The clock is ticking for Los Angeles, and unless there is a dramatic breakthrough on a new stadium financing plan that will include some public funding in the next few weeks, the NFL will place its 32nd franchise in Houston.

At the owners' meeting last March, Los Angeles, without a franchise since 1994, was given until Sept. 15 to settle on one stadium site and preferably one ownership group.

Instead, serious financing problems have plagued what was the leading location -- the current site of the Coliseum -- and the league two weeks ago announced that it should no longer be the primary focus. Denver billionaire Marvin Davis has an option on 100 acres near Hollywood Park racetrack, though that possibility remains remote.

There is even talk about looking again at Carson, Calif., a site first proposed by Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz, who also headed a group trying to get a new franchise. The city of Carson was willing to contribute public funds to the project, which included a retail and commercial component as well.

League sources said Monday that there was some progress last week involving the Coliseum site, but that there may not be enough time or public money to get it done in time for the Sept. 15 deadline. The last six months have been filled with squabbling and inaction, including the resignation of Gov. Gray Davis's special appointee to represent the state in its dealings with the NFL.

"They tell us they've got it solved, and when they show us what the solution is, there is no solution," one league source said this week. "They're trying to dictate terms to us and some of them don't really seem to understand that we have an extremely viable option in Houston, and we can settle Los Angeles in a different way."

Houston has its stadium financing, including $195 million in public money, for a $310 million stadium adjacent to the Astrodome. Robert McNair, a wealthy Houston businessman, has made a lot of friends among league owners, many of whom have said he would have no difficulty being approved.

The leading ownership group in Los Angeles is headed by financier Eli Broad and developer Ed Roski. They've proposed paying a $550 million franchise fee for the team, and $400 to renovate the Coliseum. League sources say the NFL will decide the franchise fee, not Broad and Roski. The NFL wants a stadium that will offer any new owner a low rent as well as control of the facility and parking and concession money. Meanwhile, McNair is biding his time in Houston.

"I try not to get too excited because the deadline is September 15th and anything can happen between now and then," McNair said recently. "But as the days pass, there is less and less opportunity for something to happen [in Los Angeles]."

McKenzie's Fire

Raleigh McKenzie, who played on two Super Bowl championship teams with the Washington Redskins, joined Green Bay as an unrestricted free agent this year after spending the last two years with San Diego. McKenzie, 36 and in his 15th season, will start at left guard after the free agency departure of Adam Timmerman to St. Louis.

McKenzie left camp earlier this month to return to Herndon when his home burned to the ground. He had rented the house to Redskins back-up quarterback Casey Weldon and his family, and according to McKenzie, smoldering charcoal from a grill on the deck ignited the blaze. No one was injured, but the house was destroyed.

"I had some memorabilia down in the basement, and it had some water damage, but we were able to save a lot of it, footballs and things like that," McKenzie said. "You just thank God no one was hurt, but we lost a lot of stuff."

McKenzie signed a four-year, $6 million deal with the Packers, including a $1.8 million signing bonus. His twin brother, Reggie, a former linebacker with the Oakland Raiders, is the team's director of pro personnel, a career Raleigh said he may pursue when he retires. "I may just have to hit him up for a job," Raleigh said.

Down on McNown

Chicago has been pleased with first-round quarterback Cade McNown, but apparently some of his teammates were not happy with what they believe has been finger-pointing when something goes wrong. The Chicago Tribune quoted an unnamed player this week as saying "nothing ever seems to be his fault."

McNown tried to defuse the criticism, saying he knows he occasionally comes across in a manner he doesn't intend and is trying to improve in that area.

"I think I do that sometimes," he told the Tribune. "It's something I try to contain. I want to make sure everything is right. Then if I make all my reads and do everything right and somebody else messes up, I have to be understanding because they're learning the stuff, too." . . .

Philadelphia is still planning to start veteran journeyman Doug Pederson as quarterback against the Giants in the season opener, even as its fickle fans clamor for first-round pick Donovan McNabb. Ironically, McNabb's selection was widely criticized by Philadelphia fans and media, who preferred running back Ricky Williams. . . . Kansas City Coach Guenther Cunningham on Cris Dishman, who played corner the last two years with the Redskins: "He's my kind of guy. He's a nasty son of a gun. You're blessed once in a while to get a player with that kind of attitude, character and toughness."