A Patriot or a traitor? The game isn't over here, even if Glazers bail out

John Steadman

February 28, 1992|By John Steadman

Losing Malcolm Glazer and his two sons to the New England Patriots, if it plays out that way, would be another setback -- but not fatal -- to Baltimore's pursuit of a National Football League franchise.

The Glazers have mountains of money and are among three groups wanting to represent this city in a bid to see which one is given the right to spend about $135 million for a team. If the Glazers forsake their quest in Baltimore and buy the financially strapped Patriots, it would be the second time in eight months that a leading contender interested in returning pro football here had defected to another location.

Bob Tisch, the former U.S. Postmaster General, was so affluent his presence alone had elevated Baltimore to the front-running position among all 10 of the cities in the expansion race. Yes, Tisch's dollars gave Baltimore that kind of edge. He was so keen on the idea that he even bought into a Maryland connection, the Annapolis Radison Hotel, renamed it and added the property to his extensive Loews Hotel empire.

But, out of the blue, the New York Giants suddenly gave him the chance to buy half ownership for $85 million, and he accepted. Tisch was apologetic to Baltimore as he made the announcement. It was disheartening for Baltimore but understandable in that he would be part-owner of a NFL club representing his old hometown.

It's possible the Glazers also see the chance to buy into the NFL without going through the uncertain expansion machinations. This is the perfect opportunity to join one of the most exclusive clubs in North America -- ownership of an NFL team.

The Patriots have some able coaches, a poor excuse for a stadium and are in fiscal disarray. Victor Kiam, the Patriots' chief, needs to get out from under the debt.

Say, hypothetically, the Glazers can make a deal for the Patriots. They are then in position to tell the league the following: We'll buy if we can get the right to transfer to Baltimore, providing New England is assured of an expansion team. It's a strange scenario but not all that unusual.

After all, the same league allowed Robert Irsay, on paper, to buy the Los Angeles Rams in 1972 and trade them to the late Carroll Rosenbloom for the Baltimore (not Indianapolis) Colts in a bizarre switch that enabled the latter to beat huge capital gains taxes. One thing the NFL will not allow is for New England, one of its leading television markets, to be deprived of football.

Too bad it didn't have the same feeling for Baltimore and Oakland, two cities that were wronged by team owners. In Oakland's case, the league voted unanimously against allowing the Raiders to skip off to Los Angeles but Al Davis, the managing general partner, defied the NFL constitution and went anyhow. Irsay didn't even ask for permission; he merely loaded the equipment on moving vans and went off to set up shop in Indianapolis.

The Glazers may not realize it, but they are in position to extract some important promises from the league, if they write a check for about $110 million to bail out the Patriots. The price would be cheaper than going the expansion route by about $25 million. They also would be getting established player personnel without starting from ground-zero.

If desired, the Glazers could back away and tell the NFL, which is embarrassed by Kiam's monetary problems, they would come in to clean up the Patriots' mess only if they could eventually transfer the team to Baltimore.

If they don't want to do that, the Glazers could still pitch hard for Baltimore. They could ask if the league would assure them of granting an expansion club to a city they are deserting in exchange for their bailing out the Patriots.

It's possible, too, that Fran Murray, who heads the St. Louis expansion effort and is owed a reported $38 million by Kiam, will try to deal with the Glazers, insisting a sale to them will lock in their vote for St. Louis when the expansion matter is addressed.

Most of this is hypothetical. Yet it serves to point up what a strong position the Glazers find themselves in for no other reason than not too many wealthy men, or women, are walking around with the capability of writing a check for whatever the asking price might be.

The Glazers, meanwhile, have promised to attend the Ed Block Courage Awards banquet here on Tuesday, along with Tom Clancy and Mike Sullivan, each of whom is involved with two other groups trying to obtain a franchise for Baltimore.

It would be particularly troublesome for Baltimore if it is passed over in expansion while two of its most interested financial backers, Tisch and the Glazers, wound up owning teams elsewhere.

Of course, the NFL has within its grasp the power to compensate Baltimore, if indeed the Glazers become the second ownership entity to start off here and go someplace else. All the league needs do in this strangest of situations is give Baltimore the franchise it deserves.

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