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TIME RUNS OUT ON PHILLIPS' GAME PLAN TO REVIVE INSTANT REPLAY

Wade Phillips gave it his best shot.

Although he hasn't even begun his first season as coach of the Buffalo Bills, Phillips came up with a last-minute compromise suggestion to resuscitate instant replay during the NFL's annual meetings.

His idea was for the referee to review only end-zone plays without coaches needing to challenge them first. It was discussed, and at one point even appeared to have a chance of being implemented.

But just before the meetings adjourned Wednesday, teams voted on another replay plan -- allowing coaches to challenge two calls per game on all possession plays and touchdowns, with the referee making the final decision by viewing a monitor on the field. It went down to defeat, with 21 of the 30 clubs giving their approval, two shy of the number needed for it to pass.

Most of the nine opponents, which included the Bills, dislike removing the human element from officiating. But several are also against coaches having to challenge calls, and, in the case of the proposal voted on Wednesday, losing a timeout if the challenge fails.

"I'm for replay, but I'm not for coaches being officials," Phillips said. "I mean, I have a hard enough time being a coach, and (with the challenges) they want me to officiate, too."

Phillips' compromise was designed to accomplish two things: 1. Keep the number of reviewed plays -- and the accompanying delays -- to a minimum; 2. Get some form of replay back in the game after a six-year absence, and perhaps add to it in the future. Phillips, who is a rabid hockey fan, patterned the concept after the NHL's replay review of goals.

The end-zone review plan gained some momentum in straw polling Tuesday and Wednesday. However, the league's competition committee wasn't comfortable with putting it to an official vote because there wasn't any research into exactly how many end-zone plays could be potentially reviewed each game.

"I didn't go into the whole background of how many (end-zone) plays there are," Phillips admitted. "And I think that's what the competition committee finally came down to -- it wasn't their idea in the first place. They hadn't researched it, so they just eliminated that."

Others that voted against the two-challenge proposal that was to have been used for only one season were: Arizona, Chicago, Cincinnati, Kansas City, the New York Giants, Oakland, San Diego, and Tampa Bay.

Replay was in effect from 1986-1991 but was voted down in 1992. It has been brought up each year since and voted down every time.

Phillips said he would consider submitting a formal proposal of the end-zone reviews system to the competition committee, so that it would have enough time to research it before next year's meetings.

"Maybe we can get that voted in," he said. "I think we're awfully close."
Bills general manager John Butler spent much of the week here working on extending the contract of quarterback Rob Johnson.

Butler had about a half-dozen meetings with Johnson's agent, Leigh Steinberg, from Monday to Wednesday, when Steinberg departed. No deal was reached, but both sides established financial and structural parameters.

"We've had amicable talks," Butler said. "You always want to set up a line of communications, and the talks will continue."

Johnson, who is due to earn $400,000 this year, becomes an unrestricted free agent after the 1998 season. It is believed Steinberg is seeking a deal that would average $5 million to $6 million per year, including a signing bonus of $8 million to $10 million.

The Bills would like to have Johnson tied to a long-term contract before the start of training camp in July. They are convinced that, with NFL salaries constantly rising, any agreement they reach with him now would save them money in the long run.
Now that the NFL has decided to restore the Cleveland Browns as its 31st franchise for the 1999 season, the next step is to expand to a 32nd city.

Los Angeles is the clear favorite because of its size and the fact it once was the home of the Rams and Raiders. But the absence of a suitable stadium makes it a major question mark. Houston, which lost the Oilers, is another possibility.

And then there is Toronto, which has hosted two American Bowl preseason games (both involving the Bills) and has campaigned hard to become the NFL's first team in a foreign country.

Paul Godfrey, who has headed Toronto's pursuit of an NFL team, was here this week to continue to try to draw attention to his cause. He came as an invited guest of the league, and for the first time, commissioner Paul Tagliabue publicly mentioned Toronto among the serious contenders for expansion.

"I'm encouraged by his words," said Godfrey, who is publisher of the Toronto Sun newspaper. "But I've been on the road, chasing an NFL franchise for eight or nine years now, and I realize that you never get too high or too low whatever the news happens to be. I chased the (baseball) Blue Jays for seven or eight years before we caught that bird."
There was another Western New York element to the meetings besides the Bills.

Representatives of Birdair Inc. of Amherst were on hand to discuss with owners the possibility of building domed stadiums in their cities.

Doug Radcliffe, Birdair's vice president of sales and marketing, said the firm has constructed domes for seven NFL teams and was pursuing several more. He also presented information on a strain of indoor natural grass to replace harder artificial surfaces in domes.
Two minor rules changes were made.

One bans offenses from having 12 men in a huddle, even if the 12th leaves the field before the play starts. It was viewed as an unfair play for offenses to confuse defenses on the type of formations they might use.

The other bans flinching by a defensive lineman in an effort to draw movement from an offensive player, resulting in a 5-yard penalty. This became known as "The Neil Smith Rule," after the Denver defensive end who frequently employed the technique.

Owners narrowed the site for the 2002 Super Bowl to a choice between San Diego and New Orleans.

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