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As NFL keeps self-destructing, network types not speaking up


In the long run, NBC's Bob Costas made the smart move in extricating himself from the publicity machine that is televised football, but events of the last few days have made us miss his presence and his ability to "tell it like it is."

With all the franchise shifting and lawsuits flying about, the NFL is on the verge of imploding, but does anyone say that or lay blame where it belongs, at the feet of commissioner Paul "Nero" Tagliabue, on either the pre-game shows or during the games themselves?

Not when there's $4.4 billion in rights fees involved. Frankly, the power of the league and its proven ability to put millions of American men in front of their television sets each week has effectively stifled the legitimate criticism of an NFL front office that is watching its building go up in flames, but can't seem to find a fire hydrant.

Take Monday night, for instance. The well-meaning Al Michaels rose above the usual chuckle-bunny nature of the "Monday Night Football" booth to offer a commentary on the moves of the Browns, Raiders, Rams and Oilers, scoffing at the notion that circumvention of the NFL salary cap was at the root of relocation.

"Excuse me! What's behind these moves is an old game played in sophisticated ways," said Michaels. "The cities of St. Louis, Baltimore, Oakland and Nashville stood on street corners whistling, 'Hey, sailor.' And the Rams, Raiders, Browns and Oilers crossed the street and made the whistlers pay to boot."

That's all well and good, but why didn't Michaels name names, starting with that of Tagliabue, who has stood by and watched while the league lost not one, but two teams in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest TV market, while presiding over an expansion process that ignored the 18th (St. Louis) and 23rd (Baltimore) markets for the 28th (Charlotte) and 55th (Jacksonville)?

Then, there was NBC's "Iron Mike" Ditka, who has been cuffing Cowboys owner Jerry Jones about the ears all season for putting his team's interest ahead of the rest of the league owners with all his corporate deals.

Ditka got a much-ballyhooed sit-down interview with Jones on Sunday, and by the end, was declaring himself in agreement with Jones that league teams "have a right to market their ballclub the way they see fit."

Huh? It's nice to see Ditka keep an open mind, but wishy-washiness has never been one of his attributes. It seems these days that even as it crumbles, the NFL has the power to still the tongues of heretofore mighty men.

A tradition continues

To Baltimoreans, the annual Loyola-Calvert Hall football skirmish is as much a Thanksgiving tradition as the turkey giblet or the Macy's parade.

And thanks to local producer Mike Pivec, tomorrow's game from Memorial Stadium will be available to viewers in the Mid-Atlantic region on Home Team Sports, starting at 9:30 a.m. Stan White will do the play-by-play, with Calvert Hall alum Frank Culotta and Loyola graduate Mike Creany doing analysis.

Talk may not be cheap

Miami Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox is contemplating a $15 million lawsuit against a Miami-area talk show host for airing an impersonation that insinuated that Cox was gay.

Phil Hendrie, host of a show on WIOD, which holds the radio rights to the Dolphins, has been airing impersonations of Cox for a year, but recently did one where a performer, pretending to be Cox, admitted he was gay.

Cox said his 12-year-old daughter was taunted at her school by classmates who reportedly heard the broadcasts, and told the Orlando Sentinel: "If people want to criticize me, that's fine. But when it starts to affect my family, that's when I go to war."

Here's hoping all the talk-show types, and one particularly vulgar one in Baltimore, are listening.

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