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MIKE PENNER

Shaw Is Talking; Georgia's Lips Aren't Moving

May 04, 1994|MIKE PENNER

The Rams as free agents, what a sight. John Shaw standing on a freeway overpass holding a cardboard sign that reads, "Will Miss the Playoffs for All Revenue From Tickets, Sky Boxes, Club Seats, Parking and Concessions."

So it's official.

So the Rams are up for auction, eagerly awaiting any and all offers after forking over $2 million Tuesday to buy their way out of their Anaheim Stadium lease.

What say the bidders?

Baltimore delegation: "Our fair city, which has grown accustomed to only the finest in NFL quarterbacking, from Johnny Unitas to Earl Morrall to Bert Jones, wants nothing to do with a team that had a chance to draft Trent Dilfer and passed. The city of Baltimore elects to trade down."

St. Louis delegation: "If we wanted to watch a football team go 5-11 every year, we'd have kept the Cardinals. The city of St. Louis elects to trade down."

Memphis delegation: "Given our rich and glorious tradition in professional football, dating back to the Southmen of the World Football League and the Showboats of the United States Football League, we have no desire to taint it now. The city of Memphis elects to trade down."

San Antonio delegation: "Texans are smart, generally, but even we can't figure out why anyone would draft an offensive tackle when they could have had Trent Dilfer. The city of San Antonio elects to trade down."

Hartford delegation: "We have the Whalers. That's enough. The city of Hartford elects to trade down."

Anaheim delegation: "Zzzzzzzz."

Ahem, city of Anaheim . . .

Anaheim delegation: "Zzzzzzzz."

CITY OF ANAHEIM!!

Anaheim delegation: "Huh? Who? Where are we? Oh. The Rams? What about them? Do we want them? You talking to us? Uh, guys, do we want them? Say, can we get back to you on that?"

What if the Rams held an open house and nobody came?

If this were true "free agency," with every franchise in the league up for relocation, that just might be the case, with the San Antonios and Orlandos of the world snapping up the 49ers and the Cowboys, leaving the Rams behind to choke on the dust.

Fortunately for John Shaw, the Rams are stepping out into a seller's market. Anything that moves and bears an NFL logo sends the have-nots frothing at the mouth these days. Or doesn't move. Actual motion, the ability to stir or act or exhibit any sign of life, isn't a requirement.

Take, for example, the Rams.

Let me ask you, is there a less attractive NFL franchise on the board?

The Buccaneers? No. The Buccaneers have made a commitment to the future beyond the duration of the current coach's contract. They have promise. They drafted Trent Dilfer.

The Patriots? No. The Patriots have Bill Parcells making their personnel decisions.

The Bengals? Here's one, maybe. Dave Shula is certainly no Don, and Dan Wilkinson is no one-man team, but the Bengals, at least, have been to a Super Bowl in the last 15 years. Two of them, in fact.

What do the Rams have to offer, other than an offense out of the 1950s and a commitment to mediocrity? They draft left tackles in the first round instead of franchise quarterbacks. They settle for second-echelon free agents--Shane Conlan, Jimmie Jones--instead of Ken Norton and Reggie White. They spend only as much as they have to and then wonder why the fans won't invest more money in them.

So, Shaw has decided to round up a new bunch of fans. Because, Shaw knows, they are out there. When cab drivers in Jacksonville are driven to tears over the procurement of the Jaguars, when T-shirt salesmen in Charlotte become millionaires overnight following the birth of the Panthers, they are most definitely out there.

It's a 1990s update on P.T. Barnum: A sucker is born every minute in a town without an NFL team.

So is Anaheim on the brink of losing the Rams? Is that really all there is? Fifteen years, no Super Bowls and out. Thanks for nothing, it's been real.

If you're looking for a savior, Ram fans, best not look to the Anaheim city council. Anaheim's elected officials have sold their souls to the Ducks, pure and simple. The only reason Ram fans are in this mess today is that the city needed a hockey team and needed a hockey arena built, and to get it done, the city had to buy off the Rams by adding a buyout clause in their lease in 1990.

In essence, the city was willing to risk losing the Rams if it meant gaining the Ducks--which, come to think of it, isn't that bad a trade.

The city council has haggled with the Rams over their practice facility. The city council has dragged its feet over requested improvements to Anaheim Stadium. Right now, the Rams and the city council are polarized, and the only way it appears the city can keep the Rams now is if the Rams fall into Anaheim's lap.

Believe it or not, that is exactly what could happen.

The Rams are restricted free agents--restricted by the fact that Georgia Frontiere, and not Shaw, owns them. Shaw talks about holding "a strong hand," but he doesn't hold the trump card. Frontiere does. It's not much for Ram fans to hang their hopes on, but at the moment, it's all they have.

Shaw can examine the offer sheets, inspect the premises, touch the plush red carpeting, get the letter of intent drawn . . . and Frontiere can look it all over and say, "Ah, I don't think so." All Shaw is doing now is creating options. And down the line, Georgia can veto every one of them.

Considering Frontiere's attachment to the Southern California lifestyle and her distaste for litigation--virtually a certainty should the Rams decide to move, Shaw admits--asking Georgia to leave Anaheim is asking a lot.

The irony here is thick enough to clog several major arteries: Georgia Frontiere, the best friend a Ram fan can have.

"PLEASE GEORGIA, SELL THE TEAM"?

This season, the sentiment on the Anaheim Stadium banner reads:

"PLEASE GEORGIA, SAVE THE TEAM."

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