September 6, 2000
by Dave Sabo
When last we met, I had recommended moving Seattle to the NFC. By moving them, each conference would have 16 teams easily divisible into 4 divisions of 4 teams each. So, who goes where and why?
Let’s start with the AFC Northeast (Baltimore, Buffalo, New England, New York). This is the core of the current AFC East (Buffalo, New England and New York) minus Indianapolis and Miami. Baltimore moves in from the AFC Central. Logically, Indianapolis and Miami get the boot due to geography. Still bitter Baltimorans wielding 2 X 4’s and tire irons will deal with any moaning from Colt’s owner, Jim Irsay. Also, the announcement of Indy’s division move will be made at the crack of dawn in Owings Mills, MD. From the back of a Mayflower moving van. In a snowstorm.
Miami is sure to ask what they’ve done to deserve losing intense, established rivalries. For one thing, they hired Jimmy Johnson. That alone qualifies them for expulsion. As does their utter lack of a running game since the days of Czonka and Kiick and their treatment of Don Shula and Dan Marino at the end of their careers. Plus, I don’t like that grinnin’ dolphin on their helmets.
Baltimore owner Art Modell will still be far too busy trying to figure out what happened to that huge bag o’ cash that the State of Maryland threw at him to move the Browns that he’ll fail to realize the change in divisions. Besides, anybody that’s evidently too stupid to figure out how to make money owning the Browns in Cleveland should be happy the NFL lets him continue owning a team.
The AFC South (Houston, Jacksonville, Miami, Tennessee) will be the home for wayward franchises (Miami and Tennessee) and recent expansion teams (Houston and Jacksonville). I’ve already explained why Miami is here and Jacksonville is in due to geography and lack of established rivalries (although Jags/Titans is getting pretty ugly). Do you even need to ask why Tennessee and Houston wind up in the same division? Tennessee needs to be moved out of the current AFC Central on principle alone. That’ll be enough to send Bud screaming to the League offices about losing his “traditional” rivalries with Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Once NFL officials stop laughing at the roadkill stapled to his head, they’ll explain that, “traditionally” the Titans used to play in Houston. And were called the Oilers. They’ll explain that they figured that since he was so eager to move his team geographically, he probably wouldn’t mind if they moved it divisionally. They’ll explain that payback is a bitch. A final factor in moving Tennessee is their aforementioned growing rivalry with Jacksonville and the built-in animosity in regards to Houston.
I had a hard time deciding against putting Houston in a reformed AFC Central, but it had to be done. Geography dictates it and, after thinking about it, I decided that it just wouldn’t be
the same. The Oilers are gone. And they’re not coming back. Even getting Bud to give up the name and logo and colors wouldn’t do it for me at this point. It’s all been tainted. That said, we’ve got a completely new and different team coming in 2002 and I think it’s best to make a clean break from the past and start fresh. And if we get to stomp a mudhole in Bud’s Boys twice a year, all the better.
The new AFC Midwest (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh) is simply the current AFC Central less the newbie (Jacksonville) and a couple of free agent franchises (Tennessee and Baltimore). Add geographically desirable Indianapolis and you’re done. With the exception of Bud, there should be little complaining unless Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati see Indy coming in and realize they’re gonna be looking up at them in the standings for about the next 5 years. Hey, that’s what you get for making the worst deal possible for your expansion franchise, failing to realize that the definition of inept is “Kordell Stewart” (or “Kent Graham” for that matter) and being well, the Bengals. If Irsay is too stupid to realize that he’ll own this division for the near future, League officials will be allowed to drag him down to the executive washroom, give him a swirlie and duct tape him, upside down, to the flagpole.
Now, for the current five-team AFC West. Flip Seattle over to the NFC and that leaves the four current members (Oakland, Kansas City, San Diego, and Denver) in the new AFC West. Why any of the remaining four would complain is beyond me, although, you can never tell with Oakland owner, Al Davis. Doesn’t really matter, though, since the League stopped listening to him after his threat to move the Raiders BACK to Los Angeles. More than likely, all four franchises will happily continue popping each other’s knees and cracking skulls.
