Lurie, DeVito might be 1-2 punch city needs to KO doubts

John Steadman

October 27, 1993|By John Steadman

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Now Baltimore, as never before, must reach back for extra strength, continuing resolve and a new ownership arrangement to assemble its resources for still another drive toward the National Football League goal line.

It would be foolhardy to let the disappointment of last night's expansion effort destroy the exceptional work that has carried Baltimore this far. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the Maryland Stadium Authority aren't going to back off now.

They are still alive in the expansion chase. To be more blunt and precise, Baltimore received what could be called a stay of execution.

In the time still available, five weeks, a momentous attempt must be made to encourage Jeff Lurie, a wealthy young Hollywood producer, who is interested in a Baltimore franchise, to make his presence formally known.

Matt DeVito, a co-chairman along with Herb Belgrad of Baltimore's expansion committee, should be encouraged to carry the ball in an ownership role. DeVito has an impeccable reputation in the business world because of his direction of the Rouse Co., plus he has lived in Baltimore for 40 years.

The credibility DeVito would bring with him is likewise impressive. Owners of NFL clubs express a high opinion of him, even though they admit they know DeVito only as a spokesman for Baltimore's football project.

A combination Lurie/DeVito football partnership would seem to be the only way to go at this late stage. Whatever Baltimore does is going to have to be a master plan.

Baltimore, from this reporter's viewpoint, can't come back to the league with the same ownership applicants and expect to score. That would have scant chance of working. A new spin is needed and that, too, may not work but it should be considered.

Lurie already has met with the governor and the stadium authority. It was probably felt it would have been unfair to the initial Baltimore groups, which had worked diligently, to have been hampered by any sign that indicated support for them was lacking.

So, the stadium authority and the owners who had applied, namely Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer, went before the NFL and gave it their best shot in the interview process. Obviously, it didn't take.

This is not to say if Lurie had been affiliated with Baltimore the outcome would have been any different. Not that at all because the league never even voted on any city other than the first-round winner, Charlotte, which won approval by the astounding unanimous score of 28 to 0.

Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis and Jacksonville remain for the one open position. Three things favor St. Louis. The television networks and the league, generally speaking, would like to have a franchise in the heartland of the country.

That's not to be interpreted as a statement of fact, merely an attempt to provide a precise reading of the situation. St. Louis has a domed stadium started and a powerful new alignment of owners with excellent credentials and enormous financial resources.

Look for St. Louis to try to bring Walter Payton, the Hall of Fame halfback who was with the previous ownership team in St. Louis, to their side of the field as a playing partner. They owe him that opportunity.

Does St. Louis get an advantage in the delaying action, a chance to define and refine what has been a chaotic condition? It seems it would. But there's a "no," answer from Norman Braman of the expansion committee and owner of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"We have an obligation that's owed to the other cities that they all have an equal opportunity," he explained. Braman and Bob Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants and part of the finance committee, were Baltimore's strongest allies in the meeting.

"Gov. Schaefer performed a good job for Baltimore," remarked Tisch. "He produces what he promises."

Another boost for Baltimore came from the Seattle Seahawks' Ken Hoffman, a finance committee member, who remarked, "You're close. You have to keep working. I personally believe Tom Clancy [the author who withdrew to join the new ownership of the Orioles] should have stayed in because he may have made a difference."

The expansion committee that recommended Charlotte was split in its thinking on the other location of a franchise. When it couldn't deliver a consensus on where to go, there was no other vote taken among the 28 owners.

If Baltimore has what could be called a "geographical flaw," there's nothing that can be done about it. Baltimore can't be picked up and moved to Colorado or Missouri.

Weinglass said he wasn't as optimistic over Baltimore's chances now than he had been earlier. Bryan Glazer, one of Malcolm's sons, and his brother Joel were more upbeat. "The final chapter in the book hasn't been written," explained Bryan while smiling on a night when Baltimore needed all the lift it could get.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, when he notified the Baltimore delegation that it hadn't been voted a team, said he could understand the disappointment and added, "there was support for every city in the committee" -- but, bottom line, just not enough.

Baltimore has come too far to forsake the battle. It must not stand around feeling sorry about the partial result, the Charlotte win and being caught in a tie with three other cities.

What it owes itself and the public is the opportunity to make another all-out crack at the NFL line. The expansion game isn't for the faint of heart.

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