|ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The NFL realigned itself quickly and
amicably Tuesday, skipping the squabbling of the past and leaving
even the uprooted teams saying they were satisfied.
Five of the new divisions will have basically the same makeup
and the most drastic step is moving Seattle from the AFC West to
the NFC West.
"We couldn't look at personal choices," said Dan Rooney,
president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who shifted to the AFC when
the NFL and AFL merged in 1970. "A lot of people wanted a lot of
things. I think this is best for everyone."
What was best for the league, as it turned out, was a relatively
painless shift to eight four-team divisions for 2002, when Houston
will rejoin the league as an expansion franchise -- in the same
division as Tennessee, which left Houston after the 1996 season.
The Seahawks made a token argument against the shift but said
afterward they were delighted. They must have been -- the vote was
"I think it's really good for the league," Seattle president
Bob Whitsitt said. "It's also good for the Seahawks."
The new format is the one considered the most likely when the
NFL announced almost two years ago that it would realign into eight
divisions from the current six.
Five of the new divisions will have all four teams from the old
alignment and another will have three -- the new NFC South, which
contains three teams from the old NFC West. Each conference will
have a North, South, East and West division and most of the
divisions are relatively compact geographically, unlike the old
lineup, which had Arizona in the East and Atlanta and Carolina in
In addition to Seattle, the team most affected may be the
Cardinals, who move out the same division with Dallas, the only
team to draw capacity crowds in the desert. Arizona owner Bill
Bidwill fought hard to stay in the same division with the Cowboys
but said he was happy after the league agreed to a new scheduling
format for exhibition games that will retain old rivalries.
The Houston-Tennessee matchup wasn't a surprise, particularly
since Baltimore, which left Cleveland in 1995, has been in the same
division as the expansion Browns and will continue to be paired
"I think it was decided two years ago when we came into the
league," Texans' general manager Charley Casserly said.
Bidwill was even happier after Dallas owner Jerry Jones said he
would be glad to play the Cardinals in an exhibition game every
year they aren't scheduled to play in the regular season.
"I'm very happy that Jerry agreed to do that," Bidwill said.
"The NFC West fits for us geographically."
Whitsitt said the same, noting that the Seahawks will have
preseason games against the Broncos, Chargers, Chiefs and Raiders,
whom they've met in the regular season so often.
Another plus for most of the owners is the new scheduling
format, under which every team will meet every other at least once
in four years. There will be six home-and-home divisional games;
four against teams in another division within a conference; and
four more against a division in the other conference on a rotating
The final two games will be against conference teams based on
the previous year's standings -- first against first, second against
second ,and so on.
The exact format for the playoffs hasn't been decided yet. For
the time being, the number of teams will stay at six from each
conference -- the four division winners (instead of three under the old format) and two wild cards (instead of three).
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said the league will consider
expanding the number of playoff teams to 14.
The biggest surprise in the plan was the speed with which it was
Although various proposals had been under study for 18 months,
no vote was expected until Thursday. But there was only an hour's
debate and the consensus was to get it over with.
"I think everyone realized that everything that could be said
had been said," Tagliabue said.
There also were the memories of the problems of the last
realignment 31 years ago, brought to the fore by old-timers like
Rooney, the Giants' Wellington Mara and Baltimore's Art Modell.
"That old realignment was the toughest thing I've been
through," said the 84-year-old Mara, who has been involved with
the NFL since starting as a ball boy for the Giants when his father
bought the team in 1925.
Dallas, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Washington
Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Tampa Bay
Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota
Arizona, St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle
Buffalo, Miami, New England, NY Jets
Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Tennessee
Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh
Denver, Kansas City, Oakland, San Diego