Pro Football / Bob Oates : After Court Setbacks, Rozelle Displays a New Respect for Law

As a conservative business entity, the National Football League changes slowly. But it does change.

Lawyer Jay Moyer was introduced as the NFL's new No. 2 executive as the league's annual meetings began Monday. He is outranked only by the commissioner, Pete Rozelle.

Don Weiss remains as executive director in charge of most non-legal functions.

In recent years, Rozelle, who isn't a lawyer, has been increasingly involved in legal matters. His most-valued assistant has been his chief counsel, Moyer, whose promotion to NFL executive vice president reflects this.

In another change, Joe Browne becomes the NFL's top media representative as director of communications. Jim Heffernan remains as director of public relations.

San Francisco 49ers Coach Bill Walsh, whose team has won two of the last four Super Bowls, thinks the NFL could be relearning an old lesson this spring watching Steve Young and Doug Flutie.

"Lately we (NFL coaches) haven't paid enough attention to deflecting passes," Walsh said. "We've been concentrating on getting to the quarterback instead of getting our hands up to block the ball."

USFL linemen, who are trying to do both, have been charging in with raised arms because of the small size of some of their best passers, including Flutie.

"But that's a misperception," Walsh said. "A 5-10 quarterback isn't much more vulnerable to blocked passes than a 6-3 quarterback. The biggest difference is in the minds of the pass rushers. If they'd come in with their hands up, they'd deflect a lot more passes, no matter how tall the passer is."

The most alarming trend in the NFL is the way the league's franchises keep changing hands.

Three clubs (Dallas, Denver and San Diego) were sold last year. The sale of the Philadelphia Eagles became official Monday, and the New Orleans Saints are expected to be sold soon.

St. Louis is also entertaining offers. And in San Francisco, Eddie DeBartolo doesn't want to go on like this in small, windy Candlestick Park.

That's seven disaffected ownerships in a 28-team league--or 25% of the whole.

Are the people who run the NFL beginning to bail out? Rozelle doesn't think so.

"There isn't any trend," Rozelle said. "Each case was different."

Health and personal financial pressures were responsible in four instances, he said, mentioning Dallas, San Diego, New Orleans and Philadelphia.

In a fifth instance, Rozelle said Denver's Edgar Kaiser wants to live in Canada and didn't want to be an absentee owner.

As for St. Louis and San Francisco, inadequate parks are causing the trouble.

In St. Louis, Bill Bidwill is reportedly ready to sell. In San Francisco, whose politicians can't seem to get organized on a serviceable new stadium, DeBartolo is thinking of moving.

Some NFL owners are saying that two years from today, San Francisco will have neither major-league baseball nor football.

From Brooklyn to the Pacific Coast, big-league teams are seldom appreciated until they are gone.

The convention this week has brought together a group of NFL owners and club executives who have seldom looked happier.

It's unanimous. The frowns they wore in Hawaii last year and at the Palm Springs convention in 1983 have been replaced by smiles.

They are momentarily expecting the collapse of the USFL, which has quit challenging them for new college prospects.

Said Rozelle: "Flutie is the only player (the USFL) signed this year who would have gone in the first five or six rounds of our draft."

Seemingly overnight, the NFL's financial health has drastically improved:

--A year ago today, Rozelle testified that in 1986, most NFL clubs would be losing money.

--After talking things over with his owners Monday in Phoenix, he said: "They're all either making money or will take steps to make money this season."

The steps doubtless include raising ticket prices.

His gloomy assessment last spring, he said, was based on projections that because of competition with the USFL, player salaries would continue to escalate at 25% per year or more.

Instead, lacking USFL competition, NFL salary costs will stagnate.

They're already on the way down, in fact. The roster limit will revert to 45 from 49 this season, Rozelle said, eliminating 112 players who earned an average $100,000 last year.

The upshot is that for NFL owners, the bad old days are over, apparently, and for their players, they are back.

In spite of a drop in TV ratings, the NFL is more than holding its own, Rozelle said. "All three surveys--Harris, CBS-New York Times and USA Today--show that football is the nation's most popular sport."

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