3rd ownership group may soon be joining city's NFL huddle


Maneuvering to strengthen its position against all opposition, Baltimore, in endeavoring to acquire an NFL expansion team, has moved into what might be appropriately called the "two-minute drill."

The clock is running.

Next Wednesday in Chicago there's an NFL meeting and 13 days after that a verdict will be known -- whether Baltimore is in or out and whether Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, Malcolm Glazer, or a still-unannounced third group surfaces.

It's doubtful that the NFL, in deference to Weinglass or Glazer, would ask a would-be owner in any of the other four contending cities to switch allegiance and come to Baltimore.

From those in high places, in both the NFL and the corporate community, the name often mentioned as an eleventh-hour Baltimore entrant is that of Al Lerner, a Cleveland resident with substantial business interests there. He has been chairman of Maryland National Bank and now owns the Town & Country Apartment facilities, numbering at least 16 in this area.

Lerner, a close friend of Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, lived in Baltimore during the 1950s and worked as a furniture saleman on his way to amassing a fortune. He has his own plane and often accompanies Modell to home and away games of the Browns. He's regarded as a high-class gentleman.

There's speculation that if Weinglass and Glazer are perceived as unable to pass muster with NFL owners, that Henry Rosenberg, chief executive of Crown Oil Co., will be encouraged to step forth and make himself available. That would present some problem in that Rosenberg, along with John Paterakis, agreed only lately to join Weinglass.

Of considerable intrigue, too, is another distinct ownership possibility. A man involved in at least two private discussions described the mystery man as a giant in the business world, offering a reputation of impeccable credibility and an ongoing record of remarkable achievements in this country and Europe.

Talk -- and it's only that -- of Bill Polian, former Buffalo Bills general manager, being supported by commissioner Paul Tagliabue for a key position with any new club is without foundation.

Weinglass said he talked with Polian and told some of his associates the ex-Bill was interested in coming to Baltimore if the city is awarded a team.

Tagliabue, from what we have observed the last 20 years, both in and out of the courtroom, wouldn't chance putting himself in that kind of a heavy-handed, unfair position. It also would be downright stupid for a commissioner to get so involved.

Polian works under Tagliabue in league headquarters, which is a temporary stopping-off place until he moves on again to operate a team. Tagliabue would be exceeding the powers of his office, which are considerable, if he imposed such a desire on any prospective owner or city. Suggestions that he's actively promoting Polian for Baltimore, or any other city, are to be discounted.

Polian has credentials that ultimately may qualify him to be hired by one of the expansion teams. That move would then get approval from Tagliabue but it certainly wouldn't be at his behest, or sponsorship, since that's not the commissioner's role.

Of concern to Baltimore, too, is that the Washington Redskins have adopted a position almost identical to that of the Orioles when Washington was trying to get a major-league baseball franchise -- teams ultimately awarded to Miami and Denver. The Orioles did not endorse Washington but remained virtually mute on the issue, except to say they weren't against it.

Whether the Orioles worked behind the scenes to detract from the Washington bid isn't known, but they certainly didn't lead any cheers.

Now the situation is reversed and Baltimore is finding out how the citizens of Washington felt when the Orioles didn't lend vocal support. The Redskins, despite so-called neutrality, haven't publicly opposed Baltimore, but like the Orioles aren't championing the cause.

Are they quietly against Baltimore as the Orioles, in a similar way, were negative toward Washington? In this observer's opinion, the answer is yes.

So things remain in a nebulous state in numerous areas as expansion and financial committees of the NFL meet next Wednesday in Chicago to review credentials of the five cities being considered for two spots.

Baltimore, meanwhile, is trying to enhance itself in every area of the expansion process.

The two-minute drill has begun. Get John Unitas in the game.

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