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NFL meetings notebook

By RICK STORUD, Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


League to keep eye on QBs

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Quarterbacks will be handled next season like museum pieces by NFL officials, who vow to eject defensive players for any helmet-to-helmet contact.

Protecting the quarterback was a major topic of discussion between the coaches and referees in a meeting Tuesday.

"They just said protecting the quarterback is going to be paramount. It always has been," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said. "There were some high-profile hits in the playoffs that didn't get called, and everybody has talked about those in the off-season. There's no rules change per se, but they're just going to be more aware of it."

QUICK DECISION: The unanimous approval of realignment took less than an hour. It was in stark contrast to the debate that ensued when the NFL merged with the AFL 31 years ago.

"Thirty years ago, we didn't even know the owners of the American Football League," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "So nobody wanted to play them. It's a whole different set of circumstances."

EYES OF TEXANS: Houston Texans owner Bob McNair paid $700-million for his expansion team, which begins play in 2002, but the NFL cut him no slack.

The Texans were placed in the new AFC South with Tennessee, Indianapolis and Jacksonville

"Maybe that's why we're so popular," McNair said. "Everybody wanted to come down and beat us. But we're happy. We're in markets that are still growing."

ADDITIONAL BONUS: After next season, the 49ers no longer will have to leave on Friday for road games in their division. They are in the NFC West with Arizona, Seattle and St. Louis. "I'll be able to watch my kid play high school football on Friday nights," coach Steve Mariucci said.

NATURAL BORN ENEMIES: The NFL loves rivalries, and it fanned the flames of a few Tuesday.

Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell, who moved his team from St. Louis, will return at least once a year to the Gateway City. And Modell gets to remain in a division (the new AFC North) with the Cleveland Browns.

Taking the sting out of other moves is a scheduling agreement to retain some of the old rivalries in the preseason.

"We want to play the Cardinals for another 15 years. One way or the other. And we will be able to do that," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said.

"But I think it's important for the Cowboys and important for the networks to maintain our divisional rivalries. Those are games we want to work hard to make the Cowboys competitive in so they'll have a great interest to our fans. In that sense, we never considered moving out of the NFC East."

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