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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

NFL's Annual Circus Missing a Few Animals

March 27, 2001|T.J. SIMERS

PALM DESERT — It has been a couple months now since the daughter became engaged to the grocery bagger, and while he recently made the big leap from Vons to Ralphs with the difficult task of learning new aisles, it appears he's here to stay.

I was thinking about this as I stood outside the ballroom of a swank resort & spa waiting for the first day of the NFL's annual meetings to conclude, admittedly a little depressed--until the doors opened and the league's owners began to emerge one by one.

Now I know the San Diego Zoo comes highly recommended, but when you bring together the NFL's 32 owners in one place, it's the finest collection of buffoons anywhere.

I'll stack the likes of Bill Bidwill (Arizona Cardinals), Georgia Frontiere (St. Louis Rams), Bud Adams (Tennessee Titans), Art Modell (Baltimore Ravens) and Dan Snyder (Washington Redskins) against the oddballs of any other industry and still have Alex Spanos (San Diego Chargers), Mike Brown (Cincinnati Bengals) and Al Davis (Oakland Raiders) in reserve.

Frankly, it's inspiring. If these people can make it big, maybe the grocery bagger has a chance. Maybe some day he'll be a cashier.

*

I CAME TO Palm Desert, however, concerned about the impact of tourism in the Coachella Valley when I heard many of the NFL owners had gone into hiding rather than expose themselves to being served with a Raider-generated subpoena to appear at the trial being conducted presently in Los Angeles.

Normally I urge my friends to come to the hotel--eat, drink and watch the NFL owners make fools of themselves--but when I heard that as many as 12 of the owners had chosen to stay away, I feared there would be a dramatic drop-off in entertainment.

My fears were unfounded, because I forgot to take into consideration that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue would be performing. One of the reporters addressed him as "Mr. President" at his news conference, and I think he was perplexed why everyone else thought the guy had made a mistake.

"I think a lot of owners regard [the Raiders' lawsuit] as a sham," Tagliabue said. "Some regard it as a shakedown."

I asked owners such as Red McCombs (Minnesota Vikings), Brown and Bob Tisch (New York Giants) what they thought of the lawsuit. They all pleaded ignorance, and having dealt with them before, I couldn't argue.

Tagliabue, who doesn't raise his right hand when he speaks to the media, said this break in tradition of having all the owners at the meetings had nothing to do with many of them trying to avoid process servers.

Tisch, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that the trial was one of the factors that kept his partner, Wellington Mara, at home. "He didn't want to spend his time worrying about someone serving him."

I was hoping Lamar Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs) would be served, just to see if Coach Dick Vermeil would cry.

The NFL, for the first time I can remember, insisted that reporters wear badges that read "Media." I'd think the way we dressed would be enough of a giveaway. We don't belong in a $300-a-night resort & spa.

I thought about wearing a badge around my neck that read "Process Server," but some of these owners are really old, and one good scare like that and I might have to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. My fear, of course, was that Frontiere would be laying there and faking.

*

THE OWNERS WHO did show up for the meeting obviously were living in fear that the next poor person to enter the resort & spa might be a process server. Now you take someone such as Bidwill, who is thankfully going to be locked up in Arizona, and his day can be ruined by a poor person.

He already eats alone and walks with his head down because, like everyone else, he understands he's the guy most likely to trip and fall on his face, so he's not accustomed to talking with human beings.

So you can imagine how high he jumped when he walked past the hotel gift shop, which has an employee lurking inside with instructions to chirp, "Hello," at everyone who walks by. I suppose I could have told him the Raiders' legal team had already decided not to subpoena him, but I found it amusing to watch him jump every time he walked past the gift shop.

*

THE RAIDER LEGAL team has demanded that the NFL produce Modell, Adams, Michael McCaskey (Chicago Bears), Robert Kraft (New England Patriots) and Mara. The Comedy Store is also very interested in their act.

The league's legal team has refused to make them available. They are still trying to recover from Jerry Richardson's (Carolina Panthers) testimony last week, in which he fumbled more than his team did last season. And if you've heard Adams talk--if he was asked to repeat his name on the witness stand he might be stumped--you'd understand why he has been told to get lost.

Raider attorney Joe Alioto said he considered sending a sheriff armed with subpoenas to the owners meetings, but said it would be too much of a hassle. Under California law, out-of-state owners are not obliged to honor them, although the judge in this case has urged the NFL to cooperate.

I'd have sent a couple of Raiderettes and had them ask the owners to follow them. There wouldn't have been any hassle.

*

TODAY'S LAST WORD comes from a woman at Berlo's Process Service:

"I could serve them if I had to--I've had tougher situations. I've had people try to run me over with their car. I had one man so mad at me he just dropped his trousers."

I asked. She said it wasn't Kevin Brown.

*

T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address:t.j.simers@latimes.com

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