"I had a special lunch for the sports-writers this past year," Rosenbloom said last week. "I told them I had only one question to ask. I said, 'What's wrong? Where have we failed? We used to have a good relationship here and now we don't. What can we do?' "
There was a long silence before Neal Eskridge of the Baltimore News American stood up and said, "I guess it's just that we're so used to winning."
"You mean it would be better if we lost?" Rosenbloom said, and there was no answer.
For some time Rosenbloom had been unhappy with the Baltimore Memorial Stadium and even offered to build his own $10 million plant on the outskirts of the city. "The city fathers didn't want that," he said. "They wanted the Colts in the city because they thought it would be a knock on Baltimore if we moved out. For years they made innumerable promises about fixing up the stadium but nothing happened."
The city fathers did something only when Rosenbloom threatened to move to Tampa, a scheme that was thwarted when Commissioner Pete Rozelle came out against it. Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel, a strong Colt fan, Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaeffer and Bill Boucher, executive director of the Greater Baltimore Organization, combined to push through plans for the stadium, but it was too late.
In the meantime Reeves had died, and his heirs were looking for someone to buy the franchise. At one point Rosenbloom suggested that he turn over the Colts to his son, Steve, and buy the Rams, but Rozelle vetoed that plan, too. No one can own parts of two franchises in the NFL, and a father-and-son tandem seemed uncomfortably close to dual ownership.
In Miami, Joe Robbie of the Dolphins, no friend of Rosenbloom's, had fired Joe Thomas, his capable director of player personnel. Rosenbloom called Thomas to see how he could help him. The call, eventually, had far-reaching results. "Joe said the only other owner who called him was Al Davis," Rosenbloom said. "I respect Al for that. I think Thomas has talent and all I wanted to do was see that he would stay in pro football. I suggested he start his own scouting group and that the Colts and Raiders would use his services."
A dozen or so groups had approached Rosenbloom hoping to buy the Colts, but each deal had fallen through. Rozelle suggested that Rosenbloom sell the Colts and buy the Rams, but the tax picture was not a happy one. A straight cash sale would have meant that Rosenbloom would have had to pay on the order of $4.4 million in capital gains. "That wouldn't have been fair to my family," he said. "If something happened to me after the sale, they would have been taxed again on the estate—a tax on a tax,"
Finally, Rozelle suggested that Thomas, who had been instrumental in the Dolphin purchase, might have buyers available for the Colts, and indeed he did. One was Willard Keland, who had been squeezed out of the Dolphin franchise by Robbie. Keland and an associate, Clem Ryan, agreed to buy the Rams for $19 million, then trade the team to Rosenbloom for the Colts.
Late in the negotiation Keland and Ryan were shy of money so Thomas came up with Robert F. Isray, a heating and air-conditioning executive from Skokie, Ill. Isray met with the negotiators in the coffee shop of the Lombardy Hotel in New York. None of them knew him well and the first question asked was whether or not he had $5 million to clinch the deal, since another buyer had made an offer for the Rams. Isray, a big, quiet man, said, "I could have." As it turned out, he did have—and more. Keland and Ryan dropped out, leaving Isray with the entire $19 million bill.