Once upon a time, the NFL was a stable place, where teams and their players stayed in one place all the time, and everyone was happy.
Those days are gone, maybe never to return, and NBC's lead announcing trio of Dick Enberg, Paul Maguire and Phil Simms want them back.
For Simms, the former New York Giants quarterback, the culprit is player free agency that has robbed fans of familiarity and the kind of civic hatred that, say, Baltimoreans, who loved Johnny Unitas, had for Washingtonians, who rallied around Sonny Jurgensen.
"You could build rivalries because it became personal over a period of a couple of years with the same core of players from one city playing the other," said Simms. "It's hard to do that now, because once you get pretty good as a football team and you get 10 good football players, once their contract comes up, somebody's going to come in and raid that core of good players you've accumulated and drafted and taught."
Said Maguire: "What it is now is if you take your child to a game, you don't say, 'Let's pick out a player we're going to root for.' Now, it's 'Let's pick out a uniform and root for a uniform.' It's all about the money now. There's no loyalty anymore; not to the team, not to the town, not to anyone."
Oddly enough, the three men will be working Sunday in the city that has come to symbolize what has gone wrong in football, Cleveland, where the Browns play host to the Pittsburgh Steelers (Ch. 11, 4 p.m.).
Enberg, who grew up in Michigan rooting for the Detroit Lions, said he had been speaking recently with former Browns Jerry Shirk and Walter Johnson, who were bemoaning the impending move of the team to Baltimore.
"[Johnson said. . . .] 'It's as if someone went into my personal biography and took out 11 years of my life and ripped it right out of my book,' " said Enberg. "As badly as other people may feel, those who represented a city for all that time, represented a franchise, represented a name, the Browns, suddenly that's not going to be the same part of their lives. Of all the people that are deeply hurt, they are most of all."
Enberg said he "strongly" believes the Browns' nickname should stay in Cleveland until another team comes, and that the Colts should give that name back to Baltimore. While he is troubled by the Browns' move, Enberg said he's happy that the team will be here for 30 years, and won't have the chance to immediately pick up and move again.
The college scene
It's rivalry weekend in college football, and NBC (Channel 11) will have the 22nd annual meeting between Grambling and Southern universities in the Bayou Classic from the Superdome tomorrow at 2 p.m. It plans a halftime feature on Grambling coach Eddie Robinson, who won his 400th career game earlier this season.
For some reason, ABC couldn't dislodge its ultra-lame Saturday night lineup to shift one of two games (Ohio State-Michigan; Florida State-Florida) to prime time, so you'll have to choose pay-per-view to see both. Locally, Channel 2 will have the Seminoles-Gators dustup at noon.
This is the first big weekend of college basketball, and locally it doesn't get any bigger than 14th-ranked Maryland opening against No. 1 Kentucky in the Tip-Off Classic in Springfield, Mass., tonight (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.). Joel Meyers and Clark Kellogg have the call on the television side, while Johnny Holliday and Greg Manning kick off another season on the Maryland radio network, heard here on WBAL (1090 AM).
Joke of the week
Gotta love that David Letterman, who observed the other night that New York firefighters battling a blaze hadn't seen that many people choking "since the last time the Buffalo Bills were in the Super Bowl."