Owners select smmallest city by vote of 26-2 NFL snubs Baltimore with upset pick Jacksonville?

December 01, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer Staff writers Vito Stellino, Ken Murray, Mike Preston and Ken Rosenthal contributed to this article.

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Sorry, Baltimore.

You hustled in overtime and played by the rules, pledged the best stadium and showed true football fanaticism.

But, in the end, it didn't matter. The NFL yesterday gave the ball to the late-blooming bid of Jacksonville, Fla., with its old stadium and an ownership group that briefly quit the expansion race this summer.

The decision, a stunning upset for the smallest city in the expansion competition, left members of Baltimore's delegation angry and humiliated.

"I've been hit twice -- when the team left and now this," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who was mayor of Baltimore when the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

"I learned a long time ago that, when you are as unhappy and angry as I am, to wait 24 hours before you say anything," said a seething Mr. Schaefer, who led the effort to get Baltimore back into the NFL, fighting for stadium funding and delivering personal appeals to league owners.

In a gamble two weeks ago, Mr. Schaefer and the city's NFL organizers decided to recruit a new prospective owner -- rebuffing a pair of potential investors who had been working more than two years to get a team for Baltimore.

But the hoped-for support for Cleveland businessman and Browns part-owner Alfred Lerner failed to materialize. Even Art Modell, the Browns majority owner and a close friend of Mr. Lerner, voted for Jacksonville.

The media-shy Mr. Lerner, who never publicly discussed his application, met briefly with members of two NFL committees yesterday morning. He slipped secretly in and out of the hotel that was host to the owners meeting, leaving before the expansion announcement to fly aboard his private jet to New York with Mr. Modell, a member of the league's Expansion Committee.

Baltimore was a distant second in the polling, conducted in the same suburban Chicago hotel where, in 1984, team owners opted not to oppose the move of the Colts.

Jacksonville received 10 votes yesterday and Baltimore two in a joint meeting of the Expansion and Finance committees of team owners overseeing expansion. St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn., got no votes.

Baltimore's support came from Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman and New York Giants co-owner Robert Tisch, who once headed a bid for a Baltimore franchise.

The committees' Jacksonville recommendation was passed by the full NFL ownership, 26-2. Among the no votes was Braman, who delivered an appeal for Baltimore, and New England Patriots owner James Busch Orthwein, a former St. Louis expansion bid investor who spoke on behalf of his hometown.

Mr. Tisch defers to Giants majority owner Wellington Mara on franchise votes, and Mr. Mara supported Jacksonville.

Baltimore officials declined to say whether they would try to lure an existing team to Baltimore, but some franchises may be interested in moving.

The prospective Baltimore owners overlooked by Mr. Schaefer's endorsement of Mr. Lerner were circumspect yesterday.

Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, who led an investment group, said only, "I'm sorry, I've had enough," on his way out of the hotel.

Malcolm Glazer, a Florida-based financier, said: "The NFL made a decision. . . . I'm going to go home and cry."

The selection of Jacksonville, though rumored in recent days, came as a surprise to many people in the process. Its population of 943,500 makes it the nation's 55th largest metro area and gives it a television market of 56 (the Baltimore area is home to 2.43 million people and the 22nd-largest TV market).

But league officials say they were drawn to the growing, Sunbelt region of the Southeast. The other expansion team went last month to a city in the same region, Charlotte, N.C.

"Putting a team in Jacksonville puts the NFL in, if not the fastest-growing, then one of the fastest-growing parts of the country," said NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The city has been one of the most dogged in the NFL hunt. Since Robert Irsay, then looking for a new home for the Baltimore Colts, first visited Jacksonville in 1979, five teams have flirted with moving there, only to reject it in the end.

"It's the beginning of a new era in both economic and social development. . . . We think this will give Jacksonville the self-esteem and national recognition it deserves," said franchise owner J. Wayne Weaver, who lives in Connecticut, but plans to move to Florida.

The Jacksonville Jaguars will take the field in 1995, playing in an aging stadium updated by $121 million in improvements. Extraordinarily lucrative lease terms will pay visiting teams more than $1 million every time they play there.

Jacksonville has grown 25 percent in population over the past decade.

The lack of other pro sports in town to compete for fans was seen as a positive by some league officials.

The prospective ownership group, led by Mr. Weaver, a shoe-retailing magnate, was also well-regarded within the league. Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeb Bush, son of former President George Bush, also is an investor.

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