Pending trial could have answers, major impact

On The NFL

August 04, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Now that Baltimore finally has the ball -- did you have trouble believing they really kicked it off last night? -- it's easy to forget the infamous 1993 expansion derby when Baltimore was stiffed not once but twice by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

But that doesn't mean how Tagliabue conducted the expansion process is a dead issue.

It turns out a jury in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia will decide sometime in the next year -- the tentative start for the trial is July 14 -- whether Tagliabue violated antitrust laws.

That's because Fran Murray, the former minority owner of the New England Patriots who failed in an attempt to get an expansion team for St. Louis, convinced Judge James Giles that his lawsuit should go to trial.

Murray's case is complicated, but the short version is that when former owner Victor Kiam defaulted on a $38 million loan to Murray, the Patriots minority partner, Murray was supposed to take control of the Patriots.

When Kiam balked, the NFL was supposed to hold an arbitration on the matter. After the NFL stalled, Murray brought in James Orthwein to buy the team from Kiam with Murray as his partner. Murray was trying to get an expansion team in St. Louis after convincing the city to build a domed stadium and negotiating a lease that would bring the team $30 million a year in profits.

Murray's version is that Orthwein ousted him and made $80 million in profit in selling the Patriots to Bob Kraft. Murray was then left out in the cold when the NFL bypassed St. Louis for Jacksonville in expansion.

Although the judge tossed out the case against Orthwein on the grounds that Murray should sue him in either Boston or St. Louis, he refused to dismiss the case against Tagliabue and league president Neil Austrian as individual defendants and ruled the jury will decide whether Murray's complaints against the league's arbitration and financing policies are valid.

Although Murray declined to comment on the suit, the ramifications would have a huge impact on the league if he wins. The league could be liable for more than $2 billion in treble damages, or could be forced to expand to give Murray a team.

It could also force Tagliabue to finally give an explanation under oath -- and subject to cross examination -- how the only two cities with public funding for new stadiums (St. Louis and Baltimore) wound up being left out in expansion.

Getting wet

When Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke was lobbying to get a stadium in Maryland two years ago, he switched the team's practice site from Carlisle, Pa., to Frostburg, Md., because Frostburg is in the district of House speaker Casper Taylor.

But it has turned out that Frostburg doesn't match Carlisle as a practice site.

The fields don't drain well and there aren't any artificial turf fields within an hour's drive. After being forced to work indoors much of last week because of the rain and wet fields, coach Norv Turner gave up and brought the team back to Redskin Park on Thursday before leaving for Buffalo for Friday night's game.

Still, Frostburg probably served its purpose for Cooke -- it helped win Taylor's support for his stadium.

Ripping the Ravens

Many Baltimore fans weren't happy last week when ABC's Dan Dierdorf didn't seem thrilled at the thought of the Ravens during the Hall of Fame telecast.

"The Baltimore Ravens. . . . this will take a while to register and become just an automatic. . . .I have to think long and hard about that," Dierdorf said.

But Baltimore fans might as well get used to it. Dierdorf's comments were mild compared to NBC's Bob Trumpy in Inside Sports.

"I despise the whole concept of the Baltimore Ravens. . . . This team will be hated everywhere outside of Baltimore. . . . Art Modell's actions were criminal . . . . I see nothing but gloom and doom for this franchise. . . . I wish the Ravens high winds and muddy fields; I wish them empty roads to and from the ballpark; I wish them cold hot dogs. I wish them nothing but bad," Trumpy wrote while picking the Ravens to finish with the worst record in the NFL.

It will be interesting to see if Trumpy does any Ravens games this year.

Waiting for a decision

The word from the league office is that the league hasn't decided whether to take actions against the Ravens for failing to file the Floyd Turner contract by July 15. That caused his rights to revert to Indianapolis before the league decided not to penalize Turner for the Ravens' mistake and awarded him to Baltimore. The Ravens could be fined or lose a draft choice.

Dollars and sense

When defensive lineman Jumpy Geathers signed a two-year deal with the Denver Broncos, his agent, Brett Senior, said the deal was for "a little less than Shaq got."

Actually, it was $119.5 million less. Geathers got $1.5 million for two years.

Arizona quarterback Boomer Esiason, describing his $800,000 base salary, "I'm very thankful to be here, so much so that I'm playing at my rookie salary."

Coach Bill Parcells of the New England Patriots describing talks with unemployed veterans: "It's an unbelieveable situation. We've talked with a couple of those prima donna backs. They don't have jobs but when you call them up they start arguing about how much you're going to pay them. Reality hasn't hit them -- like their careers may be over. It's like they're floating in some kind of illusory world."

Pub Date: 8/04/96

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