Imagine going before a judge and telling him you've got an agreement to settle a lawsuit from all the parties except the ones doing the suing.
The judge probably wouldn't be amused.
Those are some of the basic legal facts of life that commissioner Paul Tagliabue had to explain to the owners at their meeting last week in Dallas.
One of the many objections the owners had to the deal Tagliabue made with the players 10 days ago was that all the players who were plaintiffs in the various lawsuits had to be granted free agency.
Norman Braman, the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, didn't like that idea because he stands to lose three All-Pro defensive players -- Reggie White, Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons.
Tagliabue had to make the owners understand that the NFL couldn't settle the free-agency lawsuit without the approval of the players who sued for free agency. That issue was decided months ago.
Tagliabue also pounded home the theme that the price was worth the prize. In the end, the deal giving the owners a hard salary cap that will put a limit on player costs is worth giving free agency to all five-year players except one franchise player and three transitional players in the first two years of the deal.
By the end of the meeting, the owners seemed to be getting the message and Tagliabue appeared to be winning his gamble.
When Tagliabue hammered out the agreement in principle 10 days ago with Jim Quinn, the players' attorney, and with just one owner, Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was counting on selling the owners on the value of the whole deal.
In advance, they wouldn't have approved his compromises on free agency. But as part of a done deal for a salary cap, he figured they would eventually see the value in it.
Although it appeared at first glance that he suffered a setback in Dallas because he didn't get the deal approved, it was a positive meeting because he set the stage for eventual approval.
The significant thing Tagliabue did get in Dallas was the reaffirmation of the owners' earlier decision that he only needs four positive votes on the seven-member committee to ratify the deal. That's a lot easier than getting 21 of 28 votes and it's a sign that while the owners aren't thrilled with the deal, many of them realize it's better than the alternative -- fighting on in court. One thing they can't win in court is a salary cap.
Tagliabue is still one vote shy of getting approval, but he is optimistic he can eventually get at least one more vote. He met with Quinn Thursday and will meet again tomorrow to make a few minor "adjustments" on the deal to make it easier to sell. It could finally be approved this week.
If Tagliabue does get the deal approved, the owners will then have run out of excuses not to go ahead with expansion.
Hale and hearty
The controversy over the future of the New York Giants has now engulfed general manager George Young.
A New York Times columnist speculated last week that Young might want to step down as general manager because of his health -- he recently had a six-day hospital stay with a virus. That led to speculation that former coach Bill Parcells could return as both coach and GM.
Young responded that it was his first hospital stay in 48 years and that he's fine and plans to stay on the job.
Young said the team's main problem is that it has to look ahead instead of back.
"When that guy [Scott Norwood] in Buffalo, missed that field goal [in Super Bowl XXV], that was the end of that. We have to go on with the future. We can't be thinking about what used to be. We have to think about what is and what will be. As soon as we grasp that major point, the better off we'll be," he said.
Young won't speculate on the future of coach Ray Handley. He only says what he's said all along: he'll be evaluated at the end
of the year.
Jimmy Johnson has to make one final adjustment from college to pro football. The Dallas Cowboys coach has to understand he can't win all the time the way he did at the University of Miami and that he'll suffer a lot of frustrating losses in the NFL. After all, even Don Shula lost four Super Bowls.
He showed he hadn't learned that lesson with his startling reaction to the loss in Washington last week. In the overall scope of things, it wasn't an important loss. The Cowboys can still clinch the division title today if the Redskins beat the Eagles or tomorrow night by beating the Atlanta Falcons.
But Johnson was obsessed with the idea of winning the division on the home field of the defending champion. On the plane ride home, he yelled at a player for smiling and two days after the game at a news conference, he was near tears in talking about the loss. He compared a regular-season loss to Miami's loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl that cost his team the national championship.
Johnson's problem is that he's simply consumed by football. He has virtually no other interests in his life. By contrast, he makes Joe Gibbs, who operates a youth home and an auto racing team, look like the renaissance man.
