


Attention bargain shoppers: Today's column is a 3-in-1 value. Three columns in the space of one. A Kellogg's Variety Pack column, sort of.

* Obviously, local ownership would be the first preference for our NFL expansion team.

Just as obviously, Tom Clancy's commitment to bringing a team here is earnest and emotional.

But in reference to Clancy's opinion that anything other than local ownership is "lunacy," please see: Mr. Ed DeBartolo, owner, San Francisco 49ers.

The best free-agent-buying, championship-team-building owner in the NFL.

Born, raised and still doing business in Youngstown, Ohio.

A long way from San Francisco.

The point is this: It matters not where your owner comes from, but who he is.

We got Bob Irsay and they got Ed DeBartolo. That was our bad luck. Very bad luck.

But it doesn't mean that all out-of-town owners -- in this case, the Glazer family of Rochester, N.Y. -- are automatically bad.

Lamar Hunt has lived in Texas and owned the Kansas City Chiefs for 31 years.

Ralph Wilson, beloved in Buffalo as owner of the Bills, lives outside Detroit.

Mr. DeBartolo is the most popular person from Youngstown ever to hit San Francisco.

If an owner is smart, committed and knows to stay out of the way, and if he has the money to get us a team, he can live in a small village in Sri Lanka and it wouldn't matter.

* The upset of the year in sports was not Duke over UNLV, but the NFL giving way even marginally on the issue of end-zone jubilation.

These are people who act as though "in the grasp" was on the stone tablet that came down from the mountain with Moses.

Anyway, don't be fooled into thinking they're lightening up. It's still a penalty for a player to boogie in the end zone.

Which means it's still up to the referees to determine the %J difference between standard-issue euphoria and -- roll the "Dragnet" theme, please -- dancing.

If you gently suggest to NFL officials that their priorities are out of whack, they give you a speech about making sure the game remains the most important thing.

These are the same people who were so worried about their game that they put truck drivers and hod carriers in uniform when the players went on strike four years ago.

But anyway.

The opinion here is the league should strive to make itself more fun, not less. Five suggestions:

* Legalize steroids. Fans would flock to games in hopes of seeing the sport's first exploding lineman.

* Give funny people important jobs. The head of the Canadian Football League expansion committee is . . . John Candy! Yeah, the fat guy who used to make funny movies. I say let's replace Paul "Human 1040 Form" Tagliabue with Eddie Murphy, and make Woody Allen chairman of the competition committee.

* Let the networks use Helmet-cam. As one of the 408 people who watched a portion of one quarter of a World League of American Football game last summer, I can report that it was exhilarating to get an up-close view of a punt returner getting his nose obliterated.

* Throw away all pretensions and start using military terminology. "Number 66 of the green squad violated the demilitarized zone prior to the decisive bomb strike, and will be properly adjudicated."

* Dress the officials in Bart Simpson T-shirts.

* This won't earn me a place in the Politically Correct Hall of Fame, but there's nothing I appreciate more than a thoughtful, dedicated cheater.

Rosie Ruiz, the woman who took the subway to the finish line at the Boston Marathon awhile ago -- was that beautiful or what?

Joe Niekro, the pitcher who had a nail file stuffed in his back pocket on the mound -- it probably took him months to plan that, don't you figure?

Now we can add Abbes Tehami to the list.

Let's call him Abe.

He's the runner from Algeria who had his coach run the first seven miles of a marathon for him in Belgium last week. They changed places in the woods and Abe went on to win, but they got caught because one had a mustache and the other didn't.

He'll be suspended and pilloried, of course, but don't you wish you'd been a fly on the wall when they were planning the job?

Coach: "I've got it. The woods. Wait for me in the woods."

Abe: "No. Too obvious. Let's do it behind a building."

Coach: "The woods. I tell you, the woods'll work."

Abe: "OK, OK, the woods. Act like you have to go in there to, you know."

What ingenuity. What style. What dedication to the craft.


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