Clancy's Vikings ownership in a holding pattern

On The NFL

May 17, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Tom Clancy wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms by NFL officials when he won a bidding war in February to buy the Minnesota Vikings.

The league preferred that team president Roger Headrick, an ally of commissioner Paul Tagliabue, retain the team. Tagliabue even took seven weeks to decide that Headrick didn't have the right to match Clancy's offer.

The league has since done its best to discredit Clancy's bid.

There have been various reports quoting "league sources" in Minneapolis as saying Clancy doesn't have the financing to do the deal. And Tagliabue said publicly he was concerned that the process was taking too long.

This was reminiscent of Malcolm Glazer's treatment when he was in the Baltimore expansion hunt before he purchased the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A "league source" called him a "tire kicker" back then.

Clancy thought he put the doubts to rest when he made a presentation to league officials last week. The league issued a statement saying it was a "constructive" meeting. But once again, "league sources" were quoted as saying the league had concerns about his financing.

That was followed by speculation that the Vikings might try to move to Houston because one of Clancy's investors is Houston Rockets owner Les Alexander, who has a right of first refusal if Clancy sells. That fueled reports that the deal is about to fall apart.

Reached at his Maryland home Friday, Clancy contradicted all these reports.

"I'm not moving the Vikings to Texas. It has the worst climate in America. My name is not Irsay, it's Clancy," he said.

Clancy said he didn't bother to read the fine print about Alexander's right of first refusal because he said as long as he's alive, the team will be in Minnesota.

"This is another case of reporter fiction. It's published and all of a sudden, there's a controversy," Clancy said of the speculation the team might move.

Clancy conceded that Alexander will put "more immediate cash" into the deal than he will, but said he'll still be the majority owner.

Clancy, who isn't sure if he'll attend this week's owners' meeting in Miami because he's promoting his latest book, said he's still on track to buy the team, although it's anybody's guess when the owners will get around to voting on his deal.

If the NFL tries to reject his bid, he made the not-so-subtle threat that he'll see them in court.

"We have complied with all NFL rules. If they want to make up new rules as they go along, there will be consequences," he said.

Clancy also is finding out that NFL owners live in more of a fish bowl than best-selling authors do. It got little notice when Clancy, who's engaged to Alexandra Llewellyn, a first cousin of retired Gen. Colin Powell, filed for divorce last Nov. 3.

But since the league has raised questions about whether the divorce settlement will hinder his bid to buy the team, the dispute with his wife, Wanda, has been examined in depth in Minneapolis. She wants a share of his future earnings on the grounds that Clancy's main character, Jack Ryan, was developed during the marriage.

"The media, in all its majesty, rules that public figures have no rights of privacy and the media decides who's a public figure," Clancy said. "It's like sending a guy out in the woods with a machine gun and telling him he can shoot anything he wants. I'm the deer, but I didn't know it was deer season until the bullets started flying."

Despite all that, Clancy still plans to buy the team.

"I'm moving forward," he said. When the Ravens open the regular season Sept. 6 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, both coaches will be lame ducks.

The difference is that Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda, who's in the last year of his contract, hopes to parlay a good season into a new deal.

By contrast, Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who has two years left on his contact, wants to leave Pittsburgh.

He wants to make $2 million a year and prefers to be coach and general manager. The new Cleveland team is his first choice.

Cowher made it obvious he wants out when he hired agent Bob Fraley, who has engineered Bill Parcells' various moves.

Neither Cowher nor Steelers president Dan Rooney would comment, but Rooney has never had a coach with an agent. Just by hiring an agent -- especially Fraley -- Cowher all but guaranteed he'll be leaving town.

If another team is willing to give the Steelers compensation in draft picks at the end of this year, they'll probably let him out of his contract.

With defensive coordinator Jim Haslett waiting in the wings, the Steelers probably won't be that concerned about losing Cowher.

They're more concerned that Tom Modrak, the college personnel coordinator, got the job as director of football operations for the Philadelphia Eagles.

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