New England's Murray gives lesson on how to buy NFL team without cash

PRO FOOTBALL

October 20, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

Move over, Al Davis and Mike Lynn.

Make room for Fran Murray.

Murray is the latest wheeler-dealer on the threshold of getting control of an NFL franchise by using more wits than money.

Davis got control of the Los Angeles Raiders and Lynn got control of the Minnesota Vikings -- although he's now involved in a court fight over it -- after being hired by the clubs and then maneuvering to the top in boardroom battles.

Murray is on the verge of getting control of the New England Patriots without buying majority interest.

Back in 1986, when former owner Billy Sullivan was having financial problems, Murray got an option to buy the club with what apparently was borrowed money. When Victor Kiam bought the Patriots in 1988, Murray got 49 percent with a provision that he could take control if Kiam didn't pay him $38 million in three years.

Kiam can't come up with the money, and Murray seems on the verge of taking over the club in 30 days. Meanwhile, the league has taken control from Kiam.

Murray is doing all this without big bucks.

There have been many rumors that Murray, a major player in the St. Louis expansion effort, will either move the Patriots to St. Louis or cut a deal with the NFL to keep the team in New England in return for an expansion team in St. Louis.

Joel Glazer, who, along with his father, Malcolm, and brother Bryan, is trying to get an expansion team for Baltimore, says he's heard the rumors, but discounts them.

"There's been a lot of talk of that, but I believe if Fran Murray hadn't forced Kiam's hand, that would have led you to believe a deal had been cut," he said. "[If they'd cut a deal] it would never have gone this far."

But the NFL is no stranger to back-room dealing, and it remains to be seen how all this plays out. In any case, Murray seems likely to land on his feet and is looking for a buyer for the team -- which would mean a cash infusion for him.

The primary worry for the NFL is that Robert Popeo, Murray's attorney, says the team is worth between $100 million and $125 million. If the Patriots sell in that range, it would be hard for the NFL to sell the expansion teams for more than that.

*

The NFL's annual fall meeting will be this week in Dallas. An expansion update is on the agenda, but no action is expected.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he's not attending because he got a letter from the NFL telling him the league wasn't inviting the expansion cities.

The major item on the agenda is the fate of the World League of American Football.

The NFL may shut the WLAF down for a year -- which probably would amount to a death sentence.

*

When the Bill Parcells coaching rumors heat up, pencil in his close friend, Dan Henning, as offensive coordinator.

Henning, coach of the 1-6 San Diego Chargers, likely be available at the end of the year.

Henning may have sealed his fate with two controversial calls last week in a 30-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

With the Chargers at their 1-yard line with one second left in the first half, he didn't have the quarterback try a sneak or even throw the ball away. He called a running play, and Marion Butts was tackled in the end zone for a safety. Late in the game, on fourth-and-10, he called a draw.

Henning figures to the last the season because general manager Bobby Beathard doesn't make impulsive moves.

"We're certainly not going to make a change during the season," Beathard said. He didn't say anything about after the season.

Henning, meanwhile, became irate about questions about the two calls.

"You continue to harp on it," he said. "What you should do is go back and join one of the staffs on the Senate Judiciary Committee and beat your brains out."

*

The controversy over demonstration penalties, which had quieted when the league stopped penalizing players for high-fiving with fans, flared up again when the Pittsburgh Steelers' Eric Green was called for a demonstration penalty in the final minute of Monday's game against the New York Giants after he had scored the touchdown that tied the score, 20-20.

The penalty, which was marked off on the ensuing kickoff, helped the Giants get field position and win the game, 23-20, on Matt Bahr's 44-yard field goal.

Jim Finks, the New Orleans Saints president who heads the competition committee, then said the penalty shouldn't have been called because the demonstration wasn't prolonged or excessive. He also made headlines by saying the officials may have called it because they don't like the rule.

"I was quoted fairly and accurately, but I don't think I'd better say anything more about it," Finks said later in the week.

It's obvious that the league office wasn't pleased with Finks' remarks. The league doesn't like public criticism or discussion about the officials.

Unlike baseball umpires, NFL officials aren't allowed to give interviews, except for brief explanations to a pool reporter after the game. A league spokesman said the league would have no comment on whether it agreed with the call.

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