Proximity to D.C., loss of Colts appear to have doomed bid For Baltimore, a bitter loss

December 01, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

ROSEMONT, ILL — ROSEMONT, Ill. -- All Baltimore got from the NFL owners yesterday was sympathy.

"I know what kind of commitment it takes [to try to get an NFL franchise]," said Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, after the league awarded its 30th franchise to Jacksonville, Fla. "It's a tremendous disappointment, and I accept that."

Disappointment is putting it mildly. "Bitter" is the word that Gov. William Donald Schaefer used to describe his emotions.

Baltimore spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to impress the NFL. It sold out an exhibition game in a few hours. It put $8 million in the bank on the deposits for 7,500 club seats and 100 luxury suites.

It even dumped two prospective owners -- the hometown favorite, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, and the well-heeled out-of-towner, Malcolm Glazer -- to endorse Alfred Lerner, a minority owner of the Cleveland Browns.

All that got Baltimore was two votes in the Expansion and Finance committees and also-ran status along with St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn.

"There just wasn't much support for Baltimore," one committee member said.

Lerner's addition couldn't even get the city the vote of the Browns' majority owner, Art Modell.

Modell left the meeting early without an explanation of why he didn't support his friend. Lerner apparently didn't seem to mind, because he flew to New York with Modell.

Lerner also left without commenting and without answering the question of why he entered the race. Did he really think Baltimore had a chance, or did he just do it as a favor for Governor Schaefer?

Baltimore also can wonder if it would have made a difference if Lerner had come in earlier.

Alex Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers, said: "It's a shame they didn't have Lerner earlier. Really a shame. Baltimore impressed us -- fantastic, fantastic."

Ken Hoffman, minority owner of the Seattle Seahawks, said: "If this owner had been in before, you would have made it."

Yet Spanos and Hoffman were members of the committees and voted for Jacksonville. If they really wanted Lerner in Baltimore, they could have voted for him.

In the end, Baltimore couldn't overcome its proximity to Washington, the loss of a team when the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 and the apparent opposition to its bid by commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Tagliabue supported St. Louis, a city in the Central time zone that lost the Cardinals to Phoenix in 1988. But when he saw the owners were leery of going to St. Louis because of its ownership problems, he switched to Jacksonville, and the owners went along.

Baltimore's only votes on the committee came from Norman Braman, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Robert Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants.

The selection of Jacksonville was simply a rerun of Charlotte's selection on Oct. 26. The city was recommended by the combined Expansion and Finance committees, and the rest of the owners rubber-stamped it.

The only difference was that Charlotte was recommended 12-0. Jacksonville was supported 10-2. Tagliabue tried to get Braman and Tisch to switch to Jacksonville to make it unanimous, but they refused.

The committee system made it easier for Tagliabue to manipulate the results.

If the election had been thrown open to all the owners without a recommendation, Baltimore might have gotten at least eight votes to block Jacksonville and turn it into a wide-open race with several ballots.

Wellington Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants, for example, was a public supporter of Baltimore, but went along with the committee's recommendation. The vote for Jacksonville among all the owners was 26-2. Only Braman and James Busch Orthwein, the New England Patriots owner who supported St. Louis, voted no.

With most of the owners willing to go along with the committee's recommendation, Baltimore never really had a chance.

When Braman was asked why Jacksonville got the team, he said: "I voted for Baltimore, so I couldn't give you reasons for voting for Jacksonville."

So what were the main assets that got Jacksonville an NFL franchise yesterday?

"I don't know," said Mara.

"I just accepted the committee's recommendation," Mara added. They put so much time in it, so I just went with what they said."

That's the way a lot of owners voted.

"I really went with the committee's recommendation, to be quite honest with you," said Dan Rooney, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When one owner was asked about the vote, he said: "I can't say for sure. I wasn't paying that much attention."

Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills, said: "They had a complete analysis of practically everything you could think of."

Wilson, though, didn't seem too sure of the details. "I don't even remember what the TV thing was. I can't remember," he said. "The thing that impressed me the most was the growth potential of the area. The statistics up on the board and so forth really favored Jacksonville as far as I was concerned."

But Wilson wasn't sure what those statistics were.

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