THE National Football League, at a meeting in Chicago today, will select two cities from a group of five to become expansion sites in 1995.
Some observers speculate that there may be strong sentiment within the league to award at least one of the franchises to St. Louis or Baltimore, cities that once had teams. San Francisco 49ers-owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., a member of the expansion committee, denies that this factor has been given any consideration, and says that all five candidate cities (the others are Jacksonville, Fla., Charlotte, N.C., and Memphis, Tenn.) have made strong presentations.
In the last-minute jockeying that has proceeded the day of decision, the Charlotte ownership group has raced in with what it hopes will be a winning offer - the highest guarantee ($1.2 million per game) to visiting teams. Charlotte upped its ante after retracting a request to exempt luxury-seat revenues from the shared pot.
Memphis, a city with no established record of supporting major professional sports, may nonetheless be attractive as a new frontier for the league. Elvis Presley's estate has joined the ownership consortium, adding a bit of intrigue and financial clout and prompting talk of naming a team the Hound Dogs. `Big' man on a little campus
Among colleges fielding varsity football programs, Principia College in Elsah, Ill., has one of the smallest pools of male students (230) in the country from which to draw. This, no doubt, has contributed to the school's historical struggles in the sport (three wins during the previous three seasons). But as the end of the 1993 season draws near, the campus is engrossed by the exploits of senior wide receiver Matt Newton, a multisport star.
With 13 catches in a 35-29 loss to visiting Earlham College (of Indiana) on Saturday, he became the National Collegiate Athletic Association's most prolific pass catcher at the Division III level, bringing his total receptions to 264. That put him within hailing distance of the all-divisions, all-time record held by Jerry Rice, who has become a superlative pass-catcher with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers since making 301 receptions at Mississippi Valley State. Rice benefited from playing in more games than Newton will: Principia has only eight or nine football dates each year. Assistant coach Darren Poznick says Principia's six-foot, 195-lb. All-American has ``unbelievable hands,'' and not even double coverage has prevented Poznick's brother, quarterback Jason, from making regular connections with his favorite target of the last four years. The two have become kindred spirits in executing the ``Run-and-Shoot'' offense, which relies on a great deal of intuition in dissecting defenses. The results for the team have been positive, too, as Principia is now 3-3 heading into its last two games. Son's NFL team not like father's
David Shula may yet prove he possesses the same Midas coaching touch as his father, Don. But for the moment, their pro football teams are headed in opposite directions.
David's Cincinnati Bengals, winless after seven games, have been called the ``Bungles.'' Don, meanwhile, already a Hall of Famer, has gotten off to a good start in this, his 31st NFL season. His Miami Dolphins are 5-1. They defeated Indianapolis Sunday night, 41-27, with the team's highest point total in six years. It was an impressive outing for quarterback Scott Mitchell, who has replaced injured starter Dan Marino. Don is now within a victory of equaling George Halas's NFL record 324 wins with the Chicago Bears. As much as he might like to help his son, professional integrity (i.e., conflict of interest) prevents offering advice.
David became the NFL's youngest head coach at age 32 last year, a distinction once held by Don, who was 33 when he took over the Baltimore Colts in 1963. The Bengals made incremental improvement last year - from a franchise-worst 3-13 to 5-11 - but even with a three-year contract, he may need an immediate turnaround to save his job. Touching other bases
* What's the most frustrated sports city in America? Perhaps Atlanta. No major professional team with an Atlanta address has ever won a championship: not the Braves, since moving from Milwaukee after the 1965 season; not the National Basketball Association's Hawks, since arriving from St. Louis in 1968; and not the football Falcons, who have made the playoffs just four times in 27 seasons. Hockey's Flames moved to Calgary, Alberta, in 1980 after eight uneventful seasons in Atlanta. It's good that Atlanta got the 1996 Centennial Olympics. The city needs a lift.
* The mascot for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics has a new name - Izzy. Sunday's Parade magazine was used to trumpet the official announcement. ``Izzy'' was the choice of many children, whose input was sought in coming up with something a little catchier than ``Whatizzit,'' the former name for the cartoonish creation.