"Ladies and gentlemen, we must be quiet now because the adversaries are entering the courtroom. That's Mr. Rozelle over there on the left, who must be considered the favorite, and now Mr. Williams, the pride of Baltimore, can be seen coming in on the right.
"You must admit this is a most unusual setting for a trial, the Los Angeles Coliseum. But then there has never been a sports trial close to this magnitude. Tickets have been gone for a month, all 80,000.
"The judge has agreed to allow the testimony of each witness to be interrupted twice for commercials. We'll have gavel-to-gavel coverage, of course, with Warren Burger dropping by now and then to offer analysis.
"As you know, Mr. Williams brought this suit against Mr. Rozelle and the National Football League so he can remain chief operating officer of the Washington Redskins while owning the Baltimore Orioles.
"We'll be back in a moment with the lineups, starting with Mr. Williams' offense, after this message from . . .
This is one trial that would sell, nothing less than the judicial Super Bowl. In the legal league, Edward Bennett Williams is Noll's Steelers, Lombardi's Packers and Shula's Dolphins. He also knows defense wins the big ones.
But Pete Rozelle has never been knocked off his feet in 20 years as NFL Commissioner. Hardly anyone has even landed a glove on him. He is the essence of imagery, capable of leaving marathon meetings with owners looking refreshed.
They are measuring one another from a distance at the moment, publicly polite and noncommittal, Rozelle volunteering the thought that: "Everybody is making this out to be a me-versus-Ed thing, when actually it would be an owners-versus-Ed situation."
Except that as the man they pay handsomely to make them richer and more powerful. Rozelle would be the man to act forcefully if Williams buys the Orioles in early November and does not relinquish being chief operating officer of the Redskins.
That would be what Rozelle calls "conduct detrimental to the NFL." He would be forced to confront the matter-- and it could become ugly, deliciously so for mortals who rarely see the mighty attack each other.
What could bring on such a fuss?
A resolution the owners passed on June 16, 1976, that forbids a person owning majority interest in or in direct or indirect operational control of an NFL team to acquire any interest in another major team sport.
Additionally, anyone with such a financial interest in another sport as of that date was told to "use best effort" to sell.
It was called the Lamar Hunt Resolution at the time, because the owner of the Kansas City Chiefs seemed to be keeping much of soccer and tennis alive with his fortune, as he had the American Football League in the early '60s.
Now the owner of the Miami Dolphins, Joseph Robbie, is deep into pro soccer, with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. And if Jack Kent Cooke, majority stockholder of the Redskins, had not been obliged to sell his control of the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings the other NFL owners would be baying at his heels.
A reasonable person might reasonably wonder what is wrong with cross ownership in sports, considering all the interlocking boards of directors in the real world. An Edward Bennet Williams makes any space he occupies more interesting; any sport that can grab him would seem richer.
Why not let him run two toys?
"Is a director of General Motors on the board of Ford?" Rozelle asks.
The NFL has been opposed to cross ownership for perhaps as long as two decades, with Williams becoming increasingly vocal in his opposition the last few years. But no one became angered until Hunt took such a fancy to soccer. The Vikings were incensed when Hunt called a soccer press conference, in the stadium shortly before one of their preseason games in Kansas City one year.
Also, Robbie is said to be using some of his Dolphin office staff to work on matters pertaining to his soccer team. Significantly, many NFL executives consider soccer more of a threat than baseball. And the North American Soccer League considers Hunt and Robbie important enough to attack the NFL cross-ownership rule in court.
That trial is expected before year's end. Until then, the courts have ruled, Hunt and Robbie may continue their dual roles, the reasoning being that soccer would be drastically hampered, if not quite doomed, if they were forced out.
Still, according to Rozelle, that case does not affect the Williams issue. And Rozelle insists baseball is more of a threat than soccer, adding: "We're in competition with baseball during our entire preseason and our first seven league games."
Rozelle is reluctant to create even mild controversy with Williams, because he feels the entire situation might well resolve itself before the sale of the Orioles is officially complete.
Williams is the consummate lawyer and intense and wise sportsman. Rozelle questions Williams' skills as a juggler, whether he can successfully manage a large law firm and family, two major sports teams and that dream of a new baseball stadium for his O's.
In addition, if Cooke were to suddenly pop into Williams' office one day, if he hasn't already, and say, "Ah, Ed, this is my team, you know, and I'll be taking it over-- now" Rozelle's problems would be over.
There is no NFL worry over Williams owning minority stock in the Redskins while owning majority stock in the Orioles. The conflict is over being chief operating officer of both.
Ultimately, whether with Williams-- and he seemed adamant about fighting it when he last chose to discuss it publicly-- or with Hunt and Robbie in court, the NFL will tackle cross ownership reasonably soon. Of course, 21 votes could rescind the resolution. But 24 owners voted for it-- and Rozelle offers his complete support.
The NFL has a point. Cross ownership does not cause overwhelming concern about conflict of interest. Certainly not as much as some in other sports. Ted Turner, for instance, owns a pro basketball team and pro baseball team-- and also a television station.That seems an outrageous conflict.
How can the leader of the NBA Players Association, Larry Fleisher, be fair to that group and also act as an agent for many of the highest-salaried players. Donald Dell offers television commentary about the very players and the very sport -- tennis -- he represents.
To an outsider, E. Gregory Hookstratten had all the playbooks during George Allen's negotiations with the Rams last year. He was Allen's lawyer-- and also on the Rams' executive board. In addition, he represented Jack Pardee, Allen's successor as Redskin coach.
So if eyebrows are cocked about NFL cross-ownership conflict, they tilt out of shape at other conflicts, in and out of sports. Probably, NFL arrogance is bursting out here, for such as Abe Pollin have managed to own two sports teams that operate in the same season without anyone being deeply concerned.
But I'll be first in line to see any legal game that advertises Williams v. Rozelle et al.