According to Accorsi, all hope's not lost in NFL expansion bid

Bill Tanton

November 09, 1993|By Bill Tanton

There's only one person in the state of Maryland who knows the people in the National Football League really well.

His name is not Schaefer. Neither is it Belgrad or DeVito. It's Accorsi -- Ernie Accorsi, who worked in the league for 24 years and is now part of the effort to give Baltimore the ball.

By now Gov. Schaefer and Herb Belgrad and Matt DeVito have gotten to know the NFL brass and ownership better than they ever dreamed they would.

But Accorsi knows them on a much different level. He has been general manager of two teams (Browns and Colts) and worked in the league office under Pete Rozelle. He knows how they operate, how they think.

For that reason, I have added respect for what he says about the local effort to get the lone remaining franchise to be granted by the NFL three weeks from today.

Accorsi says a couple interesting things that go against what might be called conventional wisdom.

Talk to the man on the street and chances are he'll tell you Baltimore has no shot. He'll tell you St. Louis is a lock.

As soon as NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced on Oct. 26 that the awarding of the league's 30th franchise would be delayed until Nov. 30, people leaped to the conclusion that the NFL was simply buying time for St. Louis to get its ownership in order.

Accorsi disagrees. "The owners weren't able to come to an agreement that night in Chicago, so they recessed," he says. "I've seen them do that dozens of times."

Belgrad, the point man in Baltimore's expansion effort, agrees with Accorsi.

"If you'd been in the room with the owners that day," Belgrad says, "you would have seen that half of them were 70 years old.

"They'd been at it since 8 o'clock in the morning. At 8 o'clock that night they still hadn't reached a consensus. I think they decided this was too important an issue to decide when they were tired and thinking about travel plans to get back home."

The widespread perception is that Baltimore's two prospective ownership groups, one led by Boogie Weinglass, the other by Malcolm Glazer, are somehow lacking.

I don't go along with that either.

"If we don't get in," Accorsi says, "it won't be because of our owners. It'll be because they don't want Baltimore.

"When the league last expanded in 1976 it picked the cities first -- Seattle and Tampa Bay -- and then the NFL put owners in both cities."

Belgrad, the Baltimore lawyer who has been working for six years -- gratis -- to bring the NFL back here, spoke at Notre Dame College the other day and was surprisingly optimistic.

"Does the league have a problem with our owners?" I asked him.

"No," said Belgrad. "The league means the commissioner and the league office. They've checked out our owners thoroughly and they have no problem with them.

"The more important question then becomes: Will 21 NFL franchise owners approve them? We're in the process of gathering input on that. Then we'll do one of three things -- either stay as we are, choose one of our owners over the other, or get a new owner."

Oddsmakers have established St. Louis as the favorite to get the last franchise, with Baltimore second choice, Jacksonville third and Memphis fourth.

NFL teams are already lining up to talk to the Maryland Stadium Authority about relocating to Baltimore if we don't get an expansion franchise, so attractive is the deal here.

"It's much simpler to get a franchise through expansion," Belgrad said, "than to get an existing team to move here.

"There's the matter of breaking a lease and the penalties that would have to be paid. As things now stand, the owners would have to give their permission for a team to move -- but the owners are reluctant to try to block an owner from doing what he wants to do. They're afraid of lawsuits."

There are reasons why the NFL would prefer St. Louis to Baltimore that have nothing to do with ownership. They have to do with things the local effort can't change -- geography, the fact that St. louis is in the central time zone, and that St. Louis is the nation's largest market without a pro football team.

Belgrad stays optimistic. Accorsi is a little less so, though he's not about to give up.

"We're still alive," Accorsi says. "I've seen too many things happen in sports to think we have no chance.

"How many ballgames have you thought were lost when a ball went through the shortstop's legs and your team won? You just don't know what might happen in this process."

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