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And soon, with pile drivers pounding for real, the Meadowlands was grinding out its own ad campaign: "There's Excitement Building in New Jersey!"
Meadowlands bond buyers obviously agreed. Selling at a low of 64 in January 1976, the bonds are now bouncing along at 111. Not missing a trick, Werblin not only was instrumental in selling the scoreboard advertising for a record $7.5 million over a 10-year period, but he also has seen to it that the manure from the Meadowlands stables, which most tracks pay to have removed, is sold as fertilizer to a local mushroom farmer for $65 a truckload. "In this business," he says, "you have to get every dollar you can."
With the Meadowlands making money, Werblin is able to concern himself with other matters. His day is likely to begin with an inspection tour of the highways between his Colt's Neck, N.J. mansion and the Meadowlands. Peering out of his limousine one recent morning, he frowned and said, "If they could just police this area and wash those signs, it'd give New Jersey a better image."
The help at the Meadowlands, ever alert to his white-glove strolls, refers to Sonny as "Partly Cloudy"—and for obvious reasons. His eyes darted as he walked, looking for a loose tile, a missing button, a wad of chewing gum stuck under a seat. He critiqued everything from the color of the rest-room walls to the graphics on the clubhouse menu. Bending to pick up a cigarette butt wedged in a crack, he said, "It's like a Broadway show. There's always the danger of going stale, and the only way to prevent that is to open every night as though it were opening night."
Confident that he has another hit, Werblin spent more time than usual at his oceanfront home in Golden Beach, Fla. this winter, recovering from a bout of "walking pneumonia." While the controversy over the possibility of the Jets' moving to the Meadowlands raged in New York, Werblin was teeing up outside his cabana and blithely rapping ball after ball into the Atlantic with a six-iron. "You know," he said, locking his elbows, "the Meadowlands has given me an opportunity to use all the useless knowledge I've accumulated over the years." Thwack. "I've been to hundreds of gathering places, ballrooms, nightclubs, opera houses, steel piers. Now I'm just applying everything I've ever learned." Thwack.
Later, while mixing himself a vodka martini, Werblin stared at a large blowup of Namath in action mounted behind the bar, its colors faded by the sun. "Old Joe," he mused. "I once said that I preferred my horse Silent Screen because at least he's got four good legs, but that's not true. Actually, I've had several chances to buy another team but all my friends tell me that it's no fun anymore because of the labor situation. It's like a girl you once loved. You see her again eight years later and she doesn't look so good."
The future? "Make me an offer," Werblin said, allowing that he was going to make one himself that he felt would, sooner or later, bring the most prestigious event in harness racing, the Hambletonian, to the Meadowlands. He talked on about the new $10 million aquarium that is in the advance planning stage, about hosting a national political convention, staging a six-day bike race, rescuing New York.... How's that? "I'm a strong advocate of creating a 51st state," he said. "It would extend from Bridgeport to Poughkeepsie to Asbury Park, an area that has all the same problems—welfare, transportation, unemployment." Pausing just long enough to swirl his drink and formulate the details for another dream empire, he continued, "Now what we have to do is...."