Tagliabue: Vikings belong to Clancy Headrick attempt to match offer denied

March 20, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

When Minnesota Vikings team president Roger Headrick first said he had a right to match Tom Clancy's bid to buy the team, the best-selling novelist ridiculed Headrick's position.

"The best legal advice I'm getting is he's dead in the ground with a wooden stake in his heart," said Clancy, a Baltimore native and Orioles minority owner. "I have no reason to hate this Roger Headrick guy. But I'm going to be the new boss, and that's a fact."

After deliberating for 44 days and holding two hearings, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue essentially agreed with Clancy yesterday in dry legal language.

He ruled that Headrick doesn't have the right to match Clancy's offer of slightly more than $200 million for the team, clearing the way for Clancy to buy the club.

The only formality left is the approval of the league owners, which probably will take place at the spring meeting in Miami on May 19-20.

It will not be on the agenda at the annual owners meeting next week in Orlando, Fla., where Headrick will vote for the team as a lame-duck owner.

Clancy was much more matter-of-fact yesterday after the long-awaited announcement than he was when he first visited the Twin Cities in early February.

"I would have preferred it went a little faster," Clancy said. "This is about exactly the way I expected it to turn out."

For the colorful Clancy, that was a subdued reaction, but he said, "If I had my book done, I'd be a little less subdued."

Clancy faces a deadline by the end of this month to finish his latest novel and won't attend next week's owners' meeting.

Headrick, whose original bid of between $180 million and $185 million was second best, surprised the other nine owners the day after they accepted Clancy's bid on Feb. 3 with his contention that the ownership bylaws gave him a right of first refusal.

Tagliabue disagreed in an 18-page opinion even though Headrick has been one of his close allies.

Headrick said he was disappointed but would not challenge Tagliabue's ruling in court.

"My investment group and I have always believed we have acted in the best interests of the Vikings, but we will abide by the decision of the commissioner," he said.

"Although this has been a difficult time for me, the good news is that the Vikings' organization will now have the controlling owner so necessary for smooth and decisive future growth," he added.

Since 1991, the team has been run by an unwieldy group of 10 owners each owning 10 percent with Headrick as the head. Clancy will follow league rules by owning at least 30 percent.

Tagliabue's ruling probably saved the league another lawsuit because Clancy likely would have gone to court to enforce his deal.

It's probably too late this year for Clancy to make any immediate major changes in the Vikings.

Coach Dennis Green, who's in the final year of his contract and has been unpopular with the fans despite taking the team to the playoffs five times in six years, will likely finish out his contract.

"I get to eat hot dogs and watch the games," Clancy said.

Green should have another playoff contender this year because Headrick committed $93 million to retain four key free agents -- defensive lineman John Randle, wide receiver Jake Reed, tackle Todd Steussie and running back Robert Smith.

The fans, though, have been frustrated by Green's 1-5 playoff record.

Except for Marc Ganis, who runs a sports marketing firm in Chicago, Clancy has refused to identify any of his investors.

He said the former minority owners of the Vikings will be welcome to join his group if they wish. Tagliabue ruled they can re-invest in separate after-tax transactions after they sell their current shares.

"We'll meet both the spirit and the letter of the commissioner's ruling," said Ganis, who will attend the owners meeting.

Ganis said he and Clancy have had no discussions about what if any changes they plan to make.

"People don't like to believe this, but we haven't discussed that. We haven't discussed Dennis Green. It may sound strange to some people, but we haven't," he said.

Clancy's one mandate is that the team will remain in Minnesota and be fan friendly as a vital part of the community. He wants to make the Vikings as popular in the Twin Cities as the Orioles are in Baltimore.

Clancy, who grew up rooting for the Colts, said, "There's ain't no team without the fans."

When he was told the NFL often seems to forget that these days, he said, "This team ain't going to forget."

Clancy is the author of best-selling military thrillers such as "The Hunt for Red October," "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger."

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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