Now it's Baltimore vs. St. Louis, or is it? NFL calls delay of game BALTIMORE GETS THE STALL

October 27, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Baltimore gave it its best shot yesterday, and it still wasn't good enough for the NFL owners.

That's the stark reality the city is facing in the wake of the owners' decision to grant Charlotte, N.C., a franchise and defer a decision on the second team to Nov. 30.

It was a jolt to the Baltimore group, which couldn't have been more optimistic after its presentation.

"If you were sitting in the room, you'd be hard-pressed to say Baltimore shouldn't have an NFL franchise," said movie producer Barry Levinson, a member of the group headed by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass.

The NFL owners didn't agree.

Baltimore's only hope appears to be if St. Louis can't get its act together by Nov. 30.

The St. Louis ownership situation couldn't be more tangled. Fran Murray, formerly a member of the group led by Jerry Clinton, still has his name on the stadium lease, although St. Louis is treating him as if he were the man who came to dinner. If St. Louis can find a way to get rid of Murray, it probably would get the franchise.

By contrast, there's not much Baltimore can do in the next five weeks that it hasn't done in the past six years since securing public funding for a two-stadium complex.

Even Malcolm Glazer, one of Baltimore's prospective owners, increasing his offer to the visiting team to $1.5 million a game didn't make a difference.

Baltimore obviously hasn't overcome the image of being a city that once lost a team and is in the wrong geographical area.

That wasn't a problem for Charlotte.

"I think it's the most exciting market we've had come into the league in some time," said Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and a member of the expansion committee, describing Charlotte.

Baltimore apparently doesn't have the image of being exciting in the eyes of NFL owners.

Baltimore offered a publicly funded stadium. Charlotte will have a large debt because it is financing its stadium with private funds.

By picking Charlotte, the NFL has an East Coast team. On a geography basis, St. Louis is the obvious second choice. William B. Dunavant Jr., owner of the Memphis, Tenn., group, said the league wants a team in the Central time zone.

He says he thinks it's going to be St. Louis or Memphis, but St. Louis appears to have the edge.

Memphis appears to be in the situation Baltimore is in. Its situation isn't going to change.

That probably means it's St. Louis' game to lose, not Baltimore's to win. Baltimore can just wait and hope it gets a team by default.

Bob Tisch, who was going to bid for a Baltimore team before he got a chance to buy half of the New York Giants, said Baltimore may be asked for more information, but it's difficult to see how much more Baltimore can tell the owners.

The only positive is that Baltimore didn't get blown out of the race last night. Baltimore had enough support -- Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman was a leading partisan -- to prevent another city (likely St. Louis) from getting a franchise.

But Baltimore couldn't come close to getting what Braman called a "consensus" among members of the expansion and finance committees.

"It was very difficult. One was easy, but the second one, you can tell by what we did how tough it was," Smith said.

Smith wouldn't say that the race for the second spot is between St. Louis and Baltimore.

L "I think the rest of them are all fine markets," Smith said.

That means Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis will remain in the race for an additional month. Another problem for Baltimore is that the 28 owners apparently are never going to get a chance to vote on whether Baltimore gets a team.

Last night, the expansion and finance committees recommended Charlotte and that action on the second city be deferred. The decision was rubber-stamped by the owners.

The two committees will try to reach a consensus on the second city. If they do, that decision is likely to be rubber-stamped, too.

Braman said the committees don't have to reach a unanimous recommendation to reach a consensus.

"It means a good, strong feeling by the group," he said.

Braman defended the decision to call for a delay rather than to decide it last night.

"I find no fault with that. It's much better than just making a second decision and saying [forget] it, the process is over, we can all go home and so forth. I don't think it would have been fair to the other cities and fair to the league as well," he said.

"Rather than just have an artificial deadline on our part that we have to make a decision by 12 o'clock at night or 1 o'clock in the morning, it's too important a decision to make on that basis."

Asked if the remaining four cities have any weaknesses, he said: "They're all great cities. I don't see any weaknesses. It's just the members of the committee reaching the consensus we reached when we selected Charlotte."

He said the delay didn't favor any city.

"I would say if you asked me if somebody was a strong favorite coming in for the second round, I'd say absolutely not," Braman said.

It's apparent, though, that Baltimore is running behind in the owners' eyes now.

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