Peter Angelos could be the catalyst for one of the most spirited debates the NFL has had in a long time.
If the Orioles owner manages to complete a deal to buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and asks the owners to approve a sale and a move to Baltimore, he'll have to make a convincing sales pitch, because there seems to be no clear consensus among the owners.
An informal poll of several NFL owners found that they would have a lot of questions about a move.
For example, Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who is widely considered the most powerful owner in the league, said Angelos is the type of committed owner who'd be an asset to the league.
"I'm very interested in getting people such as Mr. Angelos involved in the NFL," Jones said recently. "I would be excited about the interest shown by Mr. Angelos."
Jones seems willing to have the rules prohibiting NFL owners from owning teams in other professional sports changed to get Angelos into the league. Even approving the move of the Buccaneers doesn't seem to be a major problem for him.
"I'm not being disrespectful in any way to some of our traditional rules," Jones said. "It's just that if you're willing to put $200 million on the line, some of the things have to be altered, whether it's in regard to Mr. [Wayne] Huizenga or another owner. If we're going to have these kinds of people involved in our future, we have to accommodate the ownership situation."
The owners approved the sale of the Miami Dolphins to Huizenga even though he already owns baseball's Marlins and hockey's Panthers, but he agreed to follow the provisions of the cross-ownership rules in 1996 if they haven't been changed by then.
As far as moving a team, Jones said: "I'd certainly be open-minded to any plans a prospective buyer might have. Tampa itself deserves an NFL team. But there's speculation that a team may move from Los Angeles. We all know Los Angeles deserves an NFL team. That doesn't mean the circumstances are in place with the existing teams that are there. It [a move] doesn't preclude us from having an NFL team in those cities in the future."
But Jones does seem to have one problem with putting a team in Baltimore. "If it basically has a negative impact or a perceived negative impact by the partners we presently have, that's the issue, i.e., Washington," he said.
Angelos argues that a team in Baltimore won't have an impact on the Redskins, even though Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke contends the Washington-Baltimore area can't support two teams.
Jones said: "If somebody were getting ready to put a team in Fort Worth, then I would expect my partners to be sensitive to any concerns I might have. That's more of an issue to me than whether or not a team moves from a market."
Jones declined to say how he would vote on a Bucs move to Baltimore. But he didn't seem likely to be influenced by any recommendation by commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
"I've agreed with recommendations and disagreed with them," he said.
Other executives might be swayed by a recommendation, though.
Roger Headrick, president of the Minnesota Vikings, said: "I would very much rely on what the recommendation is coming out of the finance committee, whether it's a unanimous view or a split view."
Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt, who's a member of the committee, said: "Just in general, my preference would be to not see teams move. Nevertheless, sometimes there are circumstances when they need to leave. I'd rather reserve comment until I saw what was being asked."
By contrast, one NFC owner who declined to be identified said: "If the commissioner walks into the room and says to us that we can sell to Angelos or go to court, that's the definition of a %J no-brainer, isn't it?"
That owner wants no part of court action.
Angelos has not publicly threatened to go to court. He's been stressing the NFL should approve a Bucs sale to him because it's a good business deal for the NFL.
The owner most sympathetic to Baltimore may be Mike Brown, president of the Cincinnati Bengals, who said at a league meeting in Dallas last year that the Redskins could have either Washington or Baltimore as a home, but not both.
"I've believed for a long time that Baltimore should have an NFL franchise, and I would be pleased to see a team in Baltimore. I would not vote to stand in the way of a team moving to Baltimore," Brown said.
Brown, though, doesn't like cross ownership. "I do have problems with an owner who is also an owner in major-league baseball. I don't think that's good for the NFL," he said.
Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, also sounds concerned about cross ownership.
"I don't want to prejudge anything, but a lot of people in the league have some misgivings about cross ownership," Modell said. "It's very much in effect. Huizenga was a special case that has no bearing on Peter Angelos or anybody else. Huizenga's on probation until 1996."
Wellington Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants, sounds upset about reports that Angelos might take legal action.
"I guess the first thing is I'd have to judge it by the standards we were more or less forced to adopt back from the Davis trial," he said, referring to the case in which Al Davis won the right to move the Raiders from Oakland to Los Angeles. "I'd have to say I have an open mind.
"All I know is what I read in the papers, but one thing we don't need in our league is a new member who wants to come in and change all our rules and not abide by them. That's the wrong way to come into the league. But that's not prejudging the man or his intention."
One owner who is quite sympathetic to Tampa is Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who headed the expansion committee that awarded teams to Seattle and Tampa in 1974.
"I think Tampa is a very, very good place. Tampa deserves to keep its team," he said.
Owners of teams in the Bucs' division, who would visit Baltimore once a season, seem open-minded. They'd make twice as much playing in Baltimore as they do in Tampa.
Headrick said the Vikings make between $400,000 and $450,000 as the visiting team in Tampa. A visiting team playing in Baltimore would take home about $1 million.
But Headrick said of Tampa Stadium: "It's not a poor stadium. We had a Super Bowl there a few years ago. It's pretty nice stadium."
Chuck Schmidt, chief operating offier of the Detroit Lions, said: "As far as we're concerned, it's fine. But I'm open-minded [about a move]. I'm not stuck in the mud."
Bob Harlan, president of the Green Bay Packers, said: "I don't have anything against Baltimore, but I hate to talk about a team that's in a different location."
Some owners didn't want to be quoted on the issue.
The trustees for the Bucs are expected to step up talks with potential owners. If they sell this year, they apparently want to make a deal by early February so a new owner could make plans for next season.
If Angelos is able to make a deal and bring it to the owners, the ultimate consideration may be that he's willing to pay $200 million.
Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons, said: "That's the kind of money that nobody in their right mind can afford to ignore."