Rams are standing in can't lose position

May 04, 1994|By Steve Bisheff | Steve Bisheff,Orange County (Calif.) Register

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- You don't have to be a Las Vegas sharpie to figure this thing out. The chances of the Los Angeles Rams staying in Anaheim now are about as good as some wise guy, high-roller's attempt to break the bank at Caesar's.

Make the odds long. Real long. Or, in horse racing parlance, this is the way a handicap might read now that the race to win the Rams' hearts and home in 1995 officially has begun:

* Baltimore (2-1): Favorite must fight J.K. Cooke.

* St. Louis (5-2): Only glitch is lease snafu.

* Anaheim (50-1): Might take a miracle now.

* Memphis, San Antonio, et al (500-1): Others just window dressing.

One day after the Rams issued their long-awaited news release officially informing the city of Anaheim they intend to terminate their current lease at Anaheim Stadium, the best chance for Orange County to retain pro football is for Baltimore and St. Louis, the two real contenders, to fall flat on their eight-figure promises.

Already invigorated by a spectacular new baseball park at Camden Yards, Baltimore wants to build a state-of-the-art, $160 million football facility right next door. The new stadium and accompanying eye-popping revenue plan already have Rams vice president John Shaw salivating.

Only the ominous shadow of one Jack Kent Cooke hovers nearby, threatening to blow up this multimillion-dollar game plan.

Cooke, the Washington Redskins' vigorous owner, already has announced his intention to build a new stadium for his football team in nearby Laurel, Md. Naturally, if he does, he would not look kindly at some other NFL franchise moving into the same neighborhood.

In terms of power, Cooke is not one with whom to trifle.

St. Louis, another hungry contestant in this win-a-franchise contest, has a $258 million, 70,000-seat facility already under construction. Its revenue projections to the Rams would be just as appealing as Baltimore's.

But there are major hangups over control of the stadium's lease, and unless they are settled sometime in the next few months, this is a city that could be stuck with the country's largest, flashiest and most expensive white elephant.

So both Baltimore and St. Louis have obstacles to overcome, but compared to Anaheim's sorry plight, you still have to like one of the two's chances.

Shaw certainly does. And ultimately, this whole transaction will come down to him.

As the principal figure in these negotiations, as the one employee owner Georgia Frontiere trusts implicitly, the 42-year-old former accountant and tax lawyer will work the angles, pitting one city against the other, using every ploy and every advantage in the book.

This is one of professional sports' biggest deal makers, and this is the deal of his life.

He intends to make the most of it. And by his own shrewd manipulating, he now sits in a no-lose situation. Whatever happens, even if by some startling turn of events the Rams decide to stay in Anaheim, their financial future will be considerably brighter.

This is basically an open auction now, and even the lowest bid will make the Rams richer and far more comfortable.

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