From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 11, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / October 11, 1999

Live from NFL Headquarters in New York City, it’s everybody’s favorite game show – NFL Realignment.

The object of our game is to take 32 NFL teams (welcome to the show, Houston, please leave your entry fee of $700 million at the door) and place them in eight divisions of four teams apiece. You have until 2001 with theplan taking effect in the 2002 season.

Sounds easy enough, right? Not exactly. You see, there are 32 owners whoare used to getting their own way who have their own ideas where their teams should play. But, hey, if baseball could get George Steinbrenner,Marge Schott and Peter Angelos to agree a few years ago on realignment, anything should be possible.

And something has got to be done with the current alignment in the league.

Somebody needs to give the NFL a map. Dallas and Arizona in the NFC East?East of what, California? Atlanta and Carolina in the NFC West? About the only thing they are west of is the Atlantic Ocean. I guess Jacksonville andTampa Bay could be considered to be in the middle of Florida but that’s about it. And the last time St. Louis and New Orleans were considered tobe in the west was before Lewis and Clark set off for the Pacific.

So herewith is one plan for realignment.

NFC West: San Francisco, Arizona, Dallas and Seattle moving over from the AFC. Builds on the already intense rivalry between the 49ers and Cowboys.NFC Central: Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota. Perhaps theeasiest division to create. Those four teams have already created anatural geographical rivalry.

NFC East: Carolina, New York Giants, Philadelphia and Washington. Fourteams that are actually located on the East Coast.

NFC Unnamed: Atlanta, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa Bay. Yes, I knowonly one AFC team is supposed to move, but if we are going to do realignment, why restrict ourselves to conferences when teams play interconference games during the season anyway? Keeps alive the Falcons-Saints rivalry and creates a natural Florida one between the Jaguars and Bucs.

AFC West: Denver, Oakland, Kansas City and San Diego. Four teams thathave been bitter foes since their AFL days.

AFC Central: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. Anothernatural geographical alignment that makes travel easier.

AFC East: Buffalo, Miami, New England and New York Jets. Hate to haveMiami mixed in with all those Northeast teams but, hey, who from that area wouldn’t mind going to Florida during the winter? AFC Unnamed: Baltimore, Houston, St. Louis, Tennessee. Call it the U-HaulDivision. All four teams have moved or replaced moved teams. And if theRams could move from Cleveland to Los Angeles to St. Louis, why not tothe AFC? I know the arguments. You can’t break up the Dallas-Washington rivalry orthe San Francisco-St. Louis (Los Angeles) one. Ok, so here’s what you doabout that. You set aside one or two games a season as rivalry games.Remember, with teams playing only six division games under the realignment as compared to the eight they play now, there will be two more slots on the schedule to fill.

And who knows, in 20 years, who’s to say that the new rivalries will not be just as good as the old ones? It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that teams could move in the next three years, further skewing things.

Whatever happens, the NFL will have a different look in 2002. Maybe themove can even make the Saints Super Bowl contenders. Now, that’s aboutas ridiculous as Arizona in the NFC East.

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