Rams' moving saga is a matter of money, not sense or tradition


Paul Tagliabue has discovered the value of -- get this -- tradition.

Yes, the same NFL commissioner who showed no interest in the Baltimore Colts' tradition is now touting the Los Angeles Rams' "tradition" as one of the reasons he's going to recommend that the owners reject the Rams' move to St. Louis at their annual meeting in Phoenix this week.

"There's a 50-year tradition of Los Angeles Ram football in Southern California," Tagliabue's spokesman, Joe Browne, said last week.

Imagine, the NFL talking about tradition.

This would seem to indicate the years -- 49 actually -- of Rams tradition, even if they did move from Cleveland in 1946, means more than the 31 years of Baltimore Colts tradition, even though the Rams didn't play in the 1958 title game or in Super Bowl III.

It also puts the NFL in the strange position of objecting to a team leaving Los Angeles when it sued in a failed attempt to keep a second team -- the Raiders -- from moving into Los Angeles in 1982.

"There are some in the league who feel New York and Los Angeles are special markets and it is in our best interests to have two teams there," Lamar Hunt, owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, said last week.

Of course, this isn't really about tradition or two teams in Los Angeles, although the NFL isn't thrilled about the idea of Al Davis owning the one team in Los Angeles.

What it is really about is the NFL's favorite subject -- money.

The Rams are getting a $60 million to $70 million windfall from the sale of premium seat licenses. The other teams want a cut of it. There's also the question of whether the players get a cut if it's counted as part of designated gross revenue. Even the Fox Network is trying to get a cut in the form of a rebate.

The NFL, though, can't just come out and say that it wants the Rams to pay what amounts to a bribe to move. It prefers a term like relocation fee.

Until it gets one, it will threaten to reject the move and force the Rams to sue. The Rams would figure to win in court, but that's a lengthy, expensive process.

The Rams probably would be willing to pay a small fee. The NFL wants a large one.

Assuming they reach a compromise, the NFL will then suddenly decide the Rams meet the guidelines and will approve the move.

It will be adding what amounts to a new guideline. If a team pays enough money, it can move.

There's a lesson for Baltimore in all of this. The city is likely to find out how to get a team over the objection of Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke: Find a way to come up with enough cash.

The guidelines

Joe Alioto, the San Francisco attorney who won the Raiders' suit against the NFL, is representing two former New England Patriots owners, Billy Sullivan and Victor Kiam, in lawsuits against the league. Alioto says the NFL has no chance to enforce its guidelines in court and predicts it would lose $300 to $400 million in damages to the Rams if the league tries to block the move.

"The NFL is a cartel, and a cartel will use illegal means to maintain power. The guidelines are an 18-karat fake designed to preserve the NFL's illegal monopoly," he said.

Alioto added that even if the guidelines were legitimate, the Rams meet them.

"I have no doubt the NFL is arrogant enough to try to block the Rams, but any team has the right to move to a reasonable place. Perhaps not Nome, Alaska, but certainly St. Louis," he said.

In the club

Malcolm Glazer figures to be routinely approved as the new Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner at the meeting this week.

Glazer is then likely to repeat his favorite line that he's in Tampa "forever" -- unless Tampa doesn't build a new stadium. Then, "forever" could turn out to be two years.

Meanwhile, coach Sam Wyche is gambling with the team's long-term future as he tries to win in the short term. The four-year contract he gave wide receiver Alvin Harper guaranteed $500,000 in the second year and $300,000 in each of the final two years.

Most teams are reluctant to guarantee contracts because they count against the salary cap even if a player suffers a career-ending injury.

Instant replay

The owners will debate several new instant-replay ideas, including a proposal by the Redskins that copies the old USFL appeal procedure (a coach could appeal and ask for replay) and one by the New Orleans Saints that uses the old system only in the playoffs.

But it's unlikely that any proposal can get 23 votes, although the pressure for instant replay may build next year if the officials make as many mistakes as they did last year.

Selling tickets

Remember when Carolina sold the idea that its team would represent both North and South Carolina and not just Charlotte?

The reality is turning out to be somewhat different. The team is playing its first season in Clemson, S.C., a two-hour drive from Charlotte, where a new stadium is being built, and has sold only about 42,000 season tickets so far.

Only 30,000 of the 50,000 premium seat license holders bought tickets. They apparently didn't want to make the drive to Clemson. So much for the two-state concept.

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