Perdue might tender offer for NFL team Poultry magnate could join Weinglass or form new group


Poultry magnate Frank Perdue has emerged as a potential player in Baltimore's effort to land an NFL expansion team.

Perdue, the colorful executive who made his Salisbury-based Perdue Farms Inc. one of the nation's biggest privately held companies, has offered both Gov. William Donald Schaefer and prospective team owner Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass his assistance in landing an NFL team, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.

His exact role is undefined, but sources say he has discussed becoming a member of Weinglass' investment group, which already includes moviemaker Barry Levinson, ex-Colt Joe Washington and a number of local businessmen, including Crown Central Petroleum chief Henry Rosenberg and H&S; Bakery head John Paterakis.

Weinglass declined last night to discuss a role for Perdue other than to confirm the two men have spoken recently.

There was also talk of Perdue becoming a part of another group, possibly one that would win the endorsement of Schaefer. The governor and other community leaders have remained neutral on the issue of ownership for a football team, preferring to make the city's case and allow the league to chose from among the two applicants for ownership: Florida-based investor Malcolm Glazer and a group led by Weinglass, chairman of the Joppa-based retailer Merry-Go-Round Enterprises.

Perdue was unavailable for comment yesterday, but several sources confirmed that he is among three potential investors considered likely to play a role in a new or reconfigured ownership group for Baltimore.

The others are Hollywood moviemaker Jeffrey Lurie and former MNC Financial chairman and Cleveland Browns part-owner Alfred Lerner.

NFL owners will meet for the second time near Chicago on Nov. 30 to award an expansion franchise. A meeting there Oct. 26 resulted in consensus for one city -- Charlotte, N.C. -- and a deferral on the second team.

Concerned that Baltimore's bid did not emerge a winner last month, Schaefer convened a summit with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad and Rouse Co. chairman Mathias J. DeVito, representing the Greater Baltimore Committee.

The group determined that changes in the city's prospective ownership groups were the best hope of overcoming rivals St. Louis, Jacksonville, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn., according to sources familiar with those discussions.

Some NFL owners have said privately that they are uncomfortable with Weinglass' freewheeling style and Glazer's bottom-line mentality. But the prospective owners also have fans among some owners who support their bids.

Concerned with the questions about his suitability, Weinglass met with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue last week and received assurances he has passed muster, Weinglass said.

Since their summit last week, Baltimore's expansion organizers have held talks with a number of potential investors, chiefly Lurie and Lerner, about filing applications to own a team here. A part of the discussions has been the possibility of the governor formally endorsing the new group, although there have been concerns that such a commitment may engender lawsuits from the groups not endorsed. The Weinglass and Glazer groups each paid $50,000 to the local expansion committee to help pay for its activities.

Belgrad declined to discuss the specifics of negotiations, other than to say that the local NFL backers were exploring three options: staying the course, adding a third group, or endorsing one of the existing groups.

Perdue was courted several years ago to provide the financial muscle to a Baltimore expansion group that included Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, but ended up not filing an application. Perdue also expressed interest in the Orioles in the 1970s, but made no offer.

Perdue could add significant stature to an NFL bid. The executive is well known for the TV commercials in which he boasts, "It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken," and he was once rated among the Forbes 400 richest Americans.

Lurie's candidacy has enjoyed significant support from New York Giants owner Robert Tisch, who led an investment group seeking a Baltimore expansion team until he dropped out to buy into the Giants.

Tisch, who said he came to know Lurie when their respective families ran competing motion picture theater chains, introduced Lurie to Schaefer at a State House meeting last month. Lurie also has the support of H. Furlong Baldwin, the influential chairman of Mercantile Safe Deposit & Trust.

Schaefer was impressed with Lurie, but one source connected with his effort said last night that it appeared unlikely the governor would publicly endorse him.

Lerner has been reluctant to get involved in a Baltimore expansion effort, but local backers were hopeful early this week that they maybe able to entice him in with a promised endorsement by Schaefer, sources said.

The NFL has said it wants all ownership applications filed by noon Monday, including a $20 million letter of credit.


Name: Franklin P. Perdue

Residence: Salisbury

Occupation: Former chairman and now chairman of the executive committee of Perdue Farms Inc., which has revenues estimated near $1 billion. Perdue was once listed among the 400 richest Americans by Forbes.

Personal: Born in Parsonsburg, Md., in 1920, attended Salisbury State College for two years before joining the family business. He rose to president in 1953 and oversaw a massive expansion.

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