February 22, 2004
Should the NFL keep a pledge Pete Rozelle made to Congress in 1966 there would be no
question of the Chargers leaving San Diego. Not now, not ever.
When the late commissioner was seeking to win the antitrust exemption necessary for the
NFL-AFL merger to have the blessing of legality, he assured Congress that should the
exemption be granted (which it was), none of the 24 franchises involved in the merger
would be moved.
"Professional football operations will be preserved in the 23 cities and 25
stadiums where such operations are presently being conducted," said Rozelle.
"This alone is a matter of considerable public interest to local economies,
stadium authorities and consumers. Without the plan, franchise moves and/or franchise
failures will occur as a matter of course within the next few years."
Exactly what Rozelle promised would not happen has happened. The Giants, Jets, Bills,
Colts, Raiders (twice), Cardinals, Rams, Browns, Oilers (twice) and Patriots have moved to
stadiums constructed to attract them, paid for by public funds, with the exception of the
Patriots' new stadium. In addition, citizens of Kansas City, St. Louis, Baltimore,
Cleveland, Minnesota, Houston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington have had to ante up
more billions to build new stadiums to keep or regain franchises.
San Diego City Attorney Casey Gwinn has been advised concerning how Rozelle's pledge
has been flouted in a letter from Angelo Coniglio of Buffalo, N.Y., a copy of which
Coniglio made available to the Union-Tribune. Coniglio is a gadfly, meaning he
annoys others. In particular, he annoys those in the high councils of the NFL. I should
note that he delights me. Once, he discovered a flaw in the NFL's playoff procedures and,
aware of my AFL sympathies, was kind enough to share his research with me.
As a consequence of Coniglio's findings, the NFL had to alter its postseason practices.
A single voice from the Niagara Frontier had brought down the mighty monolith that is the
NFL. Coniglio thus became a hero of mine forever.
In this latest matter, Coniglio has dredged up a column written by the late John
Steadman of the Baltimore News American in 1971, five years after Rozelle's
appearance before Congress. By this time, the Giants were making plans to leave Yankee
Stadium for a better deal in New Jersey, starting in 1975, and the Bills, Colts and
Patriots were making statements that suggested they were becoming restive.
"What happened to Rozelle's well-defined and recorded outline of what the involved
teams would do if Congress allowed the merger?" questioned Steadman. Coniglio is
posing the same question, which he does in his letter to Gwinn. Writes Coniglio:
"I do not understand why, when the NFL makes its threats, it is not publicly asked
to square its current position with the promises of 1966, nor why Congress does not hold
the league to its promises."
My position, precisely. Rozelle gave his word. He was a man of principle. His word
should have been honored, at least until 1982. Since Al Davis in '82 shifted the Raiders
from Oakland to Los Angeles over the NFL's objections and had his action survive legal
scrutiny, the NFL has been powerless to prevent franchise shifts. How unfortunate. I
suspect Rozelle, were he still living, would agree.
Pete Carroll is known to have urged at least five NFL general managers to
contact sophomore Mike Williams, not to attempt to persuade him to remain at USC
but to detail to him what his circumstances would be should he make himself available for
How good is he? "First round," said Jerry Jones, author of "The
Drugstore List" of draft ratings.
In Indianapolis, where the Combine exercises are being conducted, the talk is that the
strapping wide receiver's skills are such that he could be the first player taken in the
April 24-25 procedure, although it is difficult to envision the Chargers investing their
No. 1 selection in him.
As Jones views it, Williams was the most gifted underclassman in college football
during the 2003 season. "Who can cover him?" questioned the draft scholar.
"They blanketed him last season, and still he had a great year. He would compare
successfully with Larry Fitzgerald (of Pittsburgh), and he is a far, far better
prospect than Maurice Clarett."
Wide receivers generally have not gone high in the draft. The last one who did was
another USC athlete, Keyshawn Johnson, the No. 1 selection (by the New York Jets)
in 1996, and he hasn't been getting into many end zones.
"Teams always feel they can find receivers," noted Jones, "and if you
look through the history of the draft, that's not far off."
The Arizona Cardinals found Anquan Boldin in the second round a year ago, and he
became the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Boldin ran 4.75 at the Combine, which for a
receiver is pedestrian speed. "He didn't have good times even before he went to the
Combine," said Jones, "but he knew how to play."
The answers, Jones concluded, "are in the film room."
Big, bulky receivers such as Williams have not been thriving in the NFL. Think of David
Boston, no whiz in his first season in San Diego. The New England Patriots offered a
bevy of Smurfs, and the Patriots did all right.
There are reports, meantime, that Adrian Peterson, a Texas high school running
back recruited by Oklahoma, is considering entering the draft. Said Jones: "If there
is a high school player capable of making it in the NFL, he would be a place-kicker."
Off to Europe
Seventeen quarterbacks have been allocated to NFL Europe teams, among them Chad
Hutchinson, the Torrey Pines High and Stanford alum who gained a $3.1 million signing
bonus from the Dallas Cowboys, started nine games in 2002, then watched Quincy Carter handle
the team's offense in 2003.
"This gives him a chance to play; that's what he needs to do," coach Bill
Parcells said of Hutchinson. "Quite frankly, in my experience, if a guy goes to
Europe and he can't play over there, he can't play here. So we'll see what happens over
The Cowboys wanted Hutchinson to be schooled under Galen Hall, a former Dallas
coaching lieutenant who was to serve as the offensive coordinator of the Rhein Fire. Hall,
though, has joined Joe Paterno's Penn State staff.