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This May Be Day NFL Picks Finks : Some New Owners Are Unhappy With Single Candidate

Times Staff Writer

For the first time in 30 years, the National Football League is getting ready to name a new commissioner. Today. Maybe.

At a special league meeting in the ballroom of an O’Hare Airport-area hotel, the 28 club owners may do it before sunset, or they may not.

It all depends on the scope of the opposition to Jim Finks, the general manager of the New Orleans Saints who has been unanimously endorsed by the six-man search committee.

With six aye votes already won, the committee, which exclusively represents the NFL’s so-called old-guard membership, needs only 13 more ayes to put Finks in. But under NFL rules, he can be blocked by 10 nay votes.

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Opposition spokesmen--who represent many of the 12 or 14 teams that have changed hands in the last decade or so--are saying privately that more than 10 owners have been either annoyed or upset by the actions of the search committee, including the nomination of a single candidate instead of a slate of candidates.

Thus the whole question of today’s meeting is whether the discontentment of the newer owners is sufficiently intense to turn them against Finks, who, in more than a quarter-century in pro football, has been most closely involved with long-established NFL leaders.

Are the protesters only mildly annoyed or really boiling?

Of the club executives arriving here Wednesday, most expressed doubts that the dissidents are angry enough--or well enough organized--to block Finks’ election.

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“The committee wouldn’t have called this meeting unless they have the 19 votes to elect him,” one source said.

“The key was when they got (Raider owner) Al Davis’ vote. That kept Davis from stirring up all those West Coast (clubs).”

For this and other reasons, the committee leadership, which has been polling the owners since late last month, apparently has reason to believe that no unified opposition to Finks will develop.

The protest faction, though sizable, is described as a group with three problems: Lack of leadership, lack of a candidate to put up against Finks, and lack of time by its most prominent members to get involved.

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At this point, the protesters are just kind of grumbling around.

The search committee is headed by Wellington Mara, president of the New York Giants, and Lamar Hunt, president of the Kansas City Chiefs, who are pressing for a quick resolution today.

They want a first-ballot decision. If that is unrealistic because of the first-ballot abstentions that are usually filed in an election of this importance, they will push for a second-ballot victory.

A source said that if the fight against Finks is feeble--and quickly won--a motion will be introduced to call the election unanimous.

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Although this is a divided and troubled league, it prefers to confront the world with one face.

“I hope it will be a fast meeting,” Hunt said. “We’re not trying to (railroad) anyone. Other nominations can be made from the floor.”

Finks is a former NFL quarterback-defensive back who in a busy front-office career has helped turn around four sports teams, the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints as well as the Chicago Bears and baseball’s Chicago Cubs, all of whom got to the playoffs on moves he made.

Born in Salem, Ill., he went from the University of Tulsa to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1949 and played for seven seasons.

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Over the years, Finks has served in almost every football capacity except commissioner--from NFL player to Notre Dame assistant coach to public relations man to labor relations specialist to partial club owner. He is president and part owner as well as general manager of the Saints, Tom Benson’s club.

One major Finks negative, his opponents say, is his age. He will be 62 in August. The outgoing commissioner, Pete Rozelle, resigned this spring at 63.

Rozelle’s friends say that he was weighed down by the insoluble problems of the league’s most turbulent period--labor problems, drugs, lawsuits and all the rest, including strained relationships with a demanding set of wealthy, strong- minded new owners.

“Every time Pete picks up the phone it’s a problem,” a West Coast friend said. "(The problems) wore him down. At his age, he got tired of fighting on so many fronts where you can’t possibly win.”

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How will a 62-year-old general replacing a 63-year-old general bear up in such battles?

“We’ll get him some help,” Cleveland Browns’ owner Art Modell said. “He’ll have a deputy or two.”

Even if the new group doesn’t fight the old guard today, the seeds of NFL disorder have been sown.

In particular, the new-wave owners, who in recent years paid up to $100 million for their franchises, have been distressed by three related developments:

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--The appointment of a commissioner-search committee without representation from their ranks.

--The committee’s recommendation of one candidate, Finks, after a slate of three or four co-equal candidates had been expected.

--The committee’s decision to call today’s meeting during a holiday week that is traditionally an NFL vacation week.

If Finks is, in fact, the new skipper, he’ll quickly find that there are storms ahead.

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