The new NFC Atlantic Division (Carolina, New York, Philadelphia, Washington) is made up of current NFC residents New York, Philadelphia and Washington. Geographically challenged Carolina moves in from the NFC West. This division was, by far, the most enjoyable to align simply because moving Dallas and Arizona out of the NFC East and into two separate divisions will drive two of the sorriest owners in NFL history berserk! The Bidwell family, which has owned the Cardinals since 1947, has been unable to make a go of it in 3 different cities. Their team plays in a college stadium, went 52 years without winning a playoff game and has been reduced to begging the league to keep them in the same division as Dallas so they can sell out at least one game every season. Honestly, they should be happy the NFL doesn’t replace them with the NFLE’s Rhein Fire.
Jerry Jones, on the other hand, has had great success as owner of the Cowboys both on-field and off. However, Ol’ Yella Teeth’s role in their on-field success has been virtually nil. Let’s face it, the man could write what he knows about football on the back of a matchbook cover with a crayon; a fact that will be proven in the coming decade when he discovers that he doesn’t have Herschel Walker to trade to the Vikings for 27 first-round draft choices. What he DOES have is a reputation as an arrogant, money-grubbing jackass that believes the rules don’t apply to him. I have a hunch that some other owners haven’t forgotten his outside deals with Pepsi and Nike and wouldn’t mind taking him down a notch or two.
New Washington owner Daniel Snyder, may start squawking about losing the ‘Skins rivalry with Dallas, but who outside DC and Dallas cares?! The sooner that smarmy little SOB gets put in his place, the better. Mark my words; when it comes to arrogance, money-grubbing and trashing tradition and legacy, when all is said and done, Danny Boy is gonna make Ol’ Yella Teeth look like a piker.
The NFC South Division (Atlanta, Dallas, New Orleans, Tampa Bay) will be the NEW home of the Dallas Cowboys where, for the near future, they can revel in finishing second behind Tampa Bay or third behind Tampa Bay and Atlanta (depending on whether or not the Falcons can keep Jamal Anderson’s knee intact and guys like Tony Graziani from under center). Adding New Orleans to the NFC South will finally put the three most misplaced teams in the NFL in a geographically logical division as well as giving Saints owner, Tom Benson, that Texas rival he’s been dreaming about.
The NFC Midwest Division (Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota) is as simple to form as the AFC West. Simply send the ’76 expansion team, Tampa Bay, to the new NFC South and enjoy the second coming of the NFC’s old “Black and Blue” Division. I don’t foresee much complaint from Tampa Bay as they’ll most likely own the NFC South. Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota don’t have to let worrying about how to beat Tampa Bay get in the way of beating each other senseless.
That just leaves Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco. Seattle comes over from the AFC and that’s the new NFC West. San Francisco may complain, but everyone will probably just ignore it. Like they do Jerry Rice.
If the whining and crying from Bidwell gets to be too much, Dallas COULD be swapped with St. Louis, but why reward a guy for being a crummy owner? Besides, he’s gonna try and move his franchise to Los Angeles when voters deny him his new stadium in November.
Scheduling will be a snap. Using Houston as an example, in 2002, they’d play a home and home with Jacksonville, Miami and Tennessee. That’s 6 games. They’d play 4 games against the AFC Midwest and 4 against the NFC Midwest. That’s 14 games. Non-divisional games would rotate on a 3-year, intra-conference and a 4-year, inter-conference schedule. That leaves 2 games to schedule a “rival” every year. Pittsburgh, Dallas, whoever.
So, there you have it, The Sabo 2002 NFL Realignment Plan! All kidding aside, this is a VERY workable plan that, thanks to more flexible scheduling, can address any complaints from the aforementioned owners. Here’s to the League adopting this or something very similar.
In closing, I ‘d just like to thank those who responded to last week’s column. Your input and kind words were very much appreciated!
Dave Sabo is an Archives Specialist with the National Archives and Records Administration. A native of Spring, TX and a life-long Oiler fan now languishing in the heart of Redskins country (Laurel, MD), Dave is utterly convinced that new ‘Skins owner, Daniel Snyder, is, indeed, the anti-Christ.