First-string all way, Baltimore even has sub owner on bench

John Steadman

October 25, 1993|By John Steadman

CHICAGO -- Every aspect of Baltimore's desire to return to the National Football League, via what amounts in round figures to a $340 million expansion ticket, including cost of team and building a stadium, has been covered in exacting detail. The fate the city and four other locations vying for acceptance will now be decided by a vote of 21 of 28 club owners.

Oddly enough, in Chicago, over 40 years ago, Jan. 18, 1951, Abe "Shorty" Watner sold the Colts back to the NFL for a fee of $50,000 at a meeting in this same lakefront metropolis. This tells you how the sport has progressed through the decades.

The roster of players then included future Hall of Fame enshrinees Art Donovan and Y.A. Tittle, plus Art Spinney, Herb Rich, Adrian Burk, Paul Salata, Sisto Averno and Ed King, who is remembered more as the governor of Massachusetts than the middle guard in a five-man line.

As for what's transpiring in Chicago tomorrow, the race is still considered wide open with Charlotte, N.C., the strong favorite and a two-city test between Baltimore and St. Louis for the other award. If either fast-closing Memphis, Tenn., or Jacksonville, Fla., are picked it will be considered a long shot -- even though their ownership groups made a strong impression the last time they were interviewed by the expansion and finance committees.

It's understood from league sources that Governor William Donald Schaefer visited with commissioner Paul Tagliabue last week. The appointment occurred close to the time frame when Schaefer was in New York to make a speech before union officials.

Schaefer was told, which he wanted to hear, that Baltimore's potential ownership groups, headed by Malcolm Glazer and Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, had been approved. Meanwhile, Schaefer and the Maryland Stadium Authority, after learning Glazer and Weinglass did not do as well in presentations as owners from Charlotte, Memphis and Jacksonville, have positioned themselves with other options if need be.

For right now, going into tomorrow's final round, Schaefer, expansion co-chairmen Matt DeVito and Herb Belgrad are going to "dance with who brung them" -- to use a down-home colloquialism popularized by Darrell Royal, the homespun retired Texas coach.

If Baltimore, hypothetically, gets the green light, and one of the two ownership groups does, too, then it's over and done with in a sweeping stamp of approval. However, if the league has a reluctance to embrace either the Glazer family or Weinglass and his associates then there are other options in readiness.

Too much work has been done for Baltimore not to have an "insurance policy" available. So the governor and the Maryland Stadium Authority, headed by Belgrad, have wisely made the moves to make certain they will not be left with a bundle of air if they encounter difficulty. They can "parachute" other potential investors into the fray, similar to a coach having strong replacements.

It's called protecting yourself in the clinches, which is what Baltimore plans to do. If any mistake was made in the preparation it's that it revealed too early that the financing would allow visiting teams to receive checks for $1 million in Baltimore.

This was of particular interest to Charlotte and Jacksonville. Both played their own version of "can you top this" and matched or exceeded what Baltimore was promising. When Mark Richardson, acting for his father in the Charlotte endeavor, was asked what would be done to counter this attractive offer Baltimore had on the table, he responded by saying:

"You're not going to get a look in our playbook."

Spoken like a young man who once played for a national championship team at Clemson and found out that in football you don't publicize your "game plan" intentions before the kickoff. Maybe the revelation wasn't important enough to damage the Baltimore effort, but without question it enabled Charlotte and Jacksonville to rework their financial prospectus.

There has been a general tendency to diminish St. Louis because of its myriad of ownership problems. As of this late hour, on the eve of expansion, it's still scrambling. Television networks wanted St. Louis -- and still do -- because of its larger viewing audience, which gives it an advantage in demographics.

Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who will be in attendance, has been contacted about the possibility of the Canadian Football League moving into Baltimore if the NFL bid fails. That's not the way to go. It's either the NFL or nothing. The verdict, 24 hours away, will bring a celebration or a wake.

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