- The Washington Times - Friday, August 4, 2006

Roger Goodell’s election as NFL commissioner by the club owners at next week’s league meetings might not be a sure thing although he’s the only insider among the five finalists. That’s the word — not from iconoclast Al Davis of Oakland or Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson, who strongly opposed the collective bargaining agreement extension in March — but from reliable groupthink voter Wayne Weaver of Jacksonville.

“I don’t think that,” Weaver insisted when asked if Goodell, commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s right-hand man as the NFL’s chief operating officer, was a lock to succeed his retiring boss. “I think very highly of Roger. Our search firm has done an outstanding job of identifying a lot of candidates. Not surprisingly, this is a very coveted job.

“We want someone that we feel is the most capable of leading our league over the next decade. I think everybody is pretty much open-minded. Let’s have a chance to interview the candidates and see where it goes.”

That Weaver isn’t publicly on board for Goodell could spell trouble for the insider candidate in the first commissioner search since then-NFL attorney Tagliabue got the nod over New Orleans Saints general manager Jim Finks in 1989.

Curses, foiled again — Few fans are as passionate about football as Cleveland’s. But only those in Detroit have been waiting longer to reach a title game, let alone win the Super Bowl. Cleveland’s last title came in 1964.

And while the rebuilding Browns were no one’s pick to be playing in the Super Bowl come February, it’s cruel that they lost their prized free agent, Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley, to a season-ending knee injury during the first 11-on-11 drill of training camp.

The loss of Cleveland native Bentley follows the injury-curtailed rookie seasons of top draft choices Kellen Winslow Jr. (2004) and Braylon Edwards (2005) and the failure to live up to first-round status by quarterback Tim Couch (1999), defensive end Courtney Brown (2000), defensive tackle Gerard Warren (2001), running back William Green (2002) and center Jeff Faine (2003). Third-stringer Green is the only one of those last five still in Cleveland.

It’s a breeze in Buffalo — No players will be less taxed this month than those in Buffalo. New Bills coach Dick Jauron scheduled just a pair of two-a-day practices during camp, five fewer than the NFL average. Washington (three) and Chicago (four) are the only other teams with fewer than five two-a-days. Some teams have as many as a dozen.

Jauron’s scaled-back approach is a contrast from predecessors Gregg Williams and Mike Mularkey, who had 14 and 11 two-a-days, respectively, during their first summers in Buffalo. Both cut back significantly in their final seasons.

“People have learned over the years that you used to work players too hard in training camp,” said Bills GM Marv Levy, who coached the team from 1986 to 1997. “You went past the point of gaining a return from the practice time. You need to strike a balance between work and rest. You want the players to have the ability to concentrate and be fresh and produce to their best ability while they’re on the field, rather than drudging their way through it.”

Superdome looking super — Two months before the Superdome’s planned post-Hurricane Katrina re-opening for the Saints’ Sept. 25 game with Atlanta, Tagliabue toured the facility and was pleased with the $185million renovations.

“When I was last here [in December], there were concerns about the availability of materials, the availability of a skilled labor force and disputes on FEMA funding, so, yes, I’m [pleasantly] surprised,” Tagliabue said. “It seems like all those things have worked out.”

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco was more emphatic after visiting the Superdome for the first time since the initial post-Katrina period last fall, when the stadium had been severely damaged by the storm’s wind and water and subsequent occupancy by more than 20,000 victims of Katrina.

“What I’m looking at here is nothing short of a miracle and is symbolic of the great rebirth that this city and this state are experiencing,” Blanco said.

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