Franchise hopefuls make down payment on dreams

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Imagine going into an appliance store to check out the new television sets. You find one that has all the bells and whistles you want and you ask. "How much does it cost?"

The salesman replies: "Not so fast. Before I tell you how much it costs, you must pay me $100. If I decide not to sell it to you. I'll only give you $50 back."

That's the bizarre scenario, on a much larger scale, that will take place Tuesday, when the potential owners are scheduled to file their applications in the NFL expansion derby with a $100,000 fee. Only $50,000 is refundable.

Even though the league hasn't set the price on the franchises - or the terms (in 1976, they cost $16 million payable In installments) -- the NFL is collecting the $100,000 fee. That's supposed to separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Not that the league is likely to be flooded with applicants. Some cities still are scrambling to find potential owners. Jacksonville, Fla., is supposed to announce one Tuesday. Baltimore, which may have four applications, could be the only city with more than one.

If there's one positive note about the collecting of the fees, it's that it could be a sign that the NFL actually is going to name two expansion teams next fall. The league still has left itself the loophole that it can delay expansion if labor-management problems are deemed an "impediment." It might be more difficult to call a delay after collecting the fees.

But now that the process has gotten this far, the expansion contenders are in for a long wait before the next stage takes place. The NFL is moving very slowly. The league is not due to cut the field of 11 cities to the finalists - how many hasn't been decided - until next March.

The question of whether the NFL really will expand is just one of many that the league can't or won't answer.

It's virtually impossible to handicap the field, because the NFL has given out so little information about what its criteria are going to be. The fact that the owners' applications were requested two weeks after city applications - In 1976, the league picked Seattle and Tampa, Fla., and then went looking for owners -- seems to indicate the selection of owners and cities will be closely linked.

It's also uncertain whether the league will pick one city that lost a team and one new city. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has given mixed signals on that issue.

One indication of expansion's unpredictability came last week when Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, came out in favor of St. Louis and Baltimore - two cities that lost teams.

As one of the newer owners, Jones was assumed to favor newer cities.

But he said: "They've had NFL teams in the past, and I have sentiment in that direction. I spent some great days watching NFL football in St. Louis."

So, the expansion hopefuls just can wait and wonder how it's going to unfold.

After all, this is a league that fined John Elway for throwing a ball to a kid in a wheelchair. Who can predict what it might do?

When New York Giants coach Ray Handley benched Phil Siinms for Jeff Hostetler, it seemed inevitable that there would be some public complaining.

The strange thing is that, when it happened last week, it came from Hostetler, not Simms.

He met with Handley on Monday to clear the air about some critical remarks Handley had made about his play. Handley had said there were six plays in Sunday's 13-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns that Hostetler should have handled better.

Asked whether the critical remarks should be kept private, Hostetler said: - I would prefer that. That's how it should be.

"There are some things that I definitely don't agree with. I've said my piece. This is one of those things that you learn as you do. Things come up and you try to handle them the best you can."

All this raises more questions about whether Hostetler can function in the New York fishbowl. He had a storybook playoff finish in relief last year, but it's different when you're supposed to be the main man.

Meanwhile, Simms won't stir anything up.

"Hey, listen, he (Hostetler) was very supportive of me always. . . so I have to be supportive of him." Simms said. "It's like somebody says, when somebody's nice to you, you can't be mean to them."

But it's got to be tearing Simms up to watch the Giants offense sputter without him.

His wife, Diane, said: "He's keeping a lot inside. I won't say he's a little moody. I guess he's a little caught up in his thoughts. He's been a little quieter."

Football people are wondering how the New York Jets will react to their heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday night. But coach Bruce Coslet is saying he has no second thoughts about not having his team fall on the ball in the last two minutes in regulation or for going for a field goal on first down in overtime.

The first question he was asked after the game was: Bruce, the obvious question. Why didn't you fall on the ball?"

He said: "What did you mean? When?"

Donnell Thompson, one of the few active Colts who played in Baltimore, said last week that he thought the team would improve when it moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

"I really thought that when we came here, we'd turn it around because of all the excitement and all the new fans." he said.

Instead, it's been more of the same.

"I've been wearing this uniform 11 years now. I've been getting banged around, beat up and nothing's changed. I've been through a lot of sad Sunday nights," he said.

Thompson said this is his last year. "There's only so much a man can take." he said.

The team is 0-4, and it's only a matter of time before coach Ron Meyer loses his job and the team starts all over again.

The New England Patriots beat another team besides the Colts for the first time since 1989 last week when they upset the Houston Oilers, but the future of the franchise is still bleak.

Only 30,702 fans showed up for the game. By contrast, in the Colts' last year in Baltimore, 1983, 35,708 attended their second home game.

On top of that, owner Victor Kiam can't come up with the $38 million that minority owner Fran Murray can demand by Oct. 10. The problem is that the value of Murray's stock backing his loans has gone down. Kiam hopes Murray will grant him a delay.

Tagliabue was in Boston last week and said. I'm confident that something will be worked out that will be satisfactory."

Meanwhile, Tagliabue met with, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld to discuss a proposed domed stadium for the area.

The Giants play so many high-stakes games that it obscures how their basic, smash-mouth football strategy is rather boring and leads to low-scoring games.

The problem is teams that don't play high-stakes games are copying the Giants, and scoring has decreased this year. In the first four games, teams have averaged 36.23 points, compared with 39.68 in the first four games last season and 39.26 for the season average.

With the increased emphasis on rushing, there have been 22 100-yard games by running backs. compared with 12 at this time last season. The reduction in the number of plays because of the attempt to speed up the games may be a factor too.

The exciting Jets-Bears finish Monday night has obscured the concern about the drop in scoring. But, if it continues, the NFL executives are going to get nervous.

Bud Carson. defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles, predicts the offenses will rebound. NFL officials hope he's right.

Buccaneers coach Richard Williamson, off to an 0-4 start, is benching Vinny Testaverde for Chris Chandler today to try to jump-start the team, but the rumors that Bill Parcells is heading to Tampa Bay get stronger with every loss.

Parcells, though, may have a shot at a more glamorous job. The rumors were floated on the West Coast last week that the 1-3 Los Angeles Rams are interested in him to replace John Robinson.

Vito Stellino's top 10

1. Washington (4-0) - With each victory, Joe Gibbs worries more.

2. Buffalo (4-0) - It should be downgraded for not covering the spread against Tampa last week.

3. Chicago (4-0) - The Bears are proving its better to be lucky than good.

4. New Orleans (4-0) - Bobby Hebert may be worth as much as he thinks he is.

5. New York Giants (2-2) - When are they going to go to Phil Simms?

6. San Francisco (2-2) - They're waiting for Joe.

7. Philadelphio (3-1) - How long can Jim McMahon stay healthy?

8. Houston (3-1) - How could they lose to the Patsies?

9. Detroit(3-1) Barry Sanders is a one-man gang.

10. Denver (3-1) - John Elway is doing pretty well calling his own plays.

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