'Diner Guy' tries to win NFL franchise


March 15, 1992|By Jon Morgan and Ken Murray | Jon Morgan and Ken Murray,Staff Writers Sun assistant chief librarian Jean Packard contributed to this story.

ASPEN, Colo. -- A funny thing happened to Boogie Weinglass on his way to this week's meeting of NFL owners.

He grew up.

Oh, he's still America's most unlikely multimillionaire, a brash but big-hearted Baltimorean who instinctively wipes his fork on his napkin before eating at his own diner and can't seem to fend off business success with a stick.

But the ponytail has grayed, the kids are starting school, and Leonard Michael Weinglass, 50, has begun thinking about life beyond the Hilltop Diner. And that life, like the fabled high school hangout, should include football by the gravy-stained platesful, he says.

"I would consider it a lifetime dream for a poor kid who became rich to give something back to his town," Mr. Weinglass said between bites of a Boogie Club at "Boogies," his trendy diner/clothing store here.

He and five investors comprise one of the three groups that plunked down $100,000 application fees to own a National Football League team in Baltimore, should the city win a franchise in the league's scheduled 1994 expansion.

The idea of Mr. Weinglass and other members of the Hilltop "diner" crowd -- a clique of football-crazed Baltimoreans popularized in a 1982 film of the same name -- returning the game to town is the stuff of, well, movies.

His entry raised two immediate questions: Does his group have the cash? And will the image-conscious NFL go for a blue-jeaned, self-professed ex-gambler who hired the Temptations, Marvelettes and Drifters to play at his own 50th birthday party?

The answer to both questions appears to be yes. After initial reservations, many officials connected with Baltimore's football procurement drive have come to view the chairman of the Harford County-based Merry-Go-Round clothing store chain as the strongest of the city's three bidder groups.

For one thing, although he's no angel, he seems to be telling the truth when he says his image is an exaggeration of a wild, if somewhat extended adolescence. And despite all the stories about his fighting, gambling and womanizing, the Baltimore native was never convicted of anything more serious than a misdemeanor, according to a review of public records by The Sun.

There are some old timers here who view Mr. Weinglass as a moneyed interloper, but he is mostly held in high standing in his mile-and-a-half high adopted home town. In Aspen, he is known for philanthropy, not philandering.

One NFL official familiar with the league's background check on Mr. Weinglass said "he checked out well." Another said the league is prepared to "judge him as a man," not as the youth he once was.

Perhaps most important of all, Mr. Weinglass and his investors have the highest net worth of the three Baltimore groups, said Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, who, as lead man in Baltimore's bid for an expansion team, is familiar with the applications. The other investor groups are headed by developer Malcolm Glazer and author Tom Clancy.

NFL owners, who vote on all entrants to the fraternity, are scheduled to meet this week to shorten the list of cities contending for the two teams the league wants to add. Representatives of all three owner groups, including Mr. Weinglass, are expected to attend the meetings in Phoenix. Most observers predict Baltimore will make the short list but will have a tougher time beating out Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis.

Supporters of Mr. Weinglass' bid talk about the "new" Boogie, a self-made businessman worth $150 million. He is a father of three who lives on a $5 million, 42-acre ranch perched above this Rocky Mountain resort with five live-in employees, a Jacuzzi and an eight-foot, stuffed Kodiak bear.

He has, friends say, followed many Americans his age across the generational divide. Even in business, he has successfully gone from peddling marijuana paraphernalia to $2,000 leather jackets.

Time as well as checks

Many of this city's fur-lined residents write checks for local causes -- Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan dropped a half-million on the Disabled Ski Challenge -- but few donate the time and interest that Mr. Weinglass does, said former Aspen Mayor William Stirling, who has opposed Mr. Weinglass on some

political issues.

Mr. Stirling, now president of Stirling Homes, said, "You find him at the door greeting kids at the youth center" that was built in part with Mr. Weinglass' donations.

But some longtime Aspenites yearn for the mountain village that existed before Cher, Don Johnson, Goldie Hawn and other celebrities fell like an avalanche on the town, jacking up average home prices to $1 million and pulling in tourists like a ski lift.

When Boogies, his unique diner/clothing store, opened here in 1987, it replaced a family rib joint called The Shaft. Residents viewed Boogies, with its Haagen-Dazs milkshakes and $75 tasseled bras, as a symbol of a Banana Republic revolution.

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