Don't count on Bucs to stop here

November 11, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

So, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are officially for sale, and the highest bidder, at least so far, is from Baltimore. What are we supposed to do, jump up and down and hug each other?

Sorry, not buying.

Not that Bucs-to-Bawlmer isn't a realistic possibility. It makes almost perfect sense, in fact. No Tampa group has come close to matching the $200 million offer Peter Angelos put on the table months ago. Moving the team from a mediocre stadium there to a new stadium here would make it among the most profitable in sports. And if the Rams go ahead and move to St. Louis, Baltimore has no serious competition left.

So, why aren't we dancing today? Why don't we seem to care? Do I have to go through it all again? We don't care because the NFL expanded to Jacksonville and Carolina, for crying out loud, when Baltimore had the best offer on the table a year ago. And we don't care because the Rams are considering St. Louis instead of Baltimore even though Baltimore has the best offer.

We don't care because we know now that what you see in this kind of game is rarely what you get, that having the right friends among back-room league politicians is far more important than having the best offer.

We don't care because Paul Tagliabue still doesn't want a team here, and Jack Kent Cooke still doesn't want a team here, and those facts seem to carry a ton of weight.

We don't care because we are NFL cynics. As well we should be.

Sure, there is reason to be encouraged about the chances of the Bucs moving here. The Culverhouse family might have to give up millions to sell the team to a group wanting to keep it in Tampa, and people tend not to give up millions. The league wouldn't be able to stop the sale in court. If the Culverhouses decide to sell to Angelos, that's it.

But that is a myopic, distorted and overly simple view of the situation. The fact is there also are many reasons to be discouraged about the Bucs' chances of coming here:

* Tampa's local groups have enough money to keep the team. One backed by the CEO and president of the mega-successful Outback Steakhouse chain reportedly has offered $175 million. Others will surface now. And then there is Mr. Big himself lurking in the background: George Steinbrenner, Tampa resident, who has said he'll get involved if it appears the Bucs might leave. If organized properly, that's more than enough money power.

* The league doesn't want the Bucs to move. It doesn't care about the Rams leaving Los Angeles because the presence of the Raiders means that the market isn't being abandoned. But it doesn't want to leave little Jacksonville as the only NFL market in Florida outside of Miami. And the league tends to get what it wants in these matters, one way or another.

* The owners aren't enamored of Angelos. That's the big talk now in the NFL's back rooms. His attempt to settle the baseball strike without a salary cap was a big no-no with the NFL owners, who love their new cap dearly. Angelos has plenty of money and guts, and he's worked hard to bring a team here, but he's turning into a liability.

* The Rams might still decide to remain in Anaheim, which means St. Louis would turn to the Bucs as a possible tenant for its new dome. That's major competition for Baltimore.

In other words, things aren't nearly as rosy as they look. If, as a card-carrying NFL cynic, you didn't already know that.

True, Bucs-to-Bawlmer is probably a better bet than the Rams ever were, particularly if the Rams wind up in St. Louis and the Culverhouses are looking at a cold choice between Baltimore and Tampa. There is no doubt the franchise would be better off financially here, in a new stadium. There is no doubt that Angelos, a powerful and indefatigable figure, will represent the city with more financial punch and sheer moxie than Boogie or the Glazers ever did. Already, he is the major player. Already, any Tampa group will have to try to match his offer.

The good news is that Baltimore, with Angelos, is a much tougher fighter than it was in the expansion game a year ago.

The good news is that the highest bidder just might win this time with the family of the late Hugh Culverhouse stuck in a horrible, dirty-laundry dispute with the officers of the trust he had set up to run his estate. In such situations, people tend to take as much money as they can and hit the road.

But the bad news is we're back in an all-too-familiar spot, hoping for the best in a situation out of our control. Thanks, but no thanks. You can go ahead and get excited if you want about the possibility of the Bucs coming to town, but, to reiterate a point made here before, the right time to get excited is when the kickoff of the first game is in the air, spinning end over end. Then, and only then, should we cynics begin to believe that Tagliabue and Cooke and the other cold-hearted fathers had finally lost and the NFL was coming back to town.

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