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Two little: More than new conversion needed

The NFL's discovery that the two-point conversion is a good idea is long overdue.

After all, the colleges figured that out in 1958 and the AFL agreed in 1960. So did the USFL in 1983.

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Now, the NFL owners are prepared to adopt it at their annual meetings in Orlando, Fla., this week mainly as a response to all the complaints about low-scoring games. It's also a response to the Sports Illustrated cover back in December that read, "Can the NFL Be Saved?: 10 Ways to Revive a Boring League." The two-point conversion was one of the suggestions.

Still, the change is really just window dressing that doesn't address the real problem.

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Sure, the two-point conversion can provide an exciting finish to games in which one team is leading by eight points. The trailing team will be able to tie the score with a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

The two-point conversion, though, isn't likely to convince coaches to go for a touchdown instead of a field goal.

There'll also be no replays of the 1984 Orange Bowl, when Nebraska coach Tom Osborne went for two against Miami with 48 seconds left and the national championship on the line. Nebraska missed it and lost, 31-30.

In the NFL, Osborne would have kicked the extra point and played for overtime.

Remember the New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game in January, when the Giants, trailing 13-10, had a first down on the Cowboys' 22 with 69 seconds left? Did coach Dan Reeves go for the touchdown?

Not exactly.

He called two Rodney Hampton running plays that each went for 4 yards, and Phil Simms threw a 1-yard pass on third-and-two. The Giants then took the field goal, tied it 13-13, and lost in overtime, 16-13.

Reeves became upset after the game when he was asked why he didn't have Simms throw the ball in the end zone a couple of times.

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"You guys are unbelievable. You guys are the greatest second-guessers I've ever seen. Did you know the score was going to be 16-13?" he said.

It's just a coach's nature to play for overtime rather than gamble.

The real reason for the touchdown dearth is that zone defenses have clogged the field inside the 20. The players are so fast that they, in effect, have shrunk the field. That's why NFL teams scored 200 fewer touchdowns in 1993 than they did in 1983.

What the NFL really needs is something radical, such as extending the end zone from 10 to 15 yards to give offenses more room to operate.

But as long as the league is setting attendance records and getting record amounts of television revenue, the NFL isn't foresighted enough to do anything radical.

Upbeat

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The NFL, which has raised being smug and arrogant to a virtual art form, will spend this week patting itself on the back.

"It's an upbeat time for the league," a spokesman said. The league is selling the idea that it's the best era for the NFL since 1977, when the league had a new TV contract and labor agreement and the previous expansion teams had played their first seasons.

If that's an omen for the league, it may regret its gloating.

In the next decade after 1977, three teams moved and the league went through two bitter antitrust trials.

It may be a coincidence, but the city of Los Angeles, which started the league's troubles a decade ago, is again fueling the uncertainty.

It was the Rams' move from the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1980 that sparked Al Davis' court fight to move from Oakland to Los Angeles.

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Now, the Rams are set to give Anaheim 15 months' notice on May 3 that they are free to move in 1995, and nobody knows what the Raiders are going to do.

The latest word is that the Coliseum, ravaged by an earthquake, will be able to seat only 50,000 fans for Raiders games this fall.

"That would be an acceptable number," said Coliseum commissioner Roger Kozberg.

Davis hasn't said whether it's acceptable to him.

Davis, who rarely gives interviews, portrayed himself as a humanitarian - now there's a switch - in a recent interview with The Washington Post.

He said said that in the wake of the earthquake, "for us to do anything now would be unfair to the community."

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This probably means Davis will wait until 1995 before deciding on his future, because he wants to see what the Rams will do.

Davis also said that the Baltimore proposal was "tremendously impressive, but so was Memphis and St. Louis'. We're aware there are a lot of potential partners out there, cities who want pro football."

Davis just wants to remind everybody that he has a lot of leverage.

Absent

Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman, who's on a cruise in the Far East, is skipping the owners meeting.

Braman is attempting to sell the team to Hollywood producer Jeff Lurie, who took a brief look at entering the Baltimore expansion effort.

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Braman has fallen out of favor with the NFL. Not only did he back the Baltimore expansion effort, but he also went to court in an aborted attempt to torpedo the new collective bargaining agreement. Braman appears to want to get out of the league.

Realignment

Now that the NFL has added two teams, the owners will start discussing realignment this week. Although no final decision is expected until May, when the owners meet in Miami, it's unlikely there'll be any major shifting of teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, who favors creating geographical rivalries, has said he fears it'll be a "missed opportunity."

It's just too difficult to get 21 owners to agree on any one plan.

When the NFC came up with its current alignment in 1970, it had all-night meetings, and the best the owners could do was select five proposed plans. Commissioner Pete Rozelle then had his secretary pick the current one out of a bowl.

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Nicknames

John Flood, the former head of NFL Properties, who threatened to sue the Baltimore CFL team if it used the nickname Colts, was fired recently for a conflict of interest for investing in a trading-card company.

No word on whether that means the league still will fight the lawsuit filed by the Baltimore team after it decided to use the name CFL Colts.

The NFL doesn't seem to realize that, by fighting the nickname, it is just creating more sympathy for the CFL Colts.

Meanwhile, the decision of owner Bill Bidwill to change his

team's name from the Phoenix Cardinals to the Arizona Cardinals makes no sense. To win fans, Bidwill has to win games, not change the name. By using the state's name, he is suggesting that Phoenix isn't big-league enough on its own.

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Comeback

Robert Fiske, the special counsel for Whitewater, has to be the comeback lawyer of the year.

In his last high-profile case, he was named the NFL's lawyer in the USFL case in 1986 after Arthur Liman, who later was a lawyer for the committee in the Iran-contra hearings, was disqualified because his firm had done work for the USFL.

But Fiske was demoted after he suggested the NFL should settle the case (which would have gotten the Baltimore Stars into the NFL). Although Fiske remained on the case, the NFL brought in Frank Rothman to be the lead attorney. At the end of the trial, the NFL was declared an illegal monopoly, but the USFL won only $3 and went out of business.

The best deal

Baltimore attorney Tony Agnone appears to have negotiated what will be the best deal in free agency this year when he got former Miami Dolphins quarterback Scott Mitchell a three-year, $11 million contract from the Detroit Lions that included a $5 million bonus.

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Now that there's a salary cap, the deal, averaging $3.67 million, is unlikely to be topped this year. Reggie White got a $4.25 million-a-year contract from the Green Bay Packers last year, but that was before the cap was imposed.


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