Even if the Canadian Football League's expansion into the United States remains an eyesore to most neutral observers, Dan Ferrone leaves no doubt about its significance.
"I think this league would be long gone if not for expansion," said Ferrone, president of the CFL Players' Association.
Ferrone has an appreciation for where the league has been because he spent 12 years as an offensive tackle, 11 with the Toronto Argonauts, five as a CFL all-star.
He has helped negotiate five collective bargaining agreements. He has watched a franchise fold in Montreal. He has seen franchises rescued at the last moment. He has seen the league totter on the precipice of disaster.
To him, the move to the United States was the only move. The alternative is to scrap it all and start over under a different banner.
"If expansion isn't successful, it's the end of the CFL as we know it," he said. "If it's unsuccessful, you can say it extended the life of the CFL. You can't call it the death of the CFL.
"And if the CFL goes under, there will be another league."
It is a pertinent perspective because U.S. expansion has been reeling in Las Vegas, Shreveport and Sacramento. The CFL pulled out of San Antonio after awarding a franchise a year ago, and nearly repeated the mistake in Orlando last spring.
Now the league is on the verge of more expansion. And there is no more room for mistakes.
The burden of failure falls on energetic commissioner Larry Smith. The question is, has he learned from the mistakes? Ferrone thinks he has.
"There is no crystal ball to show where the good cities are," Ferrone said. "It has been tough. What experience can Larry Smith draw on? Finding the right combination is the key. I think now he's experienced."
Besides pumping up expansion, Ferrone's next task is getting a new collective bargaining agreement. The current contract expires June 1, 1995 -- before next season starts. He said he expects to get an agreement because a lengthy labor battle will only end in disaster for both sides.
"Leverage is in what can be accomplished, not what can be destroyed," Ferrone said. "And we could easily destroy this league."
Outside looking in
Don Matthews easily could have been on the other side of the field today when his Baltimore CFLs tangle with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Matthews spent seven years in Edmonton as defensive coordinator under Hugh Campbell.
He was there when the Eskimos won an unprecedented five consecutive Grey Cups, and went to the championship game six straight years.
When Campbell stepped down in 1982 to join the Los Angeles Express in the USFL, Matthews was one of two candidates for the job. The other was Cal Murphy, offensive coordinator at Edmonton then, general manager and head coach at Winnipeg now.
At one point in the process, Matthews was certain he would be named coach. But when Eskimos general manager Norm Kimble missed his own deadline of Dec. 15 for naming a successor, Matthews launched a successful bid for the British Columbia Lions job. In his first year, Matthews took the Lions to the Grey Cup.
Kimble eventually picked Pete Kettela to replace Campbell, and Kettela lasted all of eight games.
5) Edmonton's loss was Baltimore's gain.
Biting the Big Apple?
Perry Carter's attempt to put the CFL in New York isn't limited to Long Island, after all.
He said Friday there is the possibility of putting the team in New York City, provided he gets political support and a new stadium.
A short-term solution, he said, is Downing Stadium, unused by a regular tenant since the soccer Cosmos folded. The estimated cost of refurbishing the stadium is $10 million, he said.
One venue that appears out is Hofstra University. Officials there say they have had no contact -- formal or informal -- with Carter.
Two major problems: (1) The New York Jets train at Hofstra and are not likely to be agreeable to a CFL team coming in, and (2) a stadium renovation project will increase capacity from 7,500 to only 15,000 by next year.
A5 The New York concept appears a long shot at best.
Two college students climbed a 5 1/2 -story billboard in downtown Hamilton, Ontario, last week in a vigil to draw attention to the Tiger-Cats' plight. Ralph Walker and Aaron Nantais said they wouldn't come down until 18,500 tickets were sold for today's home game against Calgary.
Short of that, they'll make a retreat from the 2 1/2 -foot catwalk today around noon.
They're not totally crazy, you know.
Say goodbye, Mervyn
The B.C. Lions have been adding by subtracting. Veteran receiver Mervyn Fernandez, 34, who couldn't decide whether he wanted to play or not this season, finally retired. Fernandez played in the NFL with the Los Angeles Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, and was a former MVP in the CFL. The Lions suspended another former NFL player, cornerback Barry Wilburn, after he had an argument with coach Dave Ritchie over playing time, but reinstated him Friday. . . . Meanwhile in Toronto, kick returner extraordinaire Mike "Pinball" Clemons lost his starting running back job to Mo Deen. Clemons, a 5-foot-6, 170-pounder, will concentrate on punt returns. "I figured something like this might happen coming into the season," he said. "This league is undergoing a change, and the running game is more a part of the offense than it has been the last six or seven years."
No worse for the Ware
The Ottawa Rough Riders made a pitch to bring in former NFL quarterback Andre Ware for the final five weeks of the season. They were willing to give him the option of leaving afterward, just to see if the CFL game interested him. Ware didn't go for it. . . . The Riders' Jock Climie, a 1,000-yard receiver, is on the outs with coach Adam Rita, who has questioned Climie's willingness to play hurt. Climie pulled himself out of a Week 14 game against Calgary with a hamstring problem, ran up and down the sideline a few times, then put himself back in the game. When the coaches realized he went back in, they pulled him out. A lawyer, Climie is waiting to be called to the bar.
Randy Vataha, agent for Doug Flutie, said the former Heisman Trophy winner will finish his career with the Calgary Stampeders. Vataha is working on a four- or five-year deal, worth more than $1.2 million a year, to keep Flutie with the Stampeders. That's not necessarily in Calgary, though, given owner Larry Ryckman's threat to relocate the team. . . . Rumor of the week: Smith will step down in March as commissioner, then front for a group that will bring the CFL back to Montreal. . . . Shreveport players have shown up at the team's bank, only to be told to come back later because the money hadn't been deposited.