Meeting National Football League owners and general managers was a new experience for Tom Clancy, who, by way of an innovative introductory video and follow-up personal contacts, got to talk to some of the men he had only previously known on the basis of their sports page identities. It's enlightening to hear him describe it as time well-spent. Even enjoyable.
So far he has paid close to $250,000 of his own money to demonstrate an interest in buying an expansion team for Baltimore. Having the opportunity to be in the company of the owners at the NFL convention in Phoenix was pleasing to Clancy. In the past, we met some NFL crumb-bums we would have hocked the family jewels for the mere satisfaction of being able to avoid.
Clancy, of course, is different. He doesn't project a public relations type personality. For the first time, he was part of the NFL scene, even if he could only try to lobby them in the lobby. The noted author didn't have to make himself known because when it comes to name recognition he brings a prominence that's almost universally established.
Most of the NFL owners knew him right away. Some had even bought his books and possibly even read them. Since Clancy has never been known to keep opinions to himself or to step softly around a tough question, his reaction was sought with more than a minimum degree of anticipation. Did he, to the point, find them a collection of boring self-centered stiffs?
"Let me tell you," he answered. "I expected to meet a gang of robber-barons. Instead, I found a group of high-class gentlemen. They weren't the miserable SOBs I thought. I came away feeling real good, respecting them. I like Baltimore's chances more than ever. I hope Boogie Weinglass [affiliated with another Baltimore group] had the same luck I did."
Before another point could be raised, Clancy roared into a personal tribute to Ed McCaskey, the president of the Chicago Bears:
"The world should be made up of all Ed McCaskeys. He reminds me of William Sessions, the director of the FBI. Any time you meet an honorable man it's a special thrill. McCaskey is still interested in his first sergeant from World War II. How many captains are concerned about their first sergeant after any war is over?"
Yes, Tom, but what about . . . Before the thought could be completed, he stayed on the subject of McCaskey: "He had 11 children, 18 grandchildren and still holds hands with his wife, Virginia. It's a hell of an impressive family. And he's a hell of an impressive Daddy. Meeting McCaskey was worth the whole trip."
Any other impressions from Clancy?
"I think this," he said. "Baltimore is in great shape to get a team. Why? Because we can generate more money for the owners and the league. I think we are the 'chalk'. And I believe Herb Belgrad, who heads the Maryland Stadium Authority, is the hero of this war. He has brains and integrity."
Some have said Clancy is an intellectual giant, even a genius, and maybe he is, considering the quality of his work. Personally, he's difficult to know. But the world is tugging at him from all sides. The demands on his time are impossible to calculate. Wife and family are his foremost interest. Everything else is in second place.
Clancy crossed paths with Bill Bidwill, who once entertained thoughts of transferring the St. Louis Cardinals to Baltimore but went the other way -- to Phoenix. "I had only one sportswriter tell me he was a decent man," Clancy said. "I didn't believe him. I do now. Bidwill is far different than generally described. I like him. And he has a son who is a U.S. attorney."
How about St. Louis, which also is seeking an expansion club and the efforts of one of its owners to buy into the New England Patriots? "I think the money guy is playing an interesting double game. As for Baltimore, we have a great team working for us. Belgrad has the touch."
Clancy expresses the highest admiration for Weinglass, one of his rivals in the "Hunt for a Successful October," which is when the NFL is expected to decide on an expansion club. Asked to elaborate on Weinglass, he replied, "I genuinely like him. I think if I lost to him it would be OK. I don't, though, see a way we could work together.
"We have a lot in common. Stop to think about it. He's Jewish, I'm Irish. We both come from modest Baltimore backgrounds. Boogie is a real guy. Our aims are the same. We want to head up a team for Baltimore. Naturally, I would like to operate it and I believe I'm qualified. I know, if I got the chance, I'd bring some new ideas to the league."
If the NFL placed emphasis on intellect, rather than wealth, Clancy would be anointed.