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Sunday marks the start of the NFL's 76th season, with new teams in Jacksonville and Carolina, and two old teams in new cities -- the Rams in St. Louis and the Raiders returning to Oakland. Here's a roundup of what's going on around the league: THEY'RE SOLD OUT: In Oakland, the TV blackout for Sunday's Raiders-Chargers game has been lifted as 14,000 single-game tickets were sold between Sunday and yesterday (Koury & Martinez, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 9/1). A rally will be held today in Oakland's Jack London Square celebrating the team's return (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/1). THEY'RE BLACKED OUT: The Eagles' season opener against the Bucs will be blacked out in the Delaware Valley, as more than 6,000 seats remain unsold at Veterans Stadium. This is the second time in three years an Eagles opener has failed to sell out. NFL TV Coordinator Val Pinchbeck said more than one-third (88 of 224) NFL games were blacked out in home markets in '94 (Mike Bruton, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/1). In Seattle, the Seahawks had sold only 50,500 tickets as of Wednesday for Sunday's opener against the Chiefs in the 66,400-seat Kingdome. Last year, five Seahawks home games were blacked out (TACOMA NEWS TRIBUNE, 8/31). Other blackouts this weekend: Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans. THEY'RE LOCKED IN, FOR THIS WEEK: TX District Judge William Bell yesterday granted Harris County a temporary restraining order against the Oilers barring them from playing home games outside the Astrodome. A full injunction hearing will be held September 13 that could force the team to stay in the dome through '97. County officials say the court action was due to concerns that the team may "try a repeat of the preseason episode" when a game was cancelled due to poor turf conditions (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/1). THEY'RE ISSUING A WARNING: Daniel Connell, the Jaguars Senior VP/Marketing said yesterday that the "people of Houston need to realize the fact that the Oilers could leave," and that bad feelings toward Owner Bud Adams should not "overrule any business logic." Connell warned of the difficulties of getting a new team (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 9/1). THEY'RE CLEARING THE AIR: The Jaguars Foundation has received a grant to promote anti-smoking initiatives in and around the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave the team $137,000 to develop and install anti-smoking signs in the stadium concourse, including one on the center panel of the North scoreboard. The program will also put anti-smoking messages on 50,000 cards distributed by the team. The Jaguars do not accept tobacco advertising or sell tobacco products (Jaguars). THEY'RE TEACHING: CBS profiled the Jets' "Football 101" -- a class aimed at women. Jets exec Douglas Miller: "We've found studies that show women are the fastest growing group of fans that there are" ("CBS This Morning," 9/1).
"Pat Riley believed he was going to be released from his obligations as Knicks coach in exchange for silence about his coaching plans" during the final stages of ITT's purchase of the Garden, according to this morning's N.Y. TIMES. Mike Wise reports "that was the reason" Riley began to negotiate with the Heat before he resigned as Knicks coach in June. According to two people "familiar with the case," MSG President Dave Checketts "did not want ITT to know the Knicks might lose Riley, fearing that such a revelation might affect the company's $1.01 billion dollar purchase. ...In return, Checketts would allow Riley out of the final year of his contract after the sale was consummated." However, when Riley asked to be released after the season, the team refused, sources say. The sale of MSG's holdings from Viacom to an ITT-Cablevision partnership became official March 13. A Knicks official tells the TIMES that "Checketts had told Riley to 'not make noise about possibly leaving' while the purchase was still in progress." However, that source adds that "no promises" were made to Riley regarding a release. NBA Commissioner David Stern is expected to rule today on charges by the Knicks that the Heat tampered with Riley (N.Y. TIMES, 9/1).
Nets President Jon Spoelstra, whose marketing programs helped the team set box-office records, resigned yesterday. In this morning's N.Y. TIMES, Mike Wise reports that Spoelstra sometimes clashed "with an ownership resistant to change" and may have upset some owners with his "candidness." Two Nets officials said Spoelstra was not forced out. Spoelstra had pushed for the Nets to change their name, to either Swamp Dragons or Fire Dragons, but ownership nixed the change at the last minute. Spoelstra, "frustrated" with "the malaise that he felt permeated the franchise," also sent a memo to ownership criticizing player personnel decisions. Spoelstra, without a contract since March, had expected to sign a more lucrative pact and was disappointed when the Nets delayed (N.Y. TIMES, 9/1).
The Pirates have given DC attorney Bart Fisher until next Wednesday to come up with the financing to complete a deal to buy the club, according to Mark Maske in this morning's WASHINGTON POST. Fisher's group says they will keep the team in Pittsburgh, initially, "but in recent weeks," Maske writes, "he has talked about the possibility of moving the club" to the DC-area. Fisher met with Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy and team officials yesterday, and told the AP that he intends to stay in Pittsburgh. However, Maske reports that Fisher said earlier this month that "no buyer will enter into that situation without an exit strategy. ... They're in a bad situation, they've been on the market a year now. That should tell you something." Sources tell the POST that Fisher has been in contact with the VA Stadium Authority and told them to "be ready, because I'm close with the Pirates" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/1). If Fisher fails to meet the team's Wednesday deadline, Sacramento newspaper heir Kevin McClatchy will get an exclusive two-week period to negotiate (AP/Minneapolis STAR-TRIBUNE, 9/1). Fisher heads Capital Baseball, one of two groups trying to bring baseball to the DC/Northern VA area.