Although team owners rejected the idea of bringing back instant replay for the playoffs after a series of bad calls marred the second half of the season, commissioner Paul Tagliabue predicted at his annual Super Bowl news conference yesterday that replay will be back next year.
"I'm optimistic, but nothing in the NFL is a certainty," Tagliabue said, while conceding that replay could create as many problems as it solves. "In some ways, it's just going to create another platform for reviewing again in slow motion what the officials do."
He also suggested that the problem with officiating is not the calls, but the criticism of the calls.
"We managed to shoot ourselves in the foot," he said of all the public criticism by team officials.
Of the controversy over the grading system put in place by Jerry Seeman, the director of officials, Tagliabue said, "We will look at all aspects of officiating. We are not going to look at it with rose colored glasses."
But he suggested the league will continue the status quo when he said, "I think the officiating is as good as it's ever been."
Tagliabue didn't give any specifics on what instant replay plan he thinks the owners will implement, and that was typical of the news conference. He was long on rhetoric and short on specifics.
For example, he said that Edward DeBartolo Jr. will not be allowed to return as active owner of the San Francisco 49ers during the 1999 season. His sister, Denise DeBartolo York, will continue to be in charge.
However, the emergence of Bill Walsh as the new general manager seems to have DeBartolo's fingerprints all over it. DeBartolo always tends to turn to Walsh when he has a problem.
When Tagliabue was asked if DeBartolo wasn't involved in Walsh's hiring, he said, "You know, I may be a lot of things, but I am not naive or dumb.
"He has been forced to divorce himself from the ongoing operations of the 49ers and we are going to be clarifying in the weeks ahead exactly what are the ground rules, and the one thing I didn't want to do was overreact here in a way that hurts the team."
So how will the league stop DeBartolo from running the team from behind the scenes?
"It's something we are discussing, and as I said, I don't want to get ahead of myself," he said.
Tagliabue was specific about the fact that he favors Lawrence Taylor's election to the Hall of Fame. The 36 Hall of Fame selectors will vote on his candidacy today and the former New York Giants linebacker has to get 29 votes or be one of the top four vote-getters to get in.
Some voters have said they won't vote for him because of his off-the-field problems.
But Tagliabue said, "The Hall of Fame is about performing on the field. Hopefully, it [his selection] will be a way for him to regain some self-esteem and with the assistance of a lot of other people, including professionals, maybe it will be something that enables him to pull his life together."
San Francisco is expected to lose the 2003 Super Bowl because the proposed new stadium there is now up in the air, but Tagliabue said he'll deal with that at the March meeting.
He also said he hopes to formulate a plan to have each team play one home game every 15 years outside of the United States.
The problem with that idea is that in most of the new stadiums, teams are bound to play all their home games in their home stadium. But the commissioner said, "I think we will get there eventually and have some type of policy that has a rotation."
On the proposed sale of the Washington Redskins, he said, "I guess the first thing I am saying is that we haven't made any decisions."
He didn't seem concerned about the team's ownership situation being up in the air going into free agency, noting that the Minnesota Vikings survived a similar situation last year.
Calling the sale of the Vikings to Red McCombs after author Tom Clancy pulled out "a protracted soap opera," Tagliabue said, "Someone said to me, if ownership turmoil gives you the Vikings, let us pray for more ownership turmoil."
Of the proposed move of the New England Patriots to Hartford, Conn., he said, "We don't have an analysis of this in terms of the impact on the league and we don't have any finance committee evaluation or anything else like that."
He said his own reactions are, "I guess, mixed."
Of the lack of minority coaching hires, he noted that the Vikings came within a game of making the Super Bowl with a black coach, quarterback and personnel chief.
"The opportunities are growing. We are not satisfied as to where we want to be, but we are, I believe, making some real progress," Tagliabue said. "You need affirmative action to create opportunities. You don't need affirmation action that builds in artificial preferences."
Tagliabue also hedged on the competition for the 32nd team between Los Angeles and Houston, though Los Angeles is believed to have an edge because it's a bigger market despite the fact it doesn't have public funding for a stadium as Houston does.
"This is a tough competition," he said. "It's a tight race."
Pub Date: 1/30/99