NFL clubs unlikely to get a move on

December 17, 1993|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Staff Writer

Is 60 days enough time for Baltimore to find out whether it has a chance to lure an existing NFL team to Camden Yards?

That's the question of the moment for the city now that Maryland legislative leaders have given the Maryland Stadium Authority two months to report back with a progress report while they study the idea of the Washington Redskins' moving to Laurel.

The problem for Baltimore is that mid-February is probably too early for a team to indicate it's ready to move.

Of the past three teams to move, only one -- the St. Louis Cardinals -- committed to a move before February. They agreed to move to Phoenix in January 1988, and the move was approved by the owners in March.

Robert Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, didn't leave Baltimore until March 28, 1984, and Al Davis, owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, didn't get the go-ahead to move from Oakland until he won a lawsuit in May 1982.

This year, the process is even more complicated because more than one team is seriously considering a move and teams may be hesitant to be the first one to go.

The team considered most likely to move is the New England Patriots, but the process wouldn't even start until the Massachusetts legislature ends its session Jan. 4.

If the legislature fails to approve a stadium-convention center complex, owner James Busch Orthwein, who has retained Goldman, Sachs & Co. to screen bids, is expected to enter serious negotiations to sell the team to an out-of-town buyer.

When pro football Hall of Famer Walter Payton was in New York this month for a college awards banquet, he sent a warning to Patriots fans.

"I think you Boston people are going to lose your Patriots. Forget what you read in the papers. The Patriots might not be in Boston as long as you think," Payton said. "My group is working on it. There are some things I can't talk about now, but you Boston people need a new facility or you'll be looking for an expansion team in the near future, believe me."

Payton is a member of the St. Louis group headed by Wal-Mart heir E. Stanley Kroenke. Because Orthwein is from St. Louis, he is most likely to sell to the Kroenke group.

The St. Louis group isn't under deadline pressure, although it probably would want to complete a deal before the owners meet in March in Orlando, Fla.

The second team likely to move is the Los Angeles Rams, who are considered the leading prospect to come to Baltimore.

The Rams have sent signals they're serious about moving. John Shaw, the team's executive vice president, has rejected a bid by the Anaheim City Council to extend the lease at the team's practice facility by more than two years. The council has the option of evicting the team Dec. 31. The Rams have to give 15 months' notice before leaving Anaheim Stadium, so they must play in Anaheim in 1994 even if they have to find a new place to practice.

The Anaheim City Council discussed the Rams at a meeting Tuesday and agreed to form a committee next Tuesday to meet with Shaw.

"We don't know what the Rams want. I'm willing to listen to what they're asking, but I would not give away the store. We have obligations to the citizens of Anaheim," Councilman Irv Pickler said.

Shaw, who has not returned phone calls the past two weeks, has said publicly only that he'll explore all options at the end of the season.

A source close to the Rams says owner Georgia Frontiere will wait until the Patriots decide before making up her mind. Once the Patriots make a move, it could be easier for her to follow. If the league were letting one team move, it probably would have a harder time saying no to another.

Another owner interested in moving but likely to wait is Davis, who says officials of the Los Angeles Coliseum never lived up to promises they made when the Raiders arrived from Oakland.

He's likely to wait to see what the Rams do. If they leave and he has the Los Angeles market to himself, he might have more leverage for a better stadium deal. If the Rams stay, he might be more likely to move.

Another team in a holding pattern is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Owner Hugh Culverhouse has cancer, and the team is expected to be sold to the highest bidder after his death. Culverhouse has not indicated a desire to sell the team himself.

If a team is for sale, it's uncertain which Baltimore group would be interested in buying it.

Joel Glazer, a son of Florida businessman Malcolm Glazer, said: "Our strategy is we're doing nothing right now." Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, who is dealing with financial problems at his clothing company, Merry-Go-Round, didn't return a phone call. Alfred Lerner, the Cleveland Browns minority owner who was the late entry in the Baltimore sweepstakes, has yet to comment.

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