Efforts to return Baltimore to the National Football League have been thrown for a temporary but not irreparable loss. Prospective owner Bob Tisch was standing there, checkbook in hand, ready to buy a ticket at any price, to establish the city as a strong favorite to win an expansion franchise.
Yesterday, that changed suddenly and dramatically. Instead of coming here, he bought himself half-ownership of a long-established team, one with rich tradition, now a Super Bowl champion, the New York Giants, and, as an additional feature, it is in his own hometown.
What does the Tisch development do to Baltimore's bid? Right now it is a disturbing loss but somewhat deceptively could turn into a long gainer when it's realized how the city that housed the Colts for 35 years, until they were stolen away, has again been hit with a loss it didn't create or deserve.
As to what Tisch paid for 50 percent of the Giants, let it be known it was in excess of $70 million for the right to have a financial interest in a club based in the country's leading media and advertising market.
In making the announcement, Tisch first notified Gov. William Donald Schaefer and then minority partners Sig Hyman, Morris Offit and Furlong Baldwin.
"I think Baltimore is still in a strong position," said Hyman, stunned along with his prospective partners by the turn of events. "But it is going to take an individual with vast financial resources to be in control. This is one game where you can't bluff."
Joseph Browne, the NFL's vice president in charge of communications, was asked what reaction he had to Tisch turning from the Baltimore possibility to the New York reality. "He found it more convenient to own a New York team, where he lives, than going to Baltimore. I remember when there was talk he might buy the Cowboys. He found out it was too far to travel on a Sunday. That's why Baltimore, because of its proximity, had much that interested him.
"This is not an official comment and is only my personal feeling, but I believe Bob will be a strong voice for helping Baltimore. He's acquainted in Maryland and knows much about what's being done."
So Tisch, although not aligned here, remains a Baltimore proponent. He said as much in offering regrets. "I mentioned to the governor I would do all I could to help Baltimore get a team. My relationship there was ideal. I had the feeling the governor felt badly when I told him I made arrangements to buy 50 percent of the Giants."
Tisch had been involved in the Baltimore football picture for almost two years. Listed among the wealthiest men in the country, Tisch and his brother Laurence, the chief executive of CBS, are both credited with an estimated personal worth of $1.5 billion.
Other potential ownership groups are now going to be under close scrutiny since it was felt that Tisch's credentials placed him so far out in front that it wouldn't be a contest. The situation now is going to be abruptly revised, out of necessity.
Still in the race for favor, after the league selects the two cities for what it says will be a 1993 expansion, is a combine headed by former Packers great Bart Starr.
Aligned with Starr are two substantial investors, Tom Stoen and John Colbrunn, who live in Colorado and Arizona; plus John Unitas, Willie Davis, two other Hall of Famers; and Phyllis Brotman. Additionally, Lou Grasmick says he resigned as head of the Maryland Sports Advisory Commission and is free to join with the Starr forces.
"I made a commitment to Bart some time ago and I'm keeping it," Grasmick said. "I admire him for his decency and dignity. My promise to him was I could care for the local investors and I'll do it."
An expansion franchise is expected to cost around $95 million but it's only a guess. Another Baltimore group is headed by Ed Hale, owner of the Blast soccer team. He included John Paterakis, a respected businessman who is frequently mentioned as participating in sports ventures, with him.
However, Grasmick is associated with Paterakis in other real estate pursuits and wants him to accompany Starr, who has had five meetings with the governor relative to bringing pro football back to Baltimore.
Brotman, who owns Image Dynamics, and is one of the nation's leading advertising executives, hailed Tisch's backing out as "spectacular news for us."
"I realize what a gentleman and well-connected individual Bob HTC Tisch is," she said. "He runs some great companies. I bought some stock in his Loews Corp., and know all about his contributions to the arts and to culture.
"He would have made a great owner in Baltimore, but our group is outstanding, too. Tisch was a mighty factor to think about contending against. Now our course is more clearly defined and I think we will be successful."
The opportunity for Tisch to buy into the Giants, taking over the interest of Tim Mara, was initiated in late November. It seemed more a possibility as Christmas approached and Tisch even visited with Wellington Mara.
He had previously been the guest of Leon Hess, owner of the New York Jets, at a league game, which started speculation he might be buying that team. "I had no interest in that at all," Tisch insisted.
The matter of expansion will not be taken up at the NFL owners' meeting in Hawaii next month but a special committee will assemble in late April to begin the process of evaluating the cities, among them Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte, N.C., Jacksonville, Memphis and Oakland.
Coming ahead of the Tisch news was the withdrawal in Memphis by Fred Smith, owner of Federal Express. He mentioned he no longer had an interest in pursuing an NFL club for the Tennessee community.
It's expected two cities will be awarded expansion clubs for play in 1993. The NFL will, in order of business, pick the preferred locations for new teams and then review the credentials of possible owners -- including their financial resumes.
Other would-be owners in Baltimore will be stepping forth in the days, weeks and months to come. Tisch's presence was important. He was the heavy hitter, the name that quickly got the attention of other NFL owners. The problem now for Baltimore is to get someone to carry the ball who can run with similar authority.