A thwarted Angelos may make NFL expand options, not chest

January 11, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Now that Peter Angelos has taken the cost of sports teams through the roof -- not the modest one that covers your house but, more importantly, the one that covers the universe -- there will be no turning back.

His bid of $205-$210 million for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will place him in the Guiness Book of World Records. And this, like it or not, is only the beginning. It can only go higher.

If Angelos fails to bring home the current prize, his purchase of an existing team in Tampa Bay, let it be said he's going to be opening the window of possibility on something that essentially makes more sense and could render a positive development for Baltimore.

His record-breaking interest has signaled again to the NFL that it can't continue to turn its back on Baltimore. For a man to go $200 million-plus for a franchise is flattering, overwhelmingly so. But, on the chance he could be rejected, will he try to find basis for a lawsuit against the NFL?

Meanwhile, commissioner Paul Tagliabue doesn't want to lose Tampa Bay to Baltimore, or anywhere else. What the league needs to consider is once again to open up the issue of expansion, especially if Angelos initiates a court fight.

This is something the league doesn't want to do, engage in a quick expansion, especially under duress, but, if faced with legal pressure, anything can happen. It just may want to extricate itself from such a predicament if Angelos begins shaking his fist. Maybe the league, out of fear of consequences, will be back in the expansion process sooner than it ever anticipated.

Yes, expansion could again come into play. That way the NFL would be able to satisfy Baltimore and avoid risk of a lawsuit by talking expansion with Angelos, or another Baltimore group represented by Baltimore attorney Robert Schulman. It's understood the influential Chris Kritikos, with major connections in the maritime industry, has provided entree to some members of the Schulman group.

The expansion hypothesis is worthy of consideration. Historically, the NFL has never expanded, going back to when Bert Bell and then Pete Rozelle were the commissioners, unless faced with pressure or outside influences. Meanwhile, Angelos is creating conversation in corporate board rooms and waterfront saloons, or wherever sports fans congregate, over his offer.

Previously, Angelos, who in this endeavor has limited investors in Tom Clancy and Steve Geppi, got the attention of the nation by closing a deal at public auction to buy the Baltimore Orioles for $173 million. That's not exactly pocket change. Rapidly, in the brief span of 18 months, he has, by comparison with his latest football venture, made that earlier transaction appear to be a mere game of trivial pursuit.

Not bad for a poor boy -- which Angelos used to be when his father was owning bars and restaurants and scraping to make a living as an immigrant from the old country. It's in the grand American tradition that Peter The Son has come this far in one lifetime.

Since he also has a stable of racehorses, but doesn't own the courses where they run (but maybe he will), he has quickly established himself as a sporting philanthropist with expensive interests in baseball while endeavoring to get himself a new helmet and shoulder pads.

An investment in professional sports teams, you are reminded, is nothing more than buying the right to sponsor migrant workers at play. That's been our reference to athletes for the last 20 years. Now, it's interesting to see that an academician has come to the same conclusion.

We hereby relate the special comments from Dr. Lawrence A. Wenner, director of the sports management program at the University of San Francisco. In talking with The Sun, here's what the perceptive Wenner says in comments that qualify him a winner. He's clearly able to separate fact from fiction:

"It's a silly notion when people talk about 'our team' when you're talking essentially a mercenary army; the athletes are from all over."

As to Angelos' raid on Tampa Bay, trying to pirate the Buccaneers and bring them to the city that's a short drop-kick from Chesapeake Bay, Wenner also offers salient insight:

"They [meaning Baltimore interests or anywhere else] are not taking someone else's team because it was never really theirs. Maybe the ethical issue seems so personal and morally awful because we've got a misplaced priority in the first place. Maybe we have just too large a focus on the goings-on of professional athletes."

Wenner's perception is exceptional. As a one-time minor-league baseball player of brief experience, who failed in the mission and became a sportswriter by second choice, we can only tell you the city you're representing has no influence on the amount of effort put forth or what shows up in the boxscore.

Meanwhile, despite costs, legal entanglements or turmoil, Angelos is in the hunt to stay, which includes the chance of subsequent expansion . . . whether the NFL is ready or not.

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