Facing the threat of a legal fight that could take years and cost millions, the NFL owners decided to take the money and let the Los Angeles Rams run to St. Louis yesterday.
Just 27 days after the owners voted in Phoenix, 21-3-6, to block the proposed move, the owners reversed themselves and approved it by a 23-6-1 margin at a special meeting in Dallas.
Besides threatening legal action, the Rams boosted their financial package from $25 million to $46 million and made other concessions to the league that could be worth as much as another $25 million more to persuade the owners not to fight a court battle to try to stop them from moving.
The six teams that voted against the move were the two New York teams, the Jets and Giants, the Buffalo Bills, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Arizona Cardinals and the Washington Redskins. The Los Angeles Raiders abstained.
It took 23 votes to approve the move and the count was 22-6-1 when the vote was taken with the Rams out of the room. The Rams were then called into the room to cast the deciding vote.
The Redskins, who are trying to keep a team out of Baltimore, apparently opposed the move on the grounds that the Rams' move will make it easier for other teams to move in the future.
Mike Brown, the president of the Cincinnati Bengals, immediately made the point that the vote was a sign the league is not in the mood to reject proposed moves.
Brown, who contends the city of Cincinnati has breached his lease so he's free to move at the end of this season, said, "I think it's a sign of the times. It is where the league is at this time out of necessity."
Brown, who wouldn't comment on whether he's likely to move his team, was one of the three owners who voted in favor of the Rams' move last month.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue conceded the Bengals are a team that has financial problems.
"I know the Bengals' economics and I know the economics of what it takes to operate a team in the NFL. I think they have a very severe situation," he said.
John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, has said if Brown wants to move, Baltimore will have the welcome mat out.
Tagliabue, though, left no doubt he'll try to steer a team to Los Angeles to replace the Rams. "Having an NFC team in Los Angeles at some point in the near future is a very high priority for the league," he said.
The league would like to have either an existing team or an expansion team in Los Angeles by 1998, the first year of the next TV contract.
The owners also discussed a proposed stadium for the Raiders in Hollywood Park.
Raiders owner Al Davis has made a tentative deal for a $200 million stadium near the racetrack with R. D. Hubbard, the track's chief executive officer, that was contingent on the Rams moving.
But the NFL owners have to approve the awarding of two or three Super Bowls to the new stadium in a 10-year span and the use of premium seat license money for construction costs before the project goes forward.
The owners also decided that if an existing team wants to move to Los Angeles it has to apply to the league first, although it's questionable the league could enforce that.
The league is supposed to have guidelines to govern moves, but they now seem meaningless because the league said the Rams didn't meet the guidelines, but approved the move rather than face a legal fight it was likely to lose.
Agent Leigh Steinberg, who spearheaded a fight to keep the Rams in Los Angeles, said, "Clearly, the league has decided here that the violation of their guidelines governing franchise relocation isn't important. The NFL's got some mighty tall explaining to do as to how violations of their own relocation policy by the Rams suddenly become acceptable."
One answer is that the Rams sweetened the deal.
They'll now pay $20 million up front and $26 million more over a 15-year period. They also would have to make a payment to the league if the NFC ratings go down in Los Angeles and the Fox Network gets a rebate.
The Rams have pledged $12.5 million toward a rebate, although it's unlikely the Rams will have to pay it because the ratings may go up now that Fox can show doubleheader games in Los Angeles.
The Rams also waived the rights to future expansion fees.
Tagliabue, though, tried to downplay the significance of the money in approving the move. The league will count $30 million of it as a relocation fee and Tagliabue said the owners may give it to NFL Charities or put it in a stadium trust fund.
"It did not come down to a money deal," said Tagliabue, whose league charged the Cardinals $7.5 million to move to Phoenix in 1988. "That was a completely erroneous implication."
He conceded the legal threat played a major role. "The decision to have peace and not to have war was a big factor," he said.
When the owners blocked the move, they thought owner Georgia Frontiere might back down.
They didn't think she wanted to follow in the footsteps of Davis, who won a legal battle to move the Raiders in 1982.
Instead, she upped the ante by threatening to move to St. Louis immediately and challenging the league to stop her in court. Even Davis didn't move until he won the suit.
"The game is over and I won't say we won, but . . . well, I guess we won one. We all won," Frontiere said.
The Rams are expected to make profits of more than $20 million a year in St. Louis in the new domed stadium.
NFL franchise moves since 1960:
From Chicago to St. Louis
From Oakland to Los Angeles
From Baltimore to Indianapolis
From St. Louis to Phoenix
From Los Angeles to St. Louis