Baltimore in line to leave lasting NFL impression

John Steadman

December 11, 1991|By John Steadman

NEW YORK -- Phase two of "We Want A Franchise" is into is second full day of proceedings on the penthouse level of Loews Summit Hotel as applicants from 10 different cities come and go -- putting on their best smiles and presenting their Dun & Bradstreet ratings. It is indeed much like a beauty contest, minus the bathing suit competition.

Baltimore, hoping the Biblical message of the "last shall be first" is indicative of things to come, delivers its presentation at 4 p.m. Ironically, it is all happening in a hotel owned by Bob Tisch, who was once the front-runner in Baltimore's quest to get an NFL expansion team until he bought half-ownership of the New York Giants.

The Tisch influence was so imposing that Pepper Rogers, part of the Memphis delegation, said, "Had he stayed with the Baltimore bid, it would be a cinch for them. But I am glad we are moving along in the process of expansion. Memphis has been at it since 1975, even back to 1969, and we have done absolutely all we can do."

It's interesting to observe the scene and how the NFL has, with demonstrated care, attempted to be extremely fair to all the candidates. In order of their interview appearance they have been Oakland, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Sacramento, Nashville, St.Louis, Raleigh-Durham, San Antonio, Memphis and Baltimore.

Honolulu was a no-show but informed the league it is still interested and Nashville and Raleigh-Durham do not have ownership groups in place.

The room where the hearings are held, not unlike the Paris peace conference, has two semi-circular rows of chairs that face each other, about six feet apart. On one side is commissioner Paul Tagliabue and staff members Joseph Browne, Don Weiss, Neil Austrian, Roger Goodell, Joe Ellis, Neil Glat and a member of the consulting firm of Peat d Marwick. They look across at five other chairs filled with changing faces from the various cities.

Each city receives an hour, 45 minutes to enunciate its fine points. The potential owners, in turn, are quizzed during that time. As of midnight, the league didn't know if the three Baltimore ownership candidates would be testifying separately or together.

If they went in together, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, Tom Clancy and Malcolm Glazer would be privy to what their intra-city competition had to say about itself. It would seem the best way to handle the problem would be to allow the NFL to first hear what Baltimore leader Herb Belgrad has to say and then, when it comes time for the ownerships to reveal facts and figures, to go it alone.

One development from the opening day meetings disclosed that Oakland wouldn't identify its owners, only to say it has six members in waiting.

The presentation by Charlotte, led by Jerry Richardson, the former Baltimore Colt, asked the league to allow it and all the other cities to take down-payment orders for season tickets, starting within the next six weeks.

Charlotte has an undisclosed nickname picked out, jersey colors and wants to include the concept in the $125 million stadium Richardson is building with his own capital.

"We thought the session was productive, extremely so," said Richardson. "It was a good dialogue and all of us got the feeling the league was well prepared by the kind of questions the commissioner and others asked us."

Charlotte, by most conjecture, is the foremost applicant with Baltimore and St. Louis vying for the other spot.

There was a time within the last year when Memphis seemed to suffer a relapse. This was caused by the withdrawal of Fred Smith, owner of Federal Express. William Dunavant Jr., one of the world's largest cotton merchants, has now replaced him.

After these meetings, a league representative will visit each city and the matter will be turned over to the seven-man Expansion Committee for discussion at the March get-together in Phoenix.

The 10 entrants will then be reduced to about half the present number, with the final selections made in October unless some impairment interferes.

Nothing definitive is about to happen at this juncture. Preliminary work is being done by the NFL, kind of a "getting to know each other" introduction. More serious and revealing fact-finding sessions are to follow.

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