Quietly and without public notice, a serious but, in the end, failing effort was made to influence Frank Perdue to accept a lead role in applying for ownership of an expansion pro football team in Baltimore. He has, however, reluctantly decided against becoming an entrant in the chase.
Perdue can now be identified as the previously "unnamed" chief investor who was invited to head what is known as the Maryland NFL Expansion Group Ltd., which included five prominent Baltimoreans. The Perdue name and financial standing would have been a momentous boost for the city's chances in fulfilling a desire to gain one of the two new franchises to be awarded next year by the National Football League.
There's no written assurance Perdue's entry into the quest would have been an absolute guarantee that Baltimore would have been favored, but his presence offered financial stability and personal recognition within the league. And, furthermore, Perdue's presence would have immeasurably improved Baltimore's chances of being approved.
Under the proposed plan, Perdue would have been the major investor and had Sig Hyman, Louis Grasmick, Phyllis Brotman, John Paterakis and Henry Joe Knott, plus Bart Starr, the Hall of Fame quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, included in his lineup.
Perdue, in declining, said he was flattered to have been shown so much attention and regretted saying no. He seriously considered the proposal for six days before politely declining in a telephone call to Grasmick from his Salisbury office.
"Nothing is a certainty in something like this," said Grasmick. "There is no question Frank is a marquee name, known around the country with the same fondness and respect he has here. Even though he decided against entering football as a majority owner, it was the pleasure of our group to get to know him on a much closer basis and to realize the impact his presence would have made."
Perdue was considered the strongest national figure to emerge since Bob Tisch changed his "game plan" and had to turn away from Baltimore after buying a 50 percent interest in the New York Giants.
Perdue, self-made owner of the nation's fourth largest poultry producing company, is listed among the 400 wealthiest men in the country and his television commercials have made him a household name. As a fan of the Baltimore Colts, he was furious when the team was taken away to Indianapolis in 1984 by owner Robert Irsay.
Perdue, considered among the most recognizable names in Maryland and the state's largest private employer, is a close friend of Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who earlier commended him for his business successes and philanthropic deeds.
Perdue, born in Parsonburg, Md., left Salisbury State University after two years and went to work for his father in 1939 for $30 a week and in 1953 became the president of Perdue Farms Inc., which at last count had 12,000 employees and is the premier distributor of poultry from Virginia to Maine.
The company generates more than $1 billion in annual sales. Perdue, the man, is listed in the "Forbes 400," an elite roster of the most affluent in America. With all his distinction, he has remained a quiet man who shuns the spotlight.
The future of the Maryland NFL Expansion Group Ltd. hasn't been decided, according to Brotman, but it's unlikely it will file an application for expansion consideration at this time.
Hyman said he wanted it clarified that Starr was not asked to leave the minority partnership picture and, in fact, is still a member.