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Search for New NFL Boss Goes Slowly

Times Staff Writers

A change is coming at the top of the NFL, but it probably won’t come quickly.

NFL owners finished their annual meetings Wednesday without forming a committee to find a replacement for outgoing Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who is scheduled to retire in July.

Tagliabue said he probably will appoint a search committee within the next week, but added there’s no deadline to make the transition to a new commissioner. He said he does not expect the process to carry into next season, however.

“It doesn’t really matter whether it’s the 20th of July or the 10th of August,” he said. “The only reason we talked about July is because that’s what [Pittsburgh owner] Dan Rooney and I talked about. We sort of estimated it would take about four months. If it takes 2 1/2 , that’s fine. If it takes 5 1/2 , that’s fine too.”

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Doing a “Riverdance” is OK. Using an end-zone pylon as a putter is not.

By a 29-3 vote, teams decided to modify the celebration rules to prohibit using anything -- including the ball -- as a prop, and to ban touchdown dances that require a player to drop to the ground -- whether it be to make imaginary snow angels or to row an invisible boat.

Representatives from the competition committee discussed the proposed rules changes with players representing the union at an annual postseason meeting in Indianapolis.

“We showed them a celebration tape and asked them what they thought,” said Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee. “We showed them 10 plays, and each play there was more laughter. But then we said, ‘There’s got to be a line here.’ They said, ‘Let’s not take away the dances or celebrations. These guys are too creative. Let’s just have some bright lines.’ ”

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Terrell Owens and Keyshawn Johnson usually do the talking. But at a breakfast with reporters Wednesday, two of the receivers’ former coaches got in a few jabs of their own.

Tampa Bay Coach Jon Gruden didn’t seem overly concerned about Johnson, a former Buccaneer, signing with division rival Carolina.

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“I personally think they should throw the ball to Keyshawn on every play and not throw it to Steve Smith,” said Gruden, referring to Carolina’s star receiver, a most-valuable-player candidate last season.

Owens recently signed with Dallas after a messy breakup last season with Philadelphia. Eagle Coach Andy Reid, normally tight-lipped and stoic, jokingly said this about his former star receiver, who recently released a rap song:

“It’s always been my goal to get my name in a rap song -- I still didn’t make it.”

As for life with Owens, an Eagle for two seasons?

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“The first year was great,” Reid said.

And the second?

“No comment.”

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Anaheim Councilman Harry Sidhu confirmed a report that the city had agreed in principle to sell a 50-acre parcel of land to the NFL for just under $50 million -- less than half the market value for office or retail land in the area.

“I don’t know who leaked it,” Sidhu said, “but since somebody did, the information is quite correct.”

But Dave Morgan, Anaheim city manager, called the report “erroneous” and issued a statement that “the purchase price of $1 million per acre being discussed in today’s media is not accurate.”

The statement also said that a deal between Anaheim and the NFL has not been finalized and such an agreement would have to be approved by the Anaheim City Council.

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City spokesman John Nicoletti clarified later that the proposed deal involved selling the entire plot for $53 million, with 35 acres priced at $1.5 million per acre and no cost for the remaining 15 acres. He said no valuation was assigned to those 15 acres “because there are current obligations on that land.” The only way the NFL could use those 15 acres is to maintain the current obligations, Nicoletti said.

At a news conference a year ago, Sidhu spoke out against the city giving any kind of subsidy to the NFL so that a stadium could be constructed in the Angel Stadium parking lot.

“It’s absolutely a wrong move on the city’s part in giving the land away at a very cheap price,” said Sidhu, a real estate broker who estimates the 50 acres are worth about $100 million. “It’s a loss to the taxpayers in the City of Anaheim, and it’s not in the best interests for the city.”

Apparently, Sidhu’s views are not shared by the majority of the five-member city council. Only Councilman Bob Hernandez agreed with him when he spoke out on the issue last year.

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McKibben reported from Anaheim.


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