ROSEMONT, Ill. -- The Los Angeles Rams jumped to the front of the Baltimore football line yesterday.
They became the first team publicly to express an interest in looking at Baltimore now that the city appears to be a long shot in the NFL expansion derby.
John Shaw, executive vice president of the Rams, confirmed that his team's lease at Anaheim Stadium permits the team to move at its discretion.
"We haven't even thought about it," Shaw said when asked if he might be interested in moving. He added, "After all the dust settles, we'll sure look at [Baltimore]."
Shaw, though, wouldn't rule Baltimore out of the expansion race when the owners meet to select a second team -- tentatively scheduled for Nov. 30.
"I wouldn't be surprised if they were selected," Shaw said. "They're very viable."
Now that Charlotte, N.C., has been awarded a team, St. Louis is favored to get the second team.
If St. Louis does get it, the other three finalists -- Baltimore, Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn. -- would have to get an existing team to move in order to get into the NFL.
Chicago Bears owner Edward W. McCaskey said he expects expansion losers to woo existing teams. "I think that's a certainty," he said. "It doesn't bother me. The offers will be very attractive. We've learned that teams are able to move without any serious consequences."
After the NFL lost the lawsuit over the move of the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles, it set up guidelines teams must meet before a move is approved by owners.
But even those guidelines are in question after a jury awarded former New England Patriots owner William Sullivan $114 million last week after he sued the NFL for preventing him from making a public stock offering in the Patriots. Still, the league's position is that an owner would have to get approval to move a team.
"We have a rule against it," New York Giants co-owner Robert Tisch said.
The Rams would be a prime target because they haven't been happy with their support at Anaheim Stadium, where they moved in 1980 from the Los Angeles Coliseum. They drew 43,850 Sunday in a stadium that holds 69,008.
The other leading candidate to move is the Patriots, who have a substandard stadium in Foxboro, Mass. If St. Louis does not get a team, Patriots owner James Busch Orthwein seems likely to move them to St. Louis. If St. Louis gets a team, Orthwein would try to sell the Patriots.
Two other teams that are likely to be interested in moving are the Los Angeles Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said Raiders owner Al Davis called him aside Tuesday after Baltimore's presentation and whispered, "Is that revenue guaranteed?"
When Belgrad said yes, Davis repeated, "What I mean, is it guaranteed?" Belgrad again replied it was.
"Nobody is going to get a better lease than they get from us," Belgrad said yesterday.
Davis always is looking for a deal. After moving from Oakland to Los Angeles, he made deals to move to Irwindale, Calif., and back to Oakland, although both fell through.
The Tampa Bay franchise, which has lost 10 or more games for 10 straight years, is believed to be on the block, although Jacksonville is favored to get the team if it moves.
Gay Culverhouse, daughter of owner Hugh Culverhouse, said at a booster group function in Orlando, Fla., Monday night that she would entertain offers from Jacksonville. Her father is fighting lung cancer.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the owners spent much of yesterday denying the speculation that St. Louis would get the team if it solves its ownership problem.
Tagliabue said: "It's not a done deal. Anyone who thinks St. Louis is a done deal is laboring under a serious misapprehension."
Belgrad hasn't given up on the expansion effort. "Our first objective and only objective is getting an expansion team," he said.
Tom Benson, the New Orleans Saints owner, who heads the finance committee, said: "That's not true [that St. Louis has an edge]. That never came out of the committee that St. Louis had any kind of a lock. All four cities have an opportunity."
But the perception is that St. Louis will get the team if it finds a way to get Francis W. Murray out of its ownership picture to clear the way for L. Stanley Kroenke's group.
el,.3l Baltimore's expansion bid may now depend on what happens to Murray's ownership bid.
Murray, who got his name on the lease when he negotiated it with his former partner, Jerry Clinton, is not likely to go quietly. He's likely to demand a substantial buyout. St. Louis officials found a new group because they feared Murray didn't have the financial backing to fund the expansion effort, though he says he does.
Murray said the original partnership hasn't been dissolved, and he met yesterday with former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton, another member of the original group.
Payton said: "It's very confusing, especially from a legal standpoint."
TEAMS ON THE MOVE?
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS Owner: James Busch Orthwein
Situation: The Patriots are losing money in a poor stadium with a bad lease in Foxboro, Mass. They have been trying to get a new stadium built with public funds in downtown Boston. If that effort fails, Orthwein is expected to move the team to St. Louis if that city does not get an expansion team. If St. Louis gets a team, he's likely to sell the Patriots to the highest bidder.
LOS ANGELES RAMS Owner: Georgia Frontiere
Situation: The Rams had exclusive rights to Los Angeles before they moved to Anaheim Stadium in 1980. They lost those rights when the Raiders won a court case to move from Oakland to the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1982. The Rams aren't drawing well in Anaheim, and they think they could do better in a market where they are the sole football team. The Rams say their lease permits them to move.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS Owner: Hugh Culverhouse
Situation: The Bucs aren't drawing well, and their ownership situation is unsettled because Culverhouse is fighting lung cancer. Despite his denials, there have been reports he plans to have his estate sell the team when he dies. His daughter, Gay, did nothing to quell this speculation this week, when she said at a booster club meeting in Orlando that she'd entertain offers from Jacksonville. The stadium lease, which runs seven more years, would have to be bought out at $1.5 million a year.
LOS ANGELES RAIDERS Owner: Al Davis
Situation: The Raiders won a court fight to move to the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1982, but the Coliseum never delivered on some of its promises, including luxury boxes, although it made some improvements last year. The stadium's location in South Central Los Angeles -- the scene of riots after the Rodney King beating verdict last year -- has made it difficult to draw fans. Davis has been talking about moving for years and even made deals to go to Irwindale, Calif., and back to Oakland before both fell through.