Phillips' arrest proves Rams' gamble was risky

On the NFL

June 16, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

John Shaw, the president of the St. Louis Rams, is without peer when it comes to making deals.

The deal he made to move the Rams from Los Angeles to St. Louis might never be topped. Shaw didn't have to give back $24 million the way Ravens owner Art Modell did. He made sure the Rams got everything from St. Louis but the arch.

When it comes to running a football team, though, Shaw isn't as adept. He has trouble hiring the right people to make his team successful.

In 1987, he made what could have been a Herschel Walker deal with the Colts, trading Eric Dickerson, and then watched as his scouts blew all the draft choices and the team fell apart.

When the team moved to St. Louis last year, he listened to Raiders owner Al Davis and hired Steve Ortmayer, one of Davis' proteges, as his director of football operations.

Ortmayer brought the Raiders' philosophy of collecting players with questionable backgrounds to St. Louis.

His biggest gamble was selecting Nebraska running back Lawrence Phillips with the sixth pick of this year's draft even though Phillips was on probation for assaulting an ex-girlfriend last September.

Ortmayer gambled that Phillips could stay out of trouble until his probation ends Nov. 29. He lost that gamble early Thursday morning when Phillips was arrested going almost 80 mph on a flat tire in Los Angeles.

He allegedly failed two sobriety tests at the scene, with blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 and 0.16. The legal limit is 0.08.

This arrest almost certainly will land Phillips in the NFL drug program, which means he will be tested 10 times a month for two years.

But the NFL is the least of his problems right now.

"The issue is not whether Lawrence Phillips is a good football player. The issue is whether he's going to be a responsible person in life," Shaw said.

Phillips also could land in jail if he's convicted on the drunken driving charge because Nebraska officials likely would revoke his probation.

The only positive thing for the Rams is that it happened before they gave Phillips a $6 million signing bonus and wrecked their salary cap.

If he's able to play, the Rams left little doubt he won't get big up-front money now.

"We're not going to be stupid and put a lot of money out there for something that isn't going to be on the field. We're not going to throw money down the drain," said coach Rich Brooks.

Shaw said, "I'm tremendously disappointed. We fully expected him to comply with all the conditions of his probation before we handed him a lot of money."

The question is whether Ortmayer will lose his job over this pick. Privately, Shaw is said to be furious at Ortmayer, although Shaw has to bear some of the responsibility because he let Ortmayer make the pick.

The Rams had no way of knowing Phillips would get in trouble this soon, but Phillips was simply too risky a pick in the top 10 of the first round. When a team has a selection that high, it can't afford to gamble.

The stadium game

It's not surprising that the designs for Baltimore's new football stadium by the architectural firm HOK aren't getting rave reviews. Remember, HOK's original designs for the baseball stadium didn't, either.

How Camden Yards ended up the way it did is such an intriguing story that Peter Richmond wrote a book on it titled, "Ballpark."

There's still a lot of debate about who should get the credit for turning the ballpark into what it is today, but Richmond's view was that former Orioles architect Janet Marie Smith should get a lot of it.

Although the Ravens are talking to Smith about becoming a consultant, it's probably too late to turn the football stadium into a jewel. The Ravens aren't likely to delay it a year.

The expectations game

Despite the unpopular permanent seat license deposits and the confusing ad campaign, it wasn't surprising that the Ravens sold more than 50,000 season tickets by the first deadline -- especially since the PSL prices were lowered. After all, the Baltimore Colts sold 24,000 season tickets after 12 years of Bob Irsay.

But the Ravens did a good job of lowering expectations the way politicians do before elections.

On Sunday, the Ravens issued a news release quoting Modell as saying, "I would think we would have at least half the stadium sold out by the end of the first day sale on Wednesday."

They even had drop-off sites and telephone credit card sales last week, even though fans who had mailed their checks complained that was changing the rules in midstream. But it gave a frantic appearance to the sale.

On Tuesday, Max Muhleman, who headed the campaign, said he was told sales were at 24,000 and said 30,000 would be "gangbusters."

When the total was 50,000, Muhleman beamed on Thursday, calling it "unbelievable."

What the Ravens will never know is what the sale would have been without the PSL deposit. There probably would have had a long waiting list without them, and a waiting list makes tickets seem harder to get.

Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins are proving this area can support two football teams. They announced Friday that they have sold one of their five zones of club seats and are close to selling out a second, and they don't begin public sale until July 8. They've only marketed them so far to season-ticket holders and fans on their waiting list.

It's still puzzling why Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke opposed a team in Baltimore. He could fill three stadiums with the demand for Redskins tickets.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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