Clancy feels NFL 'owes us' positive ending to his latest thriller

John Steadman

September 20, 1991|By John Steadman

How the plot unfolds is going to be more important to Tom Clancy and a dream of returning a National Football League team to his beloved hometown of Baltimore than the mere opening chapter in the important new story he's writing. But read on.

The noted author of what the publishing trade refers to as techno-thrillers has revealed his intentions to own an expansion franchise but will not, like in his books, reveal at this early time frame how he plans for it to all come out. He makes a favorable impression, is well-dressed, extremely articulate, as would be expected, and is powerfully opinionated.

And he talks about the Baltimore Colts of years past with knowledge and affection. He is proud of his roots, explaining how he lived on Gleneagle Road, the son of a postman, went to St. Matthew's School, then Loyola and, because of his father's interest, grew up adulating such helmeted heroes as Gino Marchetti, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry and John Unitas.

Clancy is an authentic follower of pro football. He was born the same year the Colts were founded, 1947, and talks with more than a touch of nostalgia. He also is authoritative and passionate. It was obvious he had lived his youth following a team that was one of the dominant forces of the NFL. Only a fact or two in his discourse were in error but, after all, he was merely utilizing the license afforded a novelist.

A strong advocate of Maryland ownership, he said, "If it's not local, you are kidding yourself." This was the story line he opened with yesterday and held to throughout the news conference, held in the executive suite of the Legg Mason investment house, overlooking the Inner Harbor, while in the company of his wife, Wanda, and attorney David Cohen.

"The National Football League owes us," he insisted -- meaning the other club owners, who were demeaned by the way the team was stolen away and packed off to Indianapolis in 1984. This would be a measure of atonement, he reasoned, a way for them to get out from under the embarrassment Bob Irsay caused to finally right an injustice and painful depredation.

Some NFL leaders agree, but they are still going to want to see the financial worth of all candidates in the expansion process. "They owe us . . . the city is owed something," he reiterated. Clancy is a forceful speaker, doesn't deal in nuances or con but

can be described as profoundly self-assured.

There's a humorous side, as highlighted when he remarked, "I can't write books fast enough to support an NFL team," but insisted he could put together the financial requirements. Then he refused, with an air of confidence, to enumerate his monetary worth or that of others he foresees being in the hunt for a green October, when the applications need to be submitted.

No doubt he has given long and serious consideration to doing what he can to bring about a return of pro football. He said he knows NFL owners and one of them, at a social function, encouraged him to get involved in seeking the new expansion club. Clancy doubted it's going to be necessary to put up $150 million in advance.

"If the demand calls for that and $150 million needs to go up front, and there's two years before you play a game, then they are not going to get an owner," he said. "I am open-minded. If I am unable to do it myself then I would try to help someone else bring it to reality."

As for the perception that Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis are ahead of Baltimore in the expansion race, Clancy won't believe it. He claims that's pure speculation but the city was indeed afforded the lead position when Bob Tisch was heading the Baltimore parade. After Tisch bought half of the New York Giants for $80 million -- and there wasn't a rich and famous owner coming to the fore here -- it evolved that Baltimore was arbitrarily placed back in the pack.

Asked to enunciate the reasons why he was confident he could be successful, Clancy responded: "No. 1, the NFL owes us for the way the team was taken away. No. 2, we're building a new stadium. No. 3, we have proven we can deliver a large number of fans. And No. 4, the long tradition of the Colts and Baltimore."

Clancy used the word "blasphemous" in describing Bart Starr's interest in bringing pro football back to Baltimore. But Starr,

the Hall of Fame Green Bay Packer, is part of a group, comprising, for the most part, local ownership, and didn't deserve such a denunciation because of the kind of man he is, the revered reputation he has earned and is only trying to do his part to help Baltimore -- not as a heavy investor but lending his honorable name.

It also was a bit of overstatement on his part to offer the inaccurate reasoning that "Baltimore made the NFL" because of how the Colts won in sudden-death over the New York Giants in 1958. What if the Giants had won? Would they have made the NFL? Of course not. The league was on the road to acceptance regardless of what any team contributed, although, for provincial cheering purposes, there are multitudes hereabout ready to agree with Clancy.

There's no doubt Tom Clancy makes a strong impression. He comes across with the thrust of Alan "The Horse" Ameche bowling over tacklers, which is refreshing because of the way so many contrasting people in sports offer smoke and no substance. Clancy delivers an impact and it can only be hoped it plays favorably with the lords of the National Football League.

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