Murray steps back, clearing St. Louis' path Prospective owner says he'll cheer NFL bid from sideline


Fran Murray -- the man whose intrusion into the St. Louis football scene raised hopes for an expansion upset -- now says he's through pursuing an NFL team there and plans to cheer from the sidelines for the city to get a team.

Questions remain about who controls the lease for St. Louis' football stadium, but they appear far less likely to hinder the city's ability to acquire a team. Considered by many the favorite in the expansion race, St. Louis and its troubles will play a big role in Baltimore's ability to land the final expansion team on Nov. 30.

Murray, a former owner of the New England Patriots, burst upon the scene last month just days before NFL owners were to award a pair of expansion franchises. He didn't have an investment group able to pay for a team, but his claims to the lease on the St. Louis stadium contributed to the NFL's decision to delay awarding the second team after giving the first to Charlotte, N.C.

Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., are competing for the remaining team.

The league established a deadline of noon Monday for vTC applications to be filed on behalf of prospective owners. The Gateway NFL Partnership, led by Missouri-based developer E. Stanley Kroenke, has the support of community leaders in St. Louis and filed an application.

"I filed an application," Murray said, "but it was rejected by the league as nonconforming to the rules. . . . I've decided to stay on the sidelines and cheer for St. Louis."

He said he will focus on putting together a new group, headed by another investor, to buy the New England Patriots. Owner James Busch Orthwein, who once headed the St. Louis effort, is trying to sell the team.

What happens next is in dispute. Murray said he has control of over 40 percent of the stadium lease, but would hand it over as part of the deal he will offer Orthwein for the Patriots or sell it for cash. He said he would make a cash offer to buy the Patriots and would try to get the team a better stadium than the outdated Foxboro Stadium they now play in.

But Jerry Clinton, who took over the St. Louis NFL Partnership when Orthwein dropped out as controlling partner and later was succeeded by Murray, said the partnership's failure to file an application Monday means the lease reverts to Orthwein. "That's the legal opinion of my advisers," Clinton said.

Orthwein publicly has supported the Gateway group.

Clinton suggests the lease will be for sale.

"I would imagine the league will ask the Gateway group if they have control of the lease and they would want to answer in the affirmative," Clinton said.

If invited, Clinton said he would like to play a role in the St. Louis team, and thinks Hall of Famer Walter Payton, another member of his partnership, also would want to.

As for his former partner, Murray, Clinton said: "This guy has an endless succession of plans. The deals never come to a close because he lives off the deal."

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