Teams knocking as NFL slams door

December 02, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

It didn't take long after Baltimore was rejected for NFL expansion for teams to start showing interest in moving here.

Herbert J. Belgrad, the Maryland Stadium Authority chairman, said representatives of two teams approached him Tuesday after the owners voted to expand to Jacksonville, Fla.

Belgrad said: "They came up to introduce themselves to me to place a face with a name because [they said], 'You'll be hearing from me shortly.' "

Belgrad declined to identify the teams, but said they came from the list of the teams who already have been mentioned as possible candidates to move -- the Los Angeles Rams and Raiders, the New England Patriots, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals, though, now appear to be staying in Cincinnati and most league observers think that if the Raiders leave Los Angeles, they'll be staying on the West Coast.

The Rams have said they plan to explore options at the end of the season and James Busch Orthwein has put the Patriots up for sale. There had been speculation Orthwein would move the team to St. Louis, but he said otherwise Tuesday.

"I'm sick of this NFL football business and the people that run it," Orthwein said. "I can't sell this team fast enough . . . and I'm not moving to St. Louis."

The NFL softened its stand of Tuesday that suggested the Patriots could not be sold to any group wishing to move the team outside New England. "We're not saying Orthwein can't move the team -- that's the Patriots' right just as much as any other team," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told The Hartford Courant. "We're saying he can't move it without permission."

Belgrad repeated his previous stance that the city will not pursue a team until it already has made a decision to leave.

"We will not be used as leverage for any franchise that is continuing to negotiate its own lease for improvements. We will have to feel certain we're not being used," he said.

Belgrad also stressed that it's Gov. William Donald Schaefer's call whether the city will still be interested in a team that wants to move.

"We need to get the authorization of the governor. We've got to see if he wants to have anything further to do with the NFL. He's been through a lot lately. He's lost and alienated friends simply because his objective was to try to get an NFL franchise." Belgrad was referring to the fact that the governor's decision to endorse Alfred Lerner, a minority owner of the Cleveland Browns, caused a rift with Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and some of the Baltimore business leaders who were part of his group.

Belgrad said he didn't plan to talk to the governor yesterday and wanted to give him more time before he brings up the subject.

"He was a very angry and bitter person, as much about the way we were treated Tuesday as the end result," Belgrad said.

Assuming that Schaefer is willing to listen to an NFL team, there's also the question of whether the league could block a team from moving.

After the league lost an antitrust suit over the move of the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982, the league set up a list of criteria that teams have to meet to get the approval to move.

The criteria includes the adequacy of the stadium, willingness of the city officials to correct stadium problems and fan support.

Roger Goodell, an NFL vice president who was in charge of the expansion process, said Tuesday he doesn't think the Rams would meet the criteria.

"I can't say that Roger Goodell should be in a position to make an assessment of whether we meet the criteria," said John Shaw, the Rams executive vice president. "I didn't believe he was the arbitrator."

Shaw didn't seem to be overly concerned about the criteria. "I don't know what criteria he's talking about. I know the league has a policy on moving, but I'm not sure of the legality of it," he said.

Shaw said he would consult his legal counsel if it ever came down to a question of the team's moving.

Shaw said he never has met Belgrad and didn't have a conservation with him in Chicago. He also confirmed that he's hired the Washington law firm of Williams and Connolly to do "some corporate work."

He said the firm has yet to do any work "for us specifically as it relates to Baltimore."

Shaw also denied he's hired Larry Lucchino, the former Orioles president who worked at the firm with the late Edward Bennett Williams before joining the Orioles. Shaw declined to name the lawyer he's in contact with at the firm.

Shaw said no decision will be made by the team before the end of the season.

"I think we're going to review our economic situation in Anaheim at the end of the season to try to analyze what are options are," he said.

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