Murray buys self plenty of flak in St. Louis quest Detractors say he cost city a team

October 29, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Francis W. Murray suggested yesterday it'd be a good idea to wait until Sunday to write about him in The Baltimore Sun.

Murray, who lives in Philadelphia, said: "I only get a chance to see the Sunday Sun."

Sorry, Fran, the news can't wait, and you're very much in the news in the expansion derby.

Which brings us to the central question:

Who is Fran Murray and why are they saying all those terrible things about him in St. Louis?

In St. Louis, James Busch Orthwein, who owns the New England Patriots, is saying Murray prevented St. Louis from getting the second expansion team Tuesday, when the owners decided to delay a decision.

"If Murray hadn't done this, it [St. Louis' being awarded a team] would have been done. It's unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. It's the most amazing, disgusting thing that I have ever encountered in my long life," Orthwein said.

If Orthwein is right, Murray kept Baltimore alive in the expansion race by blocking St. Louis.

The perception is that Baltimore's only chance of getting a team at the Nov. 30 owners meeting is if St. Louis can't solve its Murray problem.

What Murray did was take over the leadership of the St. Louis NFL Partnership, the original group attempting to get an expansion team in St. Louis. The door opened for Murray when first Orthwein and then beer distributor Jerry Clinton pulled out as lead investors.

Murray, who once ran an investment firm and is a 1965 graduate of the Wharton School, makes it sound as if he's puzzled by all the sound and fury in St. Louis. His version is he kept St. Louis alive.

"As the co-founder of the St. Louis partnership, my ambition is to run the last remaining franchise," he said. "I don't see anything counter to that purpose. The ball was sitting there. I had to pick it up. Otherwise, the game would have been over.

"I'm a partner. Under partnership law, it's the right of all partners to protect the partnership."

But Murray -- whose brother, Jim, is a former general manager of the Philadelpia Eagles -- has other ambitions, too.

He also heads a group attempting to bring an NFL team to Hartford, Conn. He has offered $133 million for the New England Patriots.

He also offered to swap the Patriots for an expansion team, an offer Orthwein rejected.

Despite all this wheeling and dealing, the perception remains that Murray doesn't have the financing to bring off any of these ventures.

In fact, Murray once said, "I'm rich, but I have no money."

Murray, though, says he'll have the money if he gets the team.

"The day this franchise is awarded, I would have $100 million. Is that enough?" he said.

So how did Murray manage to get in the middle of this convoluted picture? Let's start at the beginning.

When former Patriots owner Billy Sullivan was having financial problems, Murray acquired an option to buy 49 percent of the team on April 6, 1986, and exercised it on Oct. 28, 1988, when Victor Kiam bought the majority interest.

After St. Louis lost the Cardinals in 1988, Murray came to St. Louis and formed the St. Louis NFL Partnership with Clinton. It was Murray's idea to build a stadium as part of a convention center.

The project eventually was approved with the backing of the state of Missouri and the county and city of St. Louis on April 30, 1990.

On Aug. 28, 1991, the partnership signed a lease with the officials running the convention center, which is currently under construction.

Clinton had 44 percent of the lease and Murray 30 percent. Orthwein, who had joined the group, had 12 percent, former football star Walter Payton 10 percent and St. Louis businessman Tom Holley 4 percent.

Because the partnership hasn't been dissolved, the lease is apparently in effect until St. Louis finds out if it's awarded an expansion team.

If the city doesn't get one, the lease reverts to Orthwein, who bought the Patriots from Kiam in March 1992, when the team was facing bankruptcy.

Murray had turned his interest toward Hartford until he showed up at the owners meeting, after St. Louis had lined up Wal-Mart heir L. Stanley Kroenke to be its new majority investor.

A statement issued by the Kroenke group said: "We were very surprised to see Fran Murray in Chicago claiming to represent the St. Louis NFL Partnership, alleging that their application was still being pursued and demanding to make an application."

Murray did make a presentation to the league's expansion and finance committees, but wasn't allowed to address the entire ownership.

It could take a platoon of lawyers months to figure all this out, but St. Louis has to get it resolved by Nov. 30.

The NFL, which just was nailed for a $114 judgment by Sullivan, who contended the league cost him the Patriots by preventing him from making a public stock offering, obviously is skittish about facing a lawsuit from Murray if it gives a franchise to Kroenke.

One way to settle the matter would be for Kroenke to make a settlement with Murray, but he may not want to meet Murray's price.

Even Murray concedes he's not likely to wind up as part of the new group. "Their general treatment of me suggests they and I don't form the perfect marriage," he said.

In the wake of all this confusion and controversy, Murray isn't too popular in NFL circles these days.

When Murray showed up at the owners meetings this week with former Eagles owner Leonard Tose, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell said, "They got a sitting ovation."

Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, one of the Baltimore investors, said that when he made a presentation before the owners last month, one of the owners asked him, "Is Fran Murray in your group, too?"

The NFL owners can laugh now, but it remains to be seen if Murray gets the last laugh.

He even could wind up bringing smiles to the faces of Baltimore football fans.

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