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Archive for Saturday, September 22, 2001

Money may dictate playoff schedule

Without wild cards, league must refund $60-$80 million to television

September 22, 2001

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— While the NFL still is a few weeks away from finalizing its playoff plans, league officials are confident they won't have to reduce the number of wild-card qualifiers.

If none of its plans for pushing back the Super Bowl pans out, the league is prepared to squeeze in its four first-round wild-card games between the end of the regular season on Jan. 7 and the second round of the playoffs, Jan. 13 and 14.

That means the winners of the wild-card games would have to play three games in 10 days. But the league would rather do that than refund $60 million to $80 million to the networks, which it would have to do if it eliminated four wild-card teams.

While playing three games in 10 days isn't ideal, it beats missing the playoffs.

"If that happens and you're one of those teams, you'll do whatever it takes to get to the Super Bowl," said NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw.

"The players would live with it. The coaches would live with it. Because it would give them a shot at the big ring. That's all they want. They'd know that if they didn't do that, there'd be no shot at all. I'd love to be playing one of those teams the next week, though."

Saints coach Jim Haslett supports "whatever they have to do to keep it at 12 teams."

"The opportunity to play in the postseason is what you want," he said.

For now, the league remains hopeful it can coax the National Automobile Dealerships Association to switch the date of its convention in New Orleans and allow the NFL to move the Super Bowl back a week to Feb. 3.

On Wednesday, NADA executive director David Hyatt said it would be next to impossible to flip-flop dates on four months' notice. But by Thursday afternoon, "impossible" turned to "unlikely."

"I know most of the automobile dealers in the country," said New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, who owned 33 dealerships in New Orleans and San Antonio at one time. "These automobile dealers are flexible. They would be willing to do something because it's an unusual situation we've got."

League officials, including commissioner Paul Tagliabue, vice president of special events Jim Steeg and Benson are scheduled to meet with Hyatt and other NADA officials early next week. A league source said the NFL is prepared to offer the group $5 million to $10 million as an incentive to switch dates.

The NFL also considered moving the Super Bowl back two weeks to Feb. 10. But that would conflict with the city's celebration of Mardi Gras, which is the following Tuesday.

"Everybody understands this is a special circumstance," said Upshaw. "Everyone has to adjust. (Retaining) the 16-game schedule was the most important thing. We'll adjust to everything else."

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Around the league: Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt favors playing the two conference championship games in New Orleans and moving the Super Bowl to another city the following week. Hunt has long been a proponent of playing the conference title games in neutral cities.

Falcons quarterback Chris Chandler is unhappy with coach Dan Reeves' decision to give rookie Michael Vick some snaps in every game. In the Falcons' loss to San Francisco in Week 1, Vick played the second series of each half and probably will do the same vs. Carolina. "I think he is learning quicker by being on the field," said Reeves. "Is it the best situation for Chris? No. I mean, I think if you had any quarterback, the flow of the thing is important in there. But we've got to use everything we possibly can (to win). I think utilizing Mike makes us a better football team."

Giants coach Jim Fassel benched cornerback Dave Thomas, who had a tough night in the Week 1 loss to Denver. The likely replacement will be first-round pick Will Allen.

With the Oct. 16 trade deadline approaching, Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson remains available. Asking price remains the same as it's been for months a third-round draft pick. But no one's biting. The Chiefs had interest, but offered nothing better than a No. 5.

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This and that: Giants GM Ernie Accorsi received a call from a guy who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, which occupied five of the top floors of One World Trade Center. Seven hundred of the company's employees have been missing since the terrorist attacks. The guy who called Accorsi didn't go to work Sept. 11 because he had traveled to Denver to watch his beloved Giants play the Broncos.

Bills QB Rob Johnson was sacked five times by the Saints in Week 1 and GM Tom Donahoe thought many were Johnson's fault. "I think there's a personal responsibility to get rid of the ball quick in some instances," he said. "This offense is set up to get rid of the ball quicker. But he has a tough time giving up on a play."

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Thumbs down: To Tom Condon and Ed Hochuli, the chief negotiators for the NFL Referees Association, for mishandling the labor dispute with the league. The owners were close to scrapping talks before the group's executive committee bypassed Condon and Hochuli and accepted a six-year deal.

Condon, one of the league's top player agents, has a reputation as a tough, but reasonable negotiator. But league sources said he let the militant Hochuli call most of the shots. Hochuli, a lawyer, has been an NFL official for 12 years.

"If Ed hadn't been involved, this thing would have gotten settled in August," said an AFC general manager.

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By the numbers: The Chargers have committed at least one turnover in 24 straight games. Over the last four years, they've turned the ball over 140 times, and have a minus-60 turnover ratio. They had four turnovers in Week 1's 30-3 win over Washington.

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