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The NFL’s Unwritten Agenda: Stopping Seahawks’ Move

TIMES STAFF WRITER

This bear won’t go down easily. Ken Behring knows that now.

Executives from 29 teams will leave the NFL owners’ meetings today with fresh tans. Behring of the Seattle Seahawks staggered away Wednesday with blood on his shirt, eyes on the perimeter.

This renowned hunter has become the hunted.

Amid the elegant crown molding and tapestry of the Breakers hotel, the NFL has spent four days chasing Behring in hopes of stopping him from moving his team to Southern California this fall.

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There were quiet jokes, blatant stares. And then Wednesday, it got serious.

There is talk of a lawsuit, one that would further drain Behring of money and time, even though there is no precedent for the league winning such an action.

When asked about it, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said, “Next question.”

There is talk of using the league’s bylaws to make his life so messy, no self-respecting Southern California businessman will want to deal with him. Perhaps not even R.D. Hubbard.

And there is talk that Behring, finally realizing his bluff has been called, will sell the team to Seattle-based ownership before the courts begin a dance that could last into next season.

Who knows? One revelation Wednesday might make a cynic wonder if Behring has already begun hedging his bet.

Although he insisted he will not succumb to NFL pressure, Behring has not signed a lease to use Rams Park as a practice facility, even though the team is scheduled to begin practicing there Monday.

John Shaw, the St. Louis Ram president, struck an agreement with Anaheim officials this week clearing the way for the Seahawks to strike such a deal. The Rams will pay $1 million for the renovation of Rams Park and will receive two-ninths of any rent paid by the Seahawks.

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But Behring has balked. And Shaw is not so sure the Seahawks will ever sign the lease and move to Anaheim.

“I talked to David Behring [Seahawk president and son of the owner], and he said there are a number of issues they are concerned with,” Shaw said. “I think it makes sense for them, because of the legal risks in Washington that could cause a delay not to make any long-term agreements.”

Behring said the Seahawks have an agreement with Anaheim that will allow the team to begin workouts at Rams Park without a signed lease. He said the team will not be required to sign one until the end of the month.

“We have never ever discussed not going there,” Behring said.

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Behring added that, despite rumors that he is preparing to sell instead of fight, he has plans next week to talk with the owners of the Kings about building a new basketball-hockey arena alongside a new football stadium.

He said he is also very interested in becoming involved in the construction of a multipurpose stadium for a football team and the Angels now that the Walt Disney Co. is no longer involved.

“A [multipurpose] stadium in today’s world makes sense,” Behring said. “I don’t think as long as I’m in football I could buy the Angels, but I’d like to find somebody to work with us and go along with a stadium. That would make it twice as easy to get something accomplished. I’m very interested.”

But about that sale of the Seahawks. Behring admitted this week that he has a price.

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Behring said he told Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trail Blazers, that any offer would have to start at $225 million--which would make the franchise the most expensive in the NFL.

“It’s just amazing what’s happening,” Behring added. “I hear these reports about me selling. Well, why doesn’t somebody tell me all about it? Nobody has contacted me. If someone laid a staggering amount of money on the table, I’d at least look at it.”

Behring is obviously a tough man. This is obviously a good thing.

And the pressure grows.

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These meetings ended Wednesday with King County (Wash.) officials and structural experts convincing NFL owners that the Kingdome needs no further seismic work, although the county will soon begin a $2-million to $3-million project to protect three-fourths of the Kingdome’s 84 interior columns from breaking apart during an earthquake.

That is important because Behring is using seismic concerns as his reason for breaking his Kingdome lease with 10 years left.

Owners on the influential finance and stadium committees loved the presentation as much as they disapproved of Behring’s earlier attempts to convince them the Kingdome was in danger.

“It seems to me that the Kingdome is perfectly safe,” said Wayne Weaver, owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Behring said King County officials are making things worse for themselves by the project to reinforce columns in the stadium.

“I think it’s great to hear that, because it proves they are covering things up again,” he said.

And the pressure grows.

The league is convinced Washington courts can do its dirty work for it, but also knows Washington courts know nothing about an NFL schedule.

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If the legal matters drag into next fall, a previously filed injunction will force them to remain in a now-hostile Kingdome, where fans will be as scarce as sunshine.

Some owners are hoping the league--which is really good at this sort of thing--will work a compromise in which King County fixes up its building, Behring cleans up his act and the two kiss and make up.

But Behring has said that will not happen. He is not going back.

So what happens now?

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By their next owners’ meetings in April, the league will surely act. And Behring will surely respond.

The only thing for certain is that by Sept. 1, somebody is going to have somebody’s head on a wall.

And at the victory party, we will walk past with our heads lowered.

NFL Notes

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As expected, the league announced it will experiment with a modified form of instant replay during exhibition games this summer and then simulate a system during the season with hopes of using it in 1997. The new version will include as many as three challenges per game from each coach, sideline monitors for replay viewing and rulings on the field by the referee.


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