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While Werblin recovered, construction was halted and late at night in swampside bars there was talk of the hex of the Hackensacks. To stifle the doomsayers, Foley says, "We borrowed an old pile driver from the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and kept it pounding away out there on the site so people wouldn't think we were totally dead."
After Werblin returned to action, the underwriters agreed to float a third bond, but only if the New Jersey legislature backed it with a "moral pledge," a move that would bolster confidence in the bond but would not legally bind the state to rescue the sports complex if it faltered. Even so, there was enough opposition to the implied obligation to require some strong convincing, especially in view of the uncertain political climate.
Up for reelection and hurt by the failure of the first bond issue as well as by charges of campaign fund-raising irregularities, Cahill had lost the June primary, and his successor, Brendan Byrne, was not due to take office until January 1974. Nonetheless, in his last hurrah, Cahill summoned a group of key legislators into his office in late November and, citing the dirty tricks played by Rocky's mob, concluded, "That's what those bastards have done to us. New York is pushing us around again and that's why New Jersey is the way it is. Are we going to sit still for this?"
Some of the most prominent legislators jumped up right in the State Assembly during a memorable session, pointed defiantly toward New York and shouted, "We're No. 1!" State Senator James Dugan preached, "This legislature is finally telling Rockefeller that we're no longer simply going to be a dumping ground for New York. We're standing up to New York and telling it we're its equal!" The moral pledge was approved by a vote of 29 to 7.
But times were tough: construction deadlines were pressing, contract penalties were mounting, the price of the third bond had risen to $302 million and the market was in a bad slump. Werblin says, "I just put on my blinkers and traveled the country, talking megalopolis and trying to sell bonds."
At one point, while Werblin was coming on like a bit player in one of the old Abbott and Costello shows he used to package, a towering Arab in flowing robes walked through the office door carrying a copy of National Geographic identifying him as an emir from Kuwait. Kissing Werblin on both cheeks, he offered to loan him the entire $302 million. Though the offer was seriously weighed, it was declined. As Werblin puts it, no one wanted to get involved with "a guy right out of central casting."
The uncertainty soon turned to fright. When the third Meadowlands bond was finally floated in January 1974, the underwriters found to their consternation that, save for a $2 million commitment from the Manhattan branch of the Bank of Tokyo, not a single New York bank would touch the bonds. Suspicions of a new and grander conspiracy were confirmed in Werblin's mind when, just two days before the issue was to go on sale, an investment house that had pledged itself to a huge $50 million order suddenly reneged.
"It was a sandbag," says Werblin, "the fine Italian hand of New York at work again." According to one conspiracy theory, the last-minute defector was supposedly acting on behalf of the Chase Manhattan Bank, whose chairman is Nelson