NFL owners know Lerner, or at least his name

November 28, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

The NFL owners know the name, but not the man.

That's about the best way to describe their knowledge of Alfred Lerner, the minority owner of the Cleveland Browns who is now heading the Baltimore effort to get an NFL expansion franchise.

Most of the owners had little to say about Lerner and even those who know him fairly well were reluctant to say if he would sway their vote Tuesday when Baltimore, St. Louis, Jacksonville, Fla., or Memphis, Tenn., is expected to be named the NFL's 30th team.

"I've heard Art [Modell] talk about him, and I did meet him with Modell, but I can't really say that I know him," said Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Even though Lerner is a regular in Modell's box at Browns games home and away, he has kept a low profile.

"His name is familiar and his business interests are well known," said Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, whose team played the Browns in three AFC title games in the 1980s. "I don't know him personally."

Both Chuck Schmidt, executive vice president of the Detroit Lions, and John Shaw, executive vice president of the Los Angeles Rams, also said they don't know Lerner.

"I've met him, but I don't know him well," said Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown, whose team is in the Browns' division. "I've heard good things about him. Art Modell's a good friend of his."

Wellington Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants, said, "I know him as a friend of Art Modell's. I've met him a number of times with Art. A couple of times when Art's been in the hospital and I've gone out to visit, Al's always been there. Those two are very close. He's a very nice man, but I've never had any business dealings with him."

Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman said he had dinner with Lerner once.

"He's a solid citizen and a solid business man," Braman said. "He's a quality individual."

Of Lerner's low-key style, Braman said, "He's not a guy who toots his own horn. He's a private individual. He's got a good reputation."

But will he help the Baltimore bid? The owners were reluctant to say.

They either didn't want to make it sound as if they were criticizing the two original groups, headed by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer, or they didn't want to publicly make comments on the expansion race.

"I don't think the other guys hurt Baltimore," Braman said. "I don't think they were a negative for Baltimore. They had a strong package from the beginning. But Lerner's a well-respected individual and he can't hurt it."

Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, ducked the question by saying Lerner's entrance in the race was "a very interesting development that merits attention."

The Bengals' Brown said: "You're pushing me to be comparative. I don't know if I'm going to do that. Just say the one I know the most about is Lerner and he's certainly someone I find impressive. I've always thought he was a top-quality person.

"The fact that he's interested in this venture is certainly a plus for Baltimore. He's a successful, hard-working businessman with high ethics and splendid reputation. He's a top-notch person, and from what I know, he's very pleasant and gracious."

The owners did say that the one thing they're sure of is that a second team will be named at the meeting in Chicago this week.

When the owners met on Oct. 26, they planned to name two teams, but could reach a consensus only on Charlotte, N.C., and deferred a decision on the second team.

"There will be a consensus," said Braman, a member of the expansion committee. "I don't know if it'll be unanimous, but I'm confident theprocess will be completed Tuesday."

A city must get 21 of 28 votes to be approved.

Mara of the Giants said: "I know [commissioner] Paul [Tagliabue] warned us that we're not leaving there until we get somebody."

Mara said he was reminded of the way former commissioner Pete Rozelle locked the owners up overnight to get them to reach a decision on realignment for the NFC in 1970.

Rozelle finally wound up getting them to agree on five plans and had his secretary pick one out of a hat. The NFC is still using that plan.

"I'll bring an extra clean shirt with me," Mara said. "It sounds like a three-shirter."

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