The local hero?
When the Indianapolis Colts traded for the rights to Jeff George three years ago, they figured it'd be a popular move because he's a native of Indianapolis.
But George is wearing out his hometown welcome. He openly sulked when he was pulled for Jack Trudeau last week and was the only player who didn't celebrate when Trudeau threw the game-winning touchdown pass against the Jets.
George doesn't seem concerned that he's getting booed at home. "They boo me because I'm good and I'm good looking," he said.
That type of attitude helps explain why 81 percent of the fans in a TV poll and 91 percent of the fans in a newspaper poll disagreed with coach Ted Marchibroda's decision to start George over Trudeau today against the Phoenix Cardinals.
It's a decision owner Bob Irsay likes, though, because Trudeau has a clause in his contract calling for him to get a $10,000 bonus for starting and winning a game. There's no bonus for coming off the bench to win. Earlier in the year, Irsay even suggested having Tom Tupa start a series over Trudeau to save the bonus against the Houston Oilers. Trudeau complained and got the start, but lost that game and the bonus.
The Redskins' Gibbs may have started a trend when he showed his team a video of the team's 1991 highlight film before the New York Giants' game two weeks ago.
Last week, before Mike Singletary's final home game, coach Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears showed his team a highlight film of Singletary's finest plays and the team then upset the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It affected them," Ditka said. "They saw the way he played and the way he hit."
Vito Stellino's picks
For the holidays, I hope all your picks are good ones.
I'm looking for Santa to bring a new tiebreaker playoff system down the chimney.
The NFL has had more than 20 years to work on it and still can't get it right. Even the league office has trouble figuring out who's on first. Abbott and Costello could have made a great routine out of the playoff system, but it's not supposed to be funny. Like instant replay, it needs to be discarded. There has to be a better way to do it.
The way they're going now, one of these years, they're going to announce that team A made the playoffs only to find out a couple of days later that Team B really made it.
VITO'S PICK THE LINE
Eagles 24, Redskins 23 Eagles by 3 1/2
The real reason Joe Theismann keeps knocking Mark Rypien is that he still thinks he's the better quarterback and should be playing instead of announcing.
The Saints just wish they didn't have to play San Francisco twice a year.
Oilers 21, Browns 14 Oilers by 1 1/2
The Oilers try to prove they can play outdoors in the north in December.
Steelers 28, Vikings 14 Steelers by 1
The Vikings keep changing their quarterback so often that Sean Salisbury and Rich Gannon seem to be a tag-team act.
C7 Let's hope there's a second act to Boomer's career.
Packers 28, Rams 10 Packers by 6 1/2
B6 The Rams don't like the idea of a white Christmas.
Cardinals 21, Colts 14 Colts by 2 1/2
Nobody in Indianapolis can figure out why Jeff George is starting over Jack Trudeau. Here's a clue: Trudeau gets a $10,000 bonus when he starts and wins, not when he comes off the bench and wins.
Lions 27, Bears 14 Lions by 3
Mike Ditka is unhappy that they never show him on TV when he's being supportive of his players. It's probably a quick shot.
F: If there's a one-man team in the NFL, it's John Elway.
Chargers 21, Raiders 14 Chargers by 3
The big news in Raiderland this week is that Al Davis has been vindictive about Marcus Allen. Davis vindictive? This is news?
Dolphins 27, Jets 14 Dolphins by 11
If the Dolphins keep winning, they may avoid making that playoff trip to Buffalo.
Cowboys 24, Falcons 10 Cowboys by 7
A group of tourists from Dallas got their pockets picked in the nation's capital last Sunday. I guess they still haven't solved the crime problem in Washington.
Best bets: Chargers, Broncos, Packers and Bengals.
Last week's record: 8-6. Against the spread: 7-7. Best bets: 1-3.
Season record: 133-63. Against the spread: 94-97-5. Best bets: 23-34-3.