Good grief, Charlie Brown, the sky is falling and the big bad wolf is going to huff and puff and blow the house down. Get the women and children to the lifeboats first. The forces of anarchy are at the doorstep of pro football. America as we know it may never be the same. God forbid, soccer!
Excuse the panic, please, but I returned only minutes ago from a Super Bowl press conference at which Pete Rozelle, the preeminent pigskin pooh-bah, painied a dark picture of the National Football league's future. What he said, basically, is that the league is going to hell in a handbasket if that low culprit, that conniving scoundrel, that Al Davis, gets his way and moves the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles without the league's permission.
"I always considered Al a charming rogue," Rozelle said of the Oakland managing general partner who is part of a $160 million lawsuit against the NFL even as his team plays in the league's championship game this Sunday.
"But in this instance, in my judgment, he has gone to outlaw."
High Noon at the Superdome.
Outlaw Al, six-gun on his hip and sneer on his lip, comes rolling into the big barn, eyes flickering side to side in search of the sheriff, Pistol Pete.
"This place ain't big enough for the two of us," Outlaw Al says.
"Get out of town," Pistol Pete says. "Get out of here before sundown, or before the last Schlitz taste test, whichever comes first."
"I ain't leavin' til I get what I came for," Al says. "I want that trophy, and I want you to give it to me on national television."
Now, Pete Rozelle is smoother than Teflon. He invented suave. Should Oakland defeat Philadelphia in the Super Bowl, Rozelle will smoothly, suavely carry out his commissioner's duty of presenting the silver Lombardi Trophy to the owner's of the winning team -- Al Davis.
At his press conference today, Rozelle said he would have no trouble handing over the trophy to the man who is, in practically every way, the embodiment of everything the NFL loathes.
This is Rozelle Cary Grant, only more elegant. He has fingernails so shiny you want to look for the light bulbs under them. He speaks in lawyerese.
This is Davis: the Fonz at 50, gone wrong. The greased d.a. haircut, the dark glasses, the blue tux shirt worn at midday. You see this guy coming, first thing you do is send your sister out of town.
Still, the commissioner said he would have no problems presenting his league's ultimate reward to the Oakland owner. Rozelle said he would give over the trophy as tribute to the team Davis built, as tribute to the coaching of Tom Flores and as tribute to all the Oakland players, especially Jim Plunkett. In other words, Rozelle would not say he was giving the trophy to Al Davis.
The Invisible Man at the Superdome.
As NBC brings America into the Oakland locker room, Pete Rozelle hefts the 2 1/2-foot tall Lombardi Trophy.
"With pleasure, I present this trophy to the Oakland Raiders," Rozelle says. "All the Raiders, especially Jim Plunkett, have made a thrilling comeback this season and have made the city of Oakland proud."
Bryant Gumbel smiles as Rozelle, reaching across him, lets go of the trophy and it is suspended in midair.
Next thing you know, a pair of dark glasses seem to float into place above the trophy and a voice is saying, "See you in court, Pistol Pete."
What we have here is a classic confrontation of business and sport.
Because baseball has an antitrust exemption, granted by Congress in a fit of sports passion, its commissioner, Bowie Kuhn, can exercise total control over both leagues. He could tell Charlie O. Finley to jump, and a federal judge would tell Finley how high.
Football has no such exemption. That means Rozelle's power to act "in the best interests of the game" -- the language in Kuhn's charter -- can be challenged in court. When the NFL owners cited their constitution and denied Davis the 21-of-28 vote that would approve the shift of a franchise, Davis and the Los Angeles Coliseum filed their $160 million antitrust suit. d
Free enterprise, the good old American way of business, insists that you can set up your business on any corner you want.
But sports, to most Americans, is not a business. It doesn't make any difference if football and baseball do hundreds of millions of dollars of business. They are still games in the public's mind. These teams don't belong to men who pay the bills. The teams belong to the fans.
So when Davis said he would move his sport-business to another corner, everyone went crazy. Oakland has sold out more than 50,000 seats for every game for the last dozen years. Twenty of 22 voting owners denied Davis the right to move, saying it would be a betrayal of the Oakland fans. They saw Davis as greedy, robbing Oakland to move into a richer market.
The NFL's position is that Davis, when he bought the Raiders, agreed to the league rules. The league says that if he is allowed to pick and choose which rules he will obey, destruction would follow shortly.
"If Al Davis is allowed to do this," Rozelle said, "we would have anarchy." Rozelle sees teams signing college players before their eligibility is up, he sees teams cheating on cable and pay TV, he even sees teams choosing which teams they would play.
Yes, Pete Rozelle has crossed Al Davis off his Valentine list. Davis long ago was removed from the rules committee: he long ago refused to donate his team's share of money to NFL Charities, and Rozelle said today he believed Davis instigated the George Atkinson lawsuit against Pittsburgh Coach Chuck Noll, a lawsuit that embarrassed the league by demonstrating it was not one big happy socialistic family.
Besides which, the commissioner is infuriated by Davis' recent claims that Rozelle scalped Super Bowl tickets. Rozelle said he would have his lawyer look at Davis' allegations to see if legal action for defamation is warrented. l
Now there is an idea. Maybe Rozelle's lawyer could present the trophy to Davis' lawyer. Only in America.