Clancy's NFL story is full of suspense, like one of his novels

John Steadman

November 25, 1991|By John Steadman

Much of the mystery Tom Clancy creates within the pages of international suspense novels has evolved into part of his persona. It's as if the man himself, working undercover and carrying a doctored visa, is moving quietly toward his secret objective. Are his hopes for owning a professional football team in Baltimore immersed in fiction or reality?

All this because Clancy wants to restore a National Football League franchise to his old hometown. As one of America's foremost authors, he didn't reach the heights of literary brilliance by being bashful. To the contrary. He knows he's good and readily admits the same. A bit of the old "it's not bragging if you can do it" philosophy.

The league has already commenced the investigation process as it conducts background checks of the expansion applicants. But Clancy hastens to point out he holds a top-rated clearance from the FBI that should, right up front, satisfy the NFL without asking another question.

If he can call on the White House and Pentagon then being permitted to partake of fun and games in a stadium on Sunday afternoons, and to visit the locker room, shouldn't pose any kind of a security problem for the NFL. He's seen by them as an attractive candidate.

Clancy is comfortable answering questions for league representatives because, for the most part, an extensive number of retired FBI agents, now in the NFL employ, are entrusted with the responsibility of seeing crooks and schemers aren't trying to manipulate point-spreads or lure players into illegal practices that would damage the public credibility. Knowing his work, the FBI almost regards him as one of them and he hopes the NFL does, too.

"If the owners are looking for someone with ideas then I'm their guy," he modestly told the Council of Colt Corrals at their monthly meeting. Clancy, 6 feet 4, expensively and conservatively dressed, offers an impressive appearance. Personally, he's bold, opinionated, a quick-thinker and has a vocabulary that comes close to intimidating listeners and readers.

Clancy, suffice to say, didn't come in on a load of coal. "I believe owner selection will be more of a 'beauty contest' than a business deal," he said. "What they [NFL officials] are looking for is a guy who can bring money into the league and who fits into their club. They'll pick a city before an owner. Still, it'll be an inter-active process."

But, the "beauty contest" aspect isn't to be taken literally. What he suggests is that having name value, which he does, puts him out in front of the other groups headed by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer. If measured entirely on prestige and prominence, Clancy would be the projected leader in any such rationale. The NFL is impressed but how much?

How does Tom evaluate the rival Weinglass and Glazer entries? "I don't know what the others are doing; I just know what I'm doing and I'm not prepared to say. I hold every card I have close to the vest and if I get the team it'll be wonderful and, if I don't get it, then it won't make any difference. I'm not trying to prove how smart I am."

Clancy made reference to being "recruited" to return a franchise to Baltimore but didn't elaborate. By whom? He won't say. An NFL owner? Again, no hint. Suspense builds. As for other financial partners aligned in this important effort that may cost $125 million, he won't begin to identify them. Another element of continuing intrigue.

"If there was a way I could do it myself, to buy the club, I would

but that's not reasonable. After several years these teams are self-supporting. Make no mistake. That's the reason people pay a lot of money for them. They are absolutely good business deals."

On a previous public occasion, when Clancy revealed plans for how he hoped to win a team for Baltimore, he expressed himself on the Washington Redskins. "I would rather sell my children to the gypsies than root for the Redskins," he chortled.

Now he's at it again. "I'd rather die than be a fan of the Redskins," he announced to the Colt Corral members. "I look at the Redskins abstractly. They're a good team. I'm just not going to cheer for them."

Asked if he thought Baltimore could regain the Colt name, if the city is approved for expansion, Clancy prophesied: "As long as the Indianapolis team keeps the name Colts it will not be successful. God will see to that." Clancy refused to say if God had personally informed him but his conviction is so strong it seemed there must have been a heaven-to-earth dialogue.

How will all this play out? The Baltimore-born and Loyola-educated author is keeping his own counsel. It's all so confidential. The only pure ending he sees is Tom Clancy emerging as the owner and with first rights to the story of how Baltimore came back to football life.

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