The reign of Tagliabue in Wonderland grows curiouser and curiouser. Somewhere on Paul Tagliabue's happy tumble through the NFL looking glass, a few things became rather muddled. The owners said they were happy to vote for a lawyer. Sir, they didn't vote for your confirmation to the Supreme Court. They wanted policies of delicate diplomacy, not destroy-the-village-in-order-to-save-it. And oh yes, that title they gave you was commissioner, not cardinal.
After a mere public relations expert has steered the league on a perilous but thriving course almost forever, it probably did sound inviting to have an attorney at the Wonderland dance. The problem is they got a brilliant coach whose Bill of Rights playbook begins on page two.
The man has a little trouble with that amendment that comes first.
I have no intention of continuing a crusade about the league's edict against point spreads on pregame shows. You fans can get such data right here. And on several hundred other locations on newstands and dials. In fact, I can boast with pride that I haven't corrupted a single soul into the depths of poverty or dreams of glory. It's hard to do either when you're .500.
But things became more serious when the networks were asked to scramble their signals in order to prevent dastardly satellite owners from watching games. This may have been a logical prelude to the pay-per-view era down the looking glass road. But to their credit, the networks resisted.
This week came the most bizarre concept. Jerry Glanville was issued a "warning" for calling rival coach Jack Pardee a jerk. One more such remark and Glanville gets fined. A third and, heaven forbid, he loses a draft choice.
It goes without saying that the gutsy Pardee, who has beaten cancer among other foes, doesn't need an avenging posse from 410 Park Ave. to defend him. His comebacks to Glanville were as amusing and entertaining to fans as the original attack. And that raises the main question: When the fans get cheated out of harmless wordplay that enlivens rivalries, where are we headed?
Welcome, Alice, to the Wonderland where Chuck Noll perceives cheap shots from a Glanville team and is forced by rules to shake his hand in humble supplication rather than scream at him at midfield on television. When Buddy Ryan and Mike Ditka face one another now, perhaps they will don uniforms designed by Laura Ashley. Remember the wonderful fun of the old rivalries -- Redskins and Cowboys, Raiders and Chiefs -- when personalities almost always overshadowed blackboards?
I do not know if the grand commissioner invented this rule or embellished on a dormant one. I do not suggest that it would help if he would revert to one custom of his predecessor, Pete Rozelle. Tagliabue may be a noble leader in the long run. But Rozelle did have his own very long run. And he did it partly by knowing when to lighten up.
Speaking of laughs, I'm ready to carry the tattered flag of mediocrity into Week 3. And whether the result is triumph or retreat, demonstrations will be tolerated, up to and including the word "jerk."
The Eagles, who are receiving 5 1/2 from the Rams in Anaheim, got their much-missed tight end Keith Jackson back this week. He may not do very much this soon, but I'd love them even without him. Philadelphia has won eight of its last 11 efforts at NFC West fields since 1988, and the Eagles are notoriously strong road underdogs.
For some reason, underdogs also do very well each year in the first Ram home game against the NFC East. Does that hold great significance? Of course not. What matters is that this may be the end of the Eagles' season and Buddy Ryan's tenure. It won't happen. Eagles plus the 5 1/2.
The Bears, giving 2 to the Vikings at Soldier Field, may be back near their old form. Then again, they may be a mirage. After all, they started fast last season and limped to the wire 6-10. For now, I'll accept their blazing starts -- they are 11-5 covering in the first month of the season since 1984 -- and I'll worry later about the finish. Every stat says the Vikings tend to lose competitive games on the road. And consider the coaches. Bears minus the 2.
The Saints are 9 over the Cardinals in the Dome. I love games involving bad teams. But this isn't even the worst one I have in mind this week. However, Phoenix is the potential MOTO, or "Master of the Obvious." Every amateur in the world expects them to let down after their huge victory in Philly last week. I think the result could be less depressing than euphoric. And I certainly won't lay 9 on a team still searching for that elusive isotope called a touchdown. Cardinals plus 9.
I promised and here it is. A worse game. The Oilers are 9 over the Colts in a veritable goodwill game. In other words, this one could make viewers reflect that the Goodwill Games weren't so boring after all. All stats are negative in this affair. But the price is too high, and I believe the Colts are becoming a happier bunch every week without that great team player, Eric Dickerson. Colts plus 9.
Monday Night Special: The Bills are 1 1/2 over the Jets in New Jersey. Even in their saddest days, the Jets have been competitive on national TV. The dog is 12-2 in Jet TV games at home. The Bills must prove they can talk to one another before I'll let them talk to me. Jets plus 1 1/2.
Last Week: The Bears, getting 3 in Green Bay, romped, 31-13. Those fighting Patriots, getting 3 in Indianapolis, overwhelmed, well, sort of, the Colts, 16-14. The Bucs, taking 3, were overmatched by the Rams, 35-14. The Jets, a 2-point home dog against a struggling Cleveland club, won outright, 24-21. Then, alas, the Chargers discovered new ways to not score from inside the 10; getting 2 1/2, they bowed to the Bengals, 21-16.
Total for Week: 3-2.
Total for Season: 5-5. Nobody promised Wonderland. Next week will you settle for Oz?