Jackson tour, Texas oil greased skids for city


October 31, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

The seeds for Baltimore's demise in the expansion derby were sown in the late 1980s.

Three unrelated events that had nothing to do with Baltimore managed to ruin the city's chances.

They were:

* The oil bust in Texas.

* The Nordstrom department store family's decision to leave the football business.

* The decision of Chuck Sullivan, former vice president of the New England Patriots, to back the Michael Jackson Victory Tour.

You might wonder what they had to do with Baltimore. A lot. Listen up and pay attention. This gets a little complicated.

The money Bum Bright lost in the oil business forced him to sell the Dallas Cowboys to Jerry Jones in 1989. That cost team president Tex Schramm his job.

When the Nordstroms decided the football business was a distraction from their department store empire, they sold the Seattle Seahawks to Ken Behring in 1988.

And the money the Sullivans lost on the Jackson tour forced them to sell to Victor Kiam in 1988.

The result is that in July 1989, when the owners voted to select a new commissioner, Kiam, Behring and Jones were voting in place of Sullivan, Nordstrom and Schramm.

Sullivan, Nordstrom and Schramm would have voted for New Orleans Saints general manager Jim Finks. The three newcomers joined the new-guard bloc that stopped him. Finks got 16 votes and needed 19. The three votes that changed hands in the sales of 1988 and 1989 wound up electing Paul Tagliabue.

Once Tagliabue got the job, Baltimore had no chance. He had an agenda, and it didn't include Baltimore, which he saw as a geography problem. He was never interested in fairly evaluating the candidates. He wanted Charlotte, N.C., and St. Louis from Day One, and he fixed the process from the start.

Finks never would have done that. He's a straight shooter and would have given Baltimore and the other cities a fair shot.

As it turned out, Finks wasn't destined to be at last week's meeting. He's battling lung cancer.

The league office would have had a different look with Finks. He wouldn't have tolerated the type of people Tagliabue has around, the yes men and empty suits who talk about marketing. Finks would have wanted football people making decisions.

With Finks running the show, there would have been winners and losers, but everybody would have felt they had gotten a fair shot. He's a former player who believes in good, honest competition.

Instead, with Tagliabue running the show, it's pointless for Baltimore to even try to sweeten its deal or find new owners.

The potential Baltimore owners, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer, would be just fine if they were in St. Louis.

It's also pointless to second-guess the Baltimore effort. It wasn't a level playing field, so it didn't matter what Baltimore did.

If Tagliabue wanted Baltimore and the deal or the owners were a problem, he would have gotten them changed. The Charlotte deal was reworked about four times.

Baltimore's role was simply to squeeze more money out of Charlotte -- including the final $48 million when Charlotte gave up $3.2 million in club-seat revenue for 15 years. Charlotte has been left financially crippled. Even Jerry Richardson admitted the team can't make money for 10 years. But the NFL doesn't care because NationsBank will subsidize the losses.

Baltimore now can only sit and wait to see whether St. Louis can solve its ownership problem. It now knows it never had a fair shot.

The vote

Although no formal vote was taken after the expansion and finance committees unanimously recommended Charlotte, one owner on the committee said that from the discussions, it appeared five owners favored Baltimore, four St. Louis, two Jacksonville and one Memphis.

Don't get excited. Though that owner likes Baltimore, he expects St. Louis to get the team.

"That's what the big boys want," he said.

The fix

What is so amazing about the Tagliabue regime is that it is so clumsy about putting the fix in. When you do it, you're supposed to be subtle about it.

Instead, the league keeps having its mouthpieces announce it.

In USA Today Friday, ESPN rumormeister Fred Edelstein was quoted by Rudy Martzke as saying, "It's over and everyone knows it."

Edelstein then even knocked Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman for favoring Baltimore.

"Braman kept Baltimore alive because of money: his. He could bus his team to Baltimore for $5,500 and walk away with $1 million," he said.

See, if you favor Baltimore, you're knocked for being venal. If you favor Charlotte or St. Louis, you have foresight.

The league, of course, denies this. Tagliabue said Wednesday: "It's not a done deal. Anyone who thinks St. Louis is a done deal is laboring under a serious misapprehension."

But Tuesday night, Edelstein went on ESPN with a Carolina hat and T-shirt he said he got from a league representative and announced before Tagliabue did that Charlotte had the team. The league can't spoon-feed Edelstein information and then disavow his comments.

The aftermath

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