- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Change doesn't usually happen fast in the NFL. It took 23 ballots for Pete Rozelle to be elected commissioner. The expansion process that eventually yielded teams in Carolina and Jacksonville dragged on for years. It took 15 years for instant replay to be approved for more than one season at a time.
So it was surprising yesterday when the NFL owners, meeting in Chicago, unanimously voted to realign the league two days ahead of schedule. The owners were supposed to discuss the issue yesterday and vote today but apparently had done enough talking at a March meeting in Palm Desert, Calif.
"Everyone realized that everything that could be said had been said," NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.
Washington will remain in the NFC East along with longtime rivals Dallas, the New York Giants and Philadelphia. Arizona will shift to the NFC West after this season.
Baltimore will stick with AFC Central foes Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh in the renamed AFC North.
Seattle will be the only team to switch conferences, moving from the AFC West to NFC West.
The switch to eight divisions of four teams will return the NFC Central (Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota in the renamed NFC North) and the AFC West (Denver, Kansas City, Oakland and San Diego) to the long-standing quartets that were modified with the league's 1976 expansion to Seattle and Tampa Bay.
Buffalo, Miami, New England and the New York Jets of the AFC East will remain division rivals, as they have been since 1966. St. Louis (formerly Los Angeles) and San Francisco, division foes since 1949, will remain in the NFC West. And other than the treasured Dallas-Washington rivalry, the realignment makes much more sense geographically. The Chiefs and Rams are the only teams that will have a minimum of two games each season at least two time zones from home.
Ultimately, even the teams most affected by the realignment went along with the plan, which will go into effect in 2002 when Houston becomes the 32nd franchise.
"You don't get too worked up about it because someone is going to have to do it," Seattle general manager/coach Mike Holmgren said about the Seahawks' switch. "You can establish [new] rivalries in a hurry."
The Cardinals, who have been in the NFC East since the division was created in 1970, didn't want to lose their annual sold-out visit from the Cowboys. However, Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill lost much of his leverage by moving his franchise from St. Louis to Arizona in 1988.
Indianapolis, an AFC East member since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, would have preferred to stay put or join the AFC North but will join Houston and current AFC Central teams Jacksonville and Tennessee in the new AFC South. Like the Seahawks, it was last-in, first-out for the Colts, who didn't help their case by abandoning Baltimore in 1984.
Tampa Bay, in the NFC Central for 24 years, will gladly exchange its annual trips to often-frigid Chicago and Green Bay for the quick hops to currently miscast NFC West teams Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans in the new NFC South. Neither the Falcons nor Saints complained about losing their annual trek to San Francisco.
Tennessee has been in the AFC Central for 31 years but relinquished its vote to the commissioner as a consequence of its 1997 move from Houston. Tagliabue also controlled the votes of St. Louis (thanks to its 1995 move from Los Angeles), Baltimore (which moved from Cleveland in 1996) and Houston.
Under the new setup, each team will play six games in its division, four against another division in its conference, four against a division from the other conference (as is currently the case) and two against the other two teams in its conference that finished in the same place the previous season.
For example, the Redskins will continue their annual home-and-home series with the Cowboys, Giants and Eagles. For instance, if Washington finished third in the NFC East and was scheduled to play the NFC West the next year, it would also face the third-place teams from the NFC South and North, as well as the teams from one of the AFC divisions.
All teams will play each other at least once every four seasons, as opposed to the current system, in which the Redskins and Packers haven't met since 1988 even though they're both in the NFC.


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