NFL clubs unlikely to get a move on

Is 60 days enough time for Baltimore to find out whether it has a chance to lure an existing NFL team to Camden Yards?

That's the question of the moment for the city now that Maryland legislative leaders have given the Maryland Stadium Authority two months to report back with a progress report while they study the idea of the Washington Redskins' moving to Laurel.


The problem for Baltimore is that mid-February is probably too early for a team to indicate it's ready to move.

Of the past three teams to move, only one -- the St. Louis Cardinals -- committed to a move before February. They agreed to move to Phoenix in January 1988, and the move was approved by the owners in March.


Robert Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, didn't leave Baltimore until March 28, 1984, and Al Davis, owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, didn't get the go-ahead to move from Oakland until he won a lawsuit in May 1982.

This year, the process is even more complicated because more than one team is seriously considering a move and teams may be hesitant to be the first one to go.

The team considered most likely to move is the New England Patriots, but the process wouldn't even start until the Massachusetts legislature ends its session Jan. 4.

If the legislature fails to approve a stadium-convention center complex, owner James Busch Orthwein, who has retained Goldman, Sachs & Co. to screen bids, is expected to enter serious negotiations to sell the team to an out-of-town buyer.

When pro football Hall of Famer Walter Payton was in New York this month for a college awards banquet, he sent a warning to Patriots fans.

"I think you Boston people are going to lose your Patriots. Forget what you read in the papers. The Patriots might not be in Boston as long as you think," Payton said. "My group is working on it. There are some things I can't talk about now, but you Boston people need a new facility or you'll be looking for an expansion team in the near future, believe me."

Payton is a member of the St. Louis group headed by Wal-Mart heir E. Stanley Kroenke. Because Orthwein is from St. Louis, he is most likely to sell to the Kroenke group.

The St. Louis group isn't under deadline pressure, although it probably would want to complete a deal before the owners meet in March in Orlando, Fla.


The second team likely to move is the Los Angeles Rams, who are considered the leading prospect to come to Baltimore.

The Rams have sent signals they're serious about moving. John Shaw, the team's executive vice president, has rejected a bid by the Anaheim City Council to extend the lease at the team's practice facility by more than two years. The council has the option of evicting the team Dec. 31. The Rams have to give 15 months' notice before leaving Anaheim Stadium, so they must play in Anaheim in 1994 even if they have to find a new place to practice.

The Anaheim City Council discussed the Rams at a meeting Tuesday and agreed to form a committee next Tuesday to meet with Shaw.

"We don't know what the Rams want. I'm willing to listen to what they're asking, but I would not give away the store. We have obligations to the citizens of Anaheim," Councilman Irv Pickler said.

Shaw, who has not returned phone calls the past two weeks, has said publicly only that he'll explore all options at the end of the season.

A source close to the Rams says owner Georgia Frontiere will wait until the Patriots decide before making up her mind. Once the Patriots make a move, it could be easier for her to follow. If the league were letting one team move, it probably would have a harder time saying no to another.


Another owner interested in moving but likely to wait is Davis, who says officials of the Los Angeles Coliseum never lived up to promises they made when the Raiders arrived from Oakland.

He's likely to wait to see what the Rams do. If they leave and he has the Los Angeles market to himself, he might have more leverage for a better stadium deal. If the Rams stay, he might be more likely to move.

Another team in a holding pattern is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Owner Hugh Culverhouse has cancer, and the team is expected to be sold to the highest bidder after his death. Culverhouse has not indicated a desire to sell the team himself.

If a team is for sale, it's uncertain which Baltimore group would be interested in buying it.

Joel Glazer, a son of Florida businessman Malcolm Glazer, said: "Our strategy is we're doing nothing right now." Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, who is dealing with financial problems at his clothing company, Merry-Go-Round, didn't return a phone call. Alfred Lerner, the Cleveland Browns minority owner who was the late entry in the Baltimore sweepstakes, has yet to comment.

This leaves Baltimore playing the waiting game as teams look at ramifications of moving in the off-season. Although Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he's "cautiously optimistic" that he'll have a favorable report to make in mid-February, it's uncertain what will happen if none of the various teams interested in moving has decided by then.


Belgrad said he updated the legislators Tuesday on the teams interested in moving.

He said he's having discussions with teams but wouldn't characterize them as negotiations.

"At this point, no one has closed the door," he said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said this week that if there is a "viable opportunity, a viable chance, within 60 days, then we're going to ask them to continue on with their discussions."

Miller would not be specific, however, on what constituted a viable opportunity; that apparently will be up to the General Assembly.

There's a danger, though, that the pro-Redskins faction in the legislature could withdraw the funding for a football stadium at Camden Yards, which would doom Baltimore's chances.


One league source, who is sympathetic to Baltimore's hopes, said: "It would be a tragedy if the funding were pulled when Baltimore still had a chance to get a team, because [Redskins owner] Jack Kent Cooke wants both markets for himself. That area can support two teams."

One owner, Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said he didn't see a problem with teams at Laurel and Camden Yards.

"We already have two teams sharing a stadium [Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.]," he said.


The status of the four NFL teams that appear most likely to move:

New England Patriots: Owner James Busch Orthwein probably would sell the team to an out-of-town bidder if the Massachusetts legislature doesn't approve a stadium-convention center complex before the session ends Jan. 4.


Los Angeles Rams: Owner Georgia Frontiere is likely to wait until after the Patriots make their decision before she decides whether she wants to move.

Los Angeles Raiders: Owner Al Davis is expected to wait until the Rams decide whether they want to leave Los Angeles before he makes up his mind whether to move.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Owner Hugh Culverhouse, who is fighting cancer, has trustees in place who are charged with selling the team to the highest bidder after his death.