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Nice Seeing You, Seahawks

MIKE DOWNEY

February 14, 1996|MIKE DOWNEY

The more I hear from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the more I am convinced that the football team presently known as the Seattle Seahawks will never play a down here.

Tagliabue's in-writing promise to the people of Cleveland to get them a team, still called Browns, while permitting Art Modell's current personnel to move to Baltimore, can be perceived as a promise to Los Angeles. Because if the NFL is willing to act so forcibly on one city's behalf, I believe it will act with equal force on our city's behalf.

Therefore, I now strongly suspect that Cleveland and L.A. will be the NFL's expansion franchises, no later than 1999, and that the league will do everything in its considerable power to prevent Seattle's team from playing this season anywhere except Seattle. I have seen the future, and there will be no pro football in or around Los Angeles in 1996.

Where does this leave Ken Behring?

In NFL limbo, I expect. Legal restraints--not league restraints--should ultimately be the final deal-breaker, because it seems to me that Seattle and authorities of King County (Wash.) took all the necessary precautions to ensure that the Seahawks cannot and will not break their lease.

The players will play in Seattle and be applauded. As for Behring, he will be neither tarred nor feathered. NFL life will go on. Behring won't be the first owner to be booed by his team's fans, and he won't be the last.

And if he refuses to go back?

Well, that is a scenario I cannot picture, in any way, shape or form. Because if the NFL refuses to recognize your team, then how can that team exist? It's like a tree falling in mid-forest. If the NFL refuses to put "Los Angeles" on its schedule, then it also can forbid opponents from showing up to play that team when it arrives.

The NFL could order 16 forfeits. It could guarantee a winless L.A. team, much the same way the Baltimore Orioles baseball owner made a vow not to field a team while strike-breakers were in uniform. It could levy heavy fines against any NFL team that takes the field against a renegade L.A. team.

This league might not be all-powerful, but it does have power.

And what an eerie scene this would be, the Los Angeles team doing calisthenics on the field, with no opponents on the opposite end. Or the L.A. team being padlocked out of the visitors' dressing room before road games, or even denied entrance to the stadium itself. Being forced to forfeit, even though it was the team that did show up.

What a mess this is.

All these weeks later, I am still altogether unsure what the typical sports fan of Southern California is supposed to say to Behring, the professional football team owner who is trying to bring professional football here against professional football's will.

Our choices remain:

--"Go back where you came from."

--"Make yourself comfortable."

--"If we build it, will you come?"

--"How come you came before we built it?"

The debate rages, like something John McLaughlin or Ricki Lake would emcee. Behring is wrong. No, the NFL's wrong. He doesn't belong here. No, he belongs anywhere he pleases. It is his team. No, it is the NFL's team. He has a lease. No, the lease has a loophole. No, Seattle has plugged that loophole.

And on and on:

Behring has no business here. No, this is his business. But the NFL has assured us that it will give Los Angeles a team. No, that's what the NFL assured Baltimore, until Baltimore finally got so sick of waiting that it went out and took somebody else's team.

But the NFL favors the big markets. Yeah, sure. That's why it chose Jacksonville and Charlotte.

But the NFL controls its owners' actions. Yeah, sure. Tell that to Jerry Jones.

But the NFL made Behring promise to let the league handle L.A.

Did not. Did too.

I appreciate that Ken Behring and his son, Dave, the team's president, do not wish to back down, nor do they favor the notion that in a land of free enterprise, they cannot conduct their business wherever they please. They--and I, frankly--don't quite follow why it's OK for teams to leave L.A., but not come to L.A.

Without approval, however, I think their ship is sunk. Things could get very ugly, owning a team that is literally in a league by itself. Forget it. This isn't going to happen.

Yes, we have no pro football; we have no pro football today.

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