Sooner or later, Robert McNair expects to own an NFL franchise.
Sooner was almost in St. Louis, where two weeks ago the Houston businessman was close to signing on as the lead investor in that city's NFL expansion bid.
Later might be in Baltimore, where McNair says he is receptive to heading an ownership team if the two current groups are deemed unacceptable to NFL owners.
In his first newspaper interview since arriving in the expansion sweepstakes earlier this month, McNair said yesterday from his home in Houston that he has been selectively shopping for an NFL team for a while.
"The commissioner [Paul Tagliabue] is aware of my interest in Baltimore," McNair said. "He knows of my interest in acquiring a franchise in the right situation."
The right situation was not St. Louis, though, where a minority investor from a previous ownership group clings to lease rights on a new domed stadium. McNair said the involvement of Fran Murray was what kept him from making a deal in St. Louis.
"I was very close to entering an agreement with them," he said. "[But] they weren't able to take care of everything that needed to be done to make it a clear transaction.
"[Murray] is part of the problem. He's got to be satisfied one way or the other. That's what makes the deal so murky. They made a mistake when they awarded the lease before they had a franchise. . . . I probably would have been there now had it been cleared up."
Since McNair's departure from St. Louis, Wal-Mart heir L. Stanley Kroenke has stepped in to lead the investment group.
The NFL said it intends to award its second expansion franchise on or before Nov. 30. The four contending cities are Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla. Charlotte, N.C., gained an expansion team last week.
Baltimore's organizers are expected to decide this week whether to change any part of their application. They said they would seek new ownership if they determine that Florida businessman Malcolm Glazer or clothing magnate Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass are incapable of gaining approval.
Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said yesterday that he has spoken to McNair only once and that the conversation was brief. "I sent him some information, and right after that he went to St. Louis," Belgrad said.
McNair is chairman, CEO and president of Cogen Technologies Inc., a company he founded in 1983 and one of the largest cogeneration companies in the nation.
Cogeneration plants produce steam for industrial customers and electricity that is sold to local utilities.
Before launching Cogen, whose biggest operations are in New Jersey, McNair ran a trucking business.
League officials, who directed him toward St. Louis and Baltimore, indicate they are impressed by McNair.
McNair said previously that he had looked at the possibility of buying the Miami Dolphins, and gave some consideration to the New England Patriots.
Asked if he would have an interest in buying an existing team and moving it to Baltimore, McNair said, "Yes, that would be a possibility."