Ownership picture in NFL bid here has makings of mystery

John Steadman

October 13, 1993|By John Steadman

Much of what's unfolding in Baltimore's pursuit of a National Football League expansion franchise is the kind of material that makes for a high-powered mystery novel. Only this is authentic, the real goods and not born of the imaginative mind of some writer working out of his attic to portray fictionalized situations.

There are the two committed groups, headed by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer, eager to win the right to own the team in the event the NFL grants Baltimore approval.

Standing in the wings, meanwhile, are at least two potential, yet unidentified, individuals eager to make 11th-hour presentations regarding Baltimore.

They have not as yet come forth to reveal what their plans and funding might be. If they have the financial substance and a true desire to represent Baltimore, they need to make the appropriate contacts with commissioner Paul Tagliabue or one of his assistants, Roger Goodell.

For the fans of Baltimore, the bottom line is they deserve the best -- a Hall of Fame-type owner with strong credentials who has the respect and confidence of the hometown and the NFL. That shouldn't be too much to ask.

Is such a person on the available list? Is it Weinglass? Glazer? Someone else? The combined efforts of co-chairmen Herbert Belgrad and Matt DeVito -- one a lawyer, the latter a lawyer who became a widely respected business leader -- have effectively put Baltimore near the top for a prospective franchise. The two also have the responsibility of guiding the process to a final and hoped-for successful conclusion.

We've known the owner of every previous pro football team in Baltimore, going back to the initial season of 1947. The first one, Bob Rodenberg, was far and away the best. He put up most of his own money to establish the Colts, even to helping decide the name. The unfortunate part is that Rodenberg, a Harvard man who served in World War II as a secret U.S. agent behind enemy lines, ran out of cash.

That's all in Baltimore's past. The future is more important. The NFL has accepted ownership groups on a belated basis, after others were perceived to be favored, in at least four cities -- going back to what evolved in Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Seattle.

Of course, it occurred during the Pete Rozelle commissionership years. Now Tagliabue is in charge.

Weinglass has received extensive notoriety, far more than what Glazer and his sons have attained. Yesterday, the NFL approved the Weinglass financial plan.

He says his group of investors carry a net worth of $1 billion. That's impressive. However, Bob Leffler, a marketing maestro and spokesman for the Glazers, says, "I must emphasize that Malcolm Glazer's personal worth alone is $1 billion. He'd make Baltimore the ideal owner.

"The league has always said it preferred one person who can sign the checks. That's Malcolm. He's a terrific family man with a wonderful wife, four sons and a daughter. They'd move to Maryland and want the chance to do that. The Glazers are quiet and don't pretend to be flamboyant like Boogie. I just hope they get the attention they deserve."

Officers of the league and 12 owners on the combined expansion and finance committees listened to Weinglass and Glazers at their Chicago meeting three weeks ago. Shortly thereafter, euphoria prevailed regarding Baltimore.

Then came the report that compared to would-be owners from three other cities -- Charlotte, Memphis and Jacksonville -- their appearances before the NFL committee weren't all that impressive. Some observers say that's not enough to damage their chances. Weinglass earlier termed Baltimore as a "lock" and a "shoo-in."

The Maryland Stadium Authority, from the outset, long before Weinglass and Glazer got to this point, insisted it would not offer its endorsement to any owner.

Weinglass hoped such a situation could be changed and thereby grant him favored son status.

But the stadium authority remained consistent with its policy and would not reverse its well-publicized position.

Weinglass is a drum major type; the Glazers low-profile. It's impossible to measure the other interested parties since they haven't gone public and remain unknown factors in the complex expansion contest.

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