Clancy as owner? Take a look at prose and cons


September 20, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

Tom Clancy enters the room wearing glasses just dark enough to suggest an air of mystery, the kind of glasses that a writer of the books Clancy writes would wear, although not the sort favored by insurance agents -- which is what Clancy used to be.

I picture him as a particularly long-winded insurance agent, who would wear down potential clients until they agreed to buy anything -- earthquake insurance in Baltimore, as an example -- if he would just shut up. That's the same basic strategy he employs in his novels, which most resemble the Energizer battery commercials: They're still going.

Clancy writes 800-page best-sellers of which the middle 600 are always incredibly detailed explanations of how to build a nuclear submarine. This is great if you want to construct a sub in your back yard, which would come in handy any time your back yard is threatened by Russian destroyers. That must happen more often than you'd suspect, because Clancy sells these books by the millions.

Anyway, he now intends to use these same skills to persuade 28 NFL owners that Baltimore deserves an expansion football team and that Clancy deserves to be the owner.

I'm for him all the way.

Clancy is a writer, isn't he? We writers need to stick together. Heck, I'm even willing to forget about that insurance stuff. Boy, it'd be great. As writer types, we could talk inside-writing stuff, like about word processors, pencil sharpeners, agents, lunch. He's got your typical writer's cynicism, but he also has Dan Quayle's home number. He's glib, he's smart. He knows Sean Connery personally. I love the guy.

Look what he has going for him: He can write his own press releases. Heck, he can write his own game stories. He can even write his own playbook, although 600 pages diagramming the safety blitz might tax your typical professional athlete.

Plus, he's a Baltimore native who grew up watching, as he says, John Unitas throwing passes to Raymond Berry and who can give you a weather report from the '58 championship game and who believes with all his soul that Baltimore's losing the Colts is the moral equivalent of Iraq's invading Kuwait. You want more? You need more?

The problem is, guys like him never end up with the teams. Typically, they have too much personality and not enough money. Guys like Eli Jacobs end up owning teams. Or maybe guys like the Glazers, who say they can write a check to pay for the team. (Heck, I can write a check for $150 million myself. I just hope nobody cashes it for the next 150 years.)

"It depends on what kind of person the 28 owners want," Clancy said of his chances yesterday in a news conference. "If they are people who hate reading books, then I'm in trouble. If they want someone who can tell a joke and has an intelligent idea from time to time, I might be in good shape."

I hate to say this, but most owners never tell jokes. You can make your own mind up about whether they have intelligent ideas. As for books, Clancy would be the first owner who willingly opened his to the public.

Now, about his books. He would have to suffer a few puns. Say his team was in a midseason losing streak, there could be: Hunt for a Win in October. He wrote "Patriot Games," which will soon be a major motion picture. As an NFL owner, he'd have, with expansion, 29 sequel possibilities. One friend said that because Clancy is publicly anti-Russian, the team would pass all the time. Get it? Anti-rushin'? Sorry.

His latest book is called "The Sum of All Fears." Set in the Mideast, which I'm guessing means that the middle 600 pages are a manual for building a tent, it's already No. 1 on all the best-seller lists.

It goes for $24.95 retail.

"It's worth it," Clancy said. "Hey, it's 800 pages."

Three cents a page. A man who delivers the goods at a reasonable price. I'm telling you, this is the guy.

He's now off to lobby league owners. One of the benefits of being an author means he can set up a book tour taking him to all the NFL cities, and his name will get him into the door, especially if he promises to autograph a book for the wife. Certainly, he'll need to save money. This buying a team is an expensive proposition. "I should have started writing in the third grade," said Clancy, who did suggest he might pay with his American Express card.

A team could cost as much as $150 million, not that the owners are saying. They don't tell you how much a team would cost or how they expect you to finance it. Here's what they do say: If you want to be considered as an owner, you have to put up $100,000, of which only $50,000 is refundable. If 15 ownership groups in 11 cities actually put up the money, that means the owners make a cool $650,000 profit, because only two applications will be accepted. In some places, they call this extortion. In the NFL, it's called business.

Clancy is willing anyway. He says he's going to pony up the money -- his words -- and then go about getting Baltimore a team.

"This is not a publicity stunt, guys," he said. "This is the real thing."

If there's anything we can take from his books, it is that Clancy is relentless. Besides, if he gets the team, just think what he can make in movie rights.

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