Rejecting last-minute sweeteners from two Baltimore-based groups, including a $211 million bid from Peter Angelos, trustees for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last night agreed to sell the team to Malcolm Glazer, who says he wants to keep it in Tampa "forever."
The sale, and a scheduled announcement today that the Los Angeles Rams will move to St. Louis instead of Baltimore, dealt a harsh blow to Baltimore's 11-year quest to return to the National Football League. But both Baltimore-based investment groups vowed to continue seeking a team.
Mr. Glazer, who once led an expansion effort on behalf of Baltimore, immediately moved to quell fears among Floridians that he would move the team to Baltimore after a two-year, "no-move" clause in his contract expires.
Mr. Glazer, of Palm Beach, Fla., said at a news conference he was glad he didn't get the expansion team.
"I sure as heck would rather own a team in Tampa than I would in Baltimore," he said, according to the St. Petersburg Times.
Despite months of negotiations with Mr. Angelos, who made clear his intentions to move the team to Baltimore, Bucs trustee Steve Story last night said Mr. Glazer's offer won out largely based on his intention to keep the team in Tampa.
"They emerged as the front-runner in my mind because they showed every intent of keeping the team in Tampa. That's been the trust's intent from Day One. We received offers in excess of the Glazer offer, but we didn't feel it was in our best interest or the community's best interest to pursue those," said Mr. Story, according to the Times.
He declined to provide details of Mr. Glazer's offer, other than to say it contained a 10-year, $35 million penalty if the team were moved and would top the sports franchise-record $183 million paid last year for the Philadelphia Eagles.
One source familiar with the bid put Mr. Glazer's offer at $175 million, with an additional $17 million if a new stadium were built, $35 million if the team moved and $10 million if Tampa Stadium were renovated.
Mr. Angelos, the Orioles' controlling partner, said he was disappointed, but held out hope the Glazer deal may not close. Mr. Glazer has come close to buying five sports franchises in the past, but never has gotten this close.
"I'm disappointed and puzzled. We made a better offer than Glazer's offer, and if there was a slight differential, they knew we could adjust it," said Mr. Angelos.
"It may be wishful thinking, but I think there is a chance that they won't close," Mr. Angelos said. Closing the sale will require a number of factors, including successful financing and NFL approval.
A pledge to stay
Baltimore's other entrant, a group represented by Robert B. Schulman and including former Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little, yesterday agreed to a demand from trustees to pledge to keep the team in Tampa for two years.
"Nobody was ever near us," Mr. Schulman said of his group's bid. He would not reveal the amount bid, but said it was "millions of dollars" more than Mr. Angelos'.
A source familiar with Mr. Schulman's offer said he bid $195 million.
"Maybe the time just wasn't right for Baltimore. Time will one day be right for Baltimore," Mr. Schulman said.
Mr. Little, a major Seattle-area car dealer, said: "We will continue our efforts to acquire a football franchise for Baltimore. You guys have a top market, and everybody knows it." Had the Schulman group been successful, Mr. Little would have become the first black general partner and president of an NFL team.
The group also bid on the Rams and New England Patriots.
Mr. Angelos' group, which included Maryland-based author Tom Clancy and some of the state's prominent corporate citizens, faxed a new offer to the Bucs yesterday.
The deal offered $176 million and a promise not to move the team until Tampa could hold a referendum on whether a new stadium could be built, Mr. Angelos said.
If the referendum passed, Mr. Angelos would have sold the team to local investors. If it failed, he would have given the trustees another $35 million and moved it to Baltimore, which would result in a total price of $211 million.
Mr. Angelos acknowledged the setback, but said the public funding that is in place in Maryland for a $165 million football stadium amounts to a powerful financial incentive for teams.
"I think we did everything possible. I can't think of a thing we should have done that we didn't do," Mr. Angelos said.
As for his own interests, Mr. Angelos said, "I have no problem continuing on."
Mr. Clancy said he, too, remained interested and past failures should not be taken as a sign that the city's hopes are groundless. "Dice have no memory," Mr. Clancy said.
Baltimore has tried but failed over the past 13 months to obtain a franchise in the only three means possible: relocation, purchase and league expansion.
The double failure of the Rams and Bucs is sure to add to political pressure in Annapolis to de-authorize the bonds and lottery funds set aside to build a stadium, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.
"My initial reaction is sorrow. It's a lost opportunity for the state of Maryland to acquire an NFL franchise," Mr. Miller said.
Sen. John A. Pica Jr., chairman of Baltimore's delegation in the state Senate, said he would fight any efforts to take the funding away, including mounting a filibuster.
"We shouldn't give up. We're not a minor-league town. We helped create modern football," said Mr. Pica, an associate in Mr. Angelos' law firm.
Incoming Gov. Parris N. Glendening vowed during the campaign to oppose any rescission of the funding. Last night, spokesman Charles Porcari said: "The governor-elect will be discussing the issue with the legislature and legislative leaders."
Outgoing Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who made the NFL pursuit a top priority of his eight years in the statehouse, blamed NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue for the city's loss.
"Our enemy and the guy who hurt us the most is Tagliabue. Wherever Peter went this time, Los Angeles or Tampa, Tagliabue was right there with him. He also told [Rams owner] Mrs. [Georgia] Frontiere that he would never approve a move to Baltimore," Mr. Schaefer said on WBAL Radio's "Sportsline."
The NFL would not comment on the Bucs move.
Baltimore Canadian Football League team owner Jim Speros, who acknowledged the competitive damage he would have suffered with an NFL team in town, said: "The NFL does not want to come to Baltimore. . . This probably proves the point better than anything else. Angelos was going to spend more money than any other bidder and got flat turned down."
Focusing on Rams
Mr. Angelos' focus for most of 1994 was the Rams. The team, claiming lack of support, notified officials early last year that they intended to break their lease.
In a now-familiar pattern, Baltimore jumped to the lead in that race, only to fall behind at the end. Team president John Shaw now says Mr. Angelos' outspoken style and insistence on eventual control of the team passing to Marylanders grated on the Rams. Moreover, St. Louis' stadium was already under construction.
Last August, just as the Rams seemed to be moving close to a deal with St. Louis, Bucs owner Hugh Culverhouse died after a long bout with cancer. The three-man trust, made up of former law partners and associates, which had been operating the team and his other assets since early 1993, issued a statement saying, "There is no 'for sale' sign in front of One Buccaneer Place."
But, they said, they would listen to offers for the team. Three months later, the trust said they had reconsidered and began taking offers. All things being equal, they said, they wanted the team to remain in Tampa. But that was not a stipulation of Mr. Culverhouse's will.
Again, Baltimore, and Mr. Angelos, assumed apparent front-runner status, only to see it evaporate.