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Rozelle Makes Pitch, Saves Instant Replay

March 20, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

KAANAPALI, Hawaii — The two-thirds of you who the polls say like instant replay officiating will be happy to learn that your baby is safe, even if a hand from above did have to guide it through crocodile-infested waters.

And even if it's just for another one-year trial. And the commissioner of the National Football League had to make what what Dallas Cowboy President Tex Schramm called an "impassioned plea," and cut the plan down to something more bite-size, too.

The two-year proposal submitted by Schramm's competition was, as the Washington press corps says, DOA when Thursday's meeting of the owners opened. Eleven clubs--four more than needed--were waiting to bury the boys in the booth.

So Pete Rozelle did a little of that voodoo that he do so well: a step to the left, a feint to the right. Two and a-half hours later, he had 21 votes, just enough.

Ole! He withdrew the old, unpopular proposal and submitted another one.

He made a 10-minute speech.

He cut the two years to one, assuring several of the owners on the fence that the system is still very much on trial.

"We were no on two years and yes on one," said Green Bay Packer Coach Forrest Gregg. "If you go to two years, you're stuck with it."

Rozelle withdrew the proposal to hire an eighth official to make the calls, rather than NFL supervisory personnel. The owners, who are taking a cut in TV revenue and facing austerity programs of their own, couldn't have minded.

"You get an eighth guy up there, you've got to give him pension benefits and all the stuff the other guys have got," said a general manager.

The meeting featured what the diplomats call a frank and candid exchange of views, or in other words, lots of raised voices. There were impassioned pleas aplenty, with Giant owner Wellington Mara, one of the most traditional of the traditionalists, rising for the nays.

"His was equally as impassioned as Rozelle's," said Schramm.

Aligned with Mara were the Rooney family of Pittsburgh, Lamar Hunt of Kansas City and Paul Brown of Cincinnati, all old-guard football people with no use for the long delays and the myriad controversies the replays produced. Joining them in opposition to the end would be the Jets, Cardinals and Patriots.

In the middle were the swing votes: Green Bay, Atlanta, Chicago and Buffalo, all set to vote no on two years.

On the fringes of the yes side were some new owners, like the Eagles' Norman Braman, who said he was on the fence but wouldn't cast the deciding vote against. A year ago, when the USFL suit was pending and Rozelle looked wobblier, some of the new owners were trotting out their bold, new proposals for the way the league should be run. Now that the USFL threat is gone and Rozelle has a new TV contract in hand, the newcomers don't seem as quick to risk his displeasure.

Then there were the strong yes people: Schramm, Art Modell of the Browns, Hugh Culverhouse of Tampa Bay, some of Rozelle's chief allies. Even among them, there had been strains last season, when Schramm snarled publicly that Rozelle was the one who was supposed to be making it work.

"I sometimes say things . . . " said Schramm, in what you might call an understatement.

"We were trying to make it work and everybody was calling me and the commissioner came on TV and said he was going to sit back and wait and see. That's when I was dubbed the Godfather by the league office."

So the two sides engaged each other Thursday morning. When they voted, instant replay officiating was still alive, the Rams and Raiders voting with the majority.

Brown left the meeting room, seemingly bent on concealing any disappointment. "No big deal," he said, and little else.

Hunt took it in stride, saying this was the the democratic way.

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