The magic spell
The commissioner of the NFL, Paul Tagliabue, was holding a formal press conference downstairs.
The pain in the butt of the NFL was holding an impromptu press conference upstairs--in a hallway at the D-FW Airport Hilton.
Only about seven reporters were in attendance. But some worked for very big and important media mouths, providing evidence of how a single NFL owner could grab the spotlight just by walking down the hall.
I, of course, am not talking about Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell--who up and decided to uproot a fabled franchise and move it halfway across the country.
I am talking about the bigger troublemaker: Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who managed, through circumstance and lawsuit, to be the center of attention at these two-day meetings of NFL owners here last week.
The headline-grabbing move of the Browns to Baltimore threatened to upstage him.
So, for the first time, I decided to study the King of the Cowboys--how he spoke; how sincere he seemed; how perfectly dressed he is for a man who lives life with such abandon; and how he's starting to act like Ross Perot, except his charts mean even less.
As I walked up to his impromptu press briefing, Jerry was holding a folded press release with black hen-pen scratch all over it. He held the paper up for the reporters to make his point--something about why his plan for revenue sharing will work in the NFL.
The writers just stood there, clueless about how this piece of paper had to do with anything but adding to the landfill.
As the reporters asked questions, Jones just kept doodling, scratching, then holding his paper up for more perusal as if the lines and circles made any sense.
How could his free-market plan help small-market teams remain competitive? someone asked.
"Well," said Jer, smiling from his make-believe pulpit like a preacher who's just heard your profession of faith in Jesus and the Dallas Cowboys, "my surveys show--and they're pretty sophisticated--that Green Bay shows the ability to be a great national market."
Green Bay, of course, is a publicly owned team in what is easily the league's smallest market.
But Jones' example failed to make his point. The Packers' fabled football history has for years placed them near the top in merchandise sales. No surprise from the secret Jones "surveys" there.
"But Green Bay has the tradition," noted a reporter.
Jones jumped back to explaining how his plan works, again holding up his chart. He drew three or five more lines across the paper, illuminating absolutely nothing except Jones' fondness for using props.
At this point, while talking to the guy next to him, Jones began staring at me. He kept at it for what seemed like minutes. Was he trying to figure out who I was? Was the anti-Murchison trying to mark me as one of his own?
Finally I looked down before a Nike swoosh burned into my butt, placing me forever under his spell.
A reporter asked Jerry something quietly.
"Ah, you almost got me on that one," Jones laughed affectedly, in response to the easy question. "I answered you before your go."
I have no idea what that meant.
But some in the group laughed with the Cowboys' owner. Ha. Ha. Ha. Chuckle. Chuckle.
Come to think of it, they all laughed with Jerry. Maybe they'd already been swoosh-butted and marked as his own.
As Jerry continued talking and scribbling, talking and scribbling, I walked off, bored with the same old quotes.
Downstairs, the commish was defending the NFL. "It is a priority for us to stay out of court," Tagliabue declared. "It is a priority for the whole league to stay out of court. We have stayed out of the courts for six years."
So it's come to this: a sports commissioner bragging about his league by boasting of how long it's kept out of court. That "out of court" reference, by the way, applies to how long it's been since the NFL has sued anyone, not how long since it's been sued.
The Browns move is a "PR jolt, a psychological jolt," he said, but Baltimore is a great old football city just like Cleveland, and it needs a team too.
"If that's the case," asked a reporter, "then why was Baltimore ignored in the expansion?"
A NFL PR caretaker stopped it right there. That's all the questions there will be, he said. Tagliabue mumbled something about how he's not gonna answer that one and laughed, trying to chuckle everyone up about it.
Ha. Ha. Ha. Chuckle. Chuckle. Some of the reporters laugh with Paul.
Jones had another press conference scheduled for later in the day at Valley Ranch. There, the media cars and trucks were snaking way out into the street, past what the Ticket's Mike Rhyner has come to call "the Pepsi Compound."
The consensus at the Ranch is that this is the most media attention the 'Boys have gotten since the last Super Bowl. All over money, not football.
There, just a hop, skip, and a lawsuit away from the hotel, Jerry began another press conference, this time for the outrageous media throng drawn to Valley Ranch because the Cowboys and 49ers were on the schedule for Sunday.
Jerry answered a question about teams making less money than the Cowboys. He answered it the usual way. Then someone asked about Jerry's plan for small-market teams.
He deflected it with another "oh, you almost got me again, there, podner."
Ha. Ha. Ha. Chuckle. Chuckle. Some in the room do not crack a smile. They are tired of this shit. Others laugh with their buddy Jer.
Perhaps they have already been stared down, swoosh-butted, and marked as his own.
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