'Boogie' and the Banker

November 19, 1993

Did anyone need more evidence that major league sports is a cold-blooded business and not a noble enterprise?

If you want a National Football League franchise, you play the league's game. Too distasteful? Then you live without an NFL team. But if you believe a franchise is valuable to this community, economically as well as psychologically, then you do whatever is necessary to get one. Within limits.

Those were the issues facing Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Herbert L. Belgrad, leader of Maryland's campaign to regain football, following the league owners' failure to select a second city last month. They decided to respond to what some insiders described as a weakness in their application: Neither of the two potential owners appealed to enough NFL owners.

So the local officials decided to encourage a new entrant, one they thought would have more support than Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, the home-grown entrepreneur, or Malcolm Glazer, the Florida investor. Mr. Glazer's bottom-line orientation was too much even for the owners, which left a choice between the emotional "Boogie" with his heart on his sleeve or a newcomer. No other thoroughly local investor stepped forward, so officials turned to Alfred Lerner, the Cleveland banker and businessman with substantial interests here.

A rotten thing to do to Mr. Weinglass, John Paterakis and other local backers? Sure. They have every right to feel betrayed. But the governor and local leaders were convinced, rightly or wrongly, that Baltimore would not win if they stuck with either of the groups.

There are risks to injecting a new entrant at the last minute. Unlike some competing cities, notably St. Louis, Baltimore's ownership list was stable though competitive. Now that St. Louis has finally settled on one ownership group, Baltimore looks like the one in turmoil. The Maryland team clearly erred in believing NFL officials who told them there were no reservations about Baltimore's potential owners. Could the local leaders be listening to one faction in the contentious NFL while Mr. Weinglass is getting different signals from another faction?

Mr. Weinglass clearly continues to be the sentimental favorite of fans here. Sentiment, however, doesn't go very far in the NFL.

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