Rebellious Bomber finally gets revenge

KEN ROSENTHAL

October 29, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

It's the year 2005. We're at the post-game show of Super Bowl XXXIX, live on pay-per-view from the Democracy Dome in Berlin. Here's NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, stepping to the microphone to present the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Tagliabue is sweating bullets.

Baltimore Stallions 62, Carolina Panthers 16.

Stallions? Ah yes, the old St. Louis Stallions. The team that entered the NFL amid glorious fanfare in the Great Expansion Robbery of '93, only to change owners six times in 10 years. Terrible team. Terrible attendance. Two former owners, Fran Murray and Jim Irsay, went bankrupt.

The Mayflower vans rolled into St. Louis on March 28, 2004 -- the 20th anniversary of the day the Colts left Baltimore. Boogie Weinglass led the convoy in his Mercedes convertible, wearing a custom-made Baltimore Bombers jacket, his personal symbol of defiance.

As with all invasions, CNN provided live coverage. The convoy crossed the Mississippi River, circled the Gateway Arch triumphantly, then headed directly to the only NFL stadium ever named after a baseball player, The Ozzie Dome.

"All mine!" Boogie shouted into the Midwest night.

The moment had been building since Nov. 30, 1993, the day Tagliabue announced St. Louis would be joining Charlotte as the second NFL expansion city. Baltimore had been in contention, ++ but the result was as predictable as an election in the old Soviet Union.

The owners' meeting lasted 90 seconds. It ended in a burst of applause for the new St. Louis owner, an unemployed trucker who had just won the Missouri State Lottery. Tagliabue said only 13 words: "Yes, St. Louis. Right this way, St. Louis. Anything you say, St. Louis."

In the movie, co-directed by Barry Levinson and Oliver Stone, the speech was slowed and played backward.

"Listen closely," a recording expert told Mickey Rourke, the actor portraying Weinglass.

The words were unmistakable.

"Baltimore is dead, Baltimore is dead. . . ."

Yet, even before "Diner II," Weinglass had been plotting to steal a team -- "This is how I like it," he told friends. "A street fight." After the expansion fiasco, and the recovery of Merry-Go-Round, he purchased a new vanity plate for his convertible.

"MTB," it said.

Money to burn.

Malcolm Glazer, the other man who tried to bring an expansion franchise to Baltimore, gradually faded from the picture after failing in his desperate $400 million offer for the New England Patriots.

"This is the NFL -- you can't just buy your way in," Patriots owner James Busch Orthwein responded angrily, shortly before selling the Patriots to a Jacksonville businessman for $405 million.

For Boogie, there was only one problem: Figuring out which franchise he wanted to bring home to Baltimore.

"You like Tampa Bay?" he asked Levinson in early 1996.

"Can't name three players on Tampa Bay," Levinson replied.

"You like New England?"

"They're in Jacksonville."

"You like the Rams?"

"They're going to Mexico City."

The conversation, recounted in the soon-to-be released "Diner III," led to the futile courtship of Al Davis and the Raiders, who had moved from Los Angeles to Memphis after flirting with Baltimore in 1998.

Davis and Boogie got into a fistfight, so that was that.

In the end, all roads led to St. Louis. The move was completed without a hitch, and once again, no one in St. Louis cared. Boogie made the cover of Time, under the headline, "Revenge!" Then, all of a sudden, the Stallions got good.

They went 11-5, then upset Pittsburgh and San Diego for a dream showdown with Indianapolis in the AFC title game at William Donald Schaefer Stadium. Boogie pulled an Irsay, using his cellular phone to order coach Mark Duffner to call a flea flicker with the Stallions trailing, 14-10.

And so another wrong was righted.

The play went for a 79-yard touchdown.

Now, after six weeks of hype and another Super Bowl blowout, commissioner Tagliabue is clearing his throat.

We join him live. . . .

"Leonard," Tagliabue says.

"Boogie," Boogie replies.

"It's been a great season for Baltimore," Tagliabue stammers.

"The trophy, Paul," Boogie says, eyes blazing, ponytail dangling. "Give me the damn trophy."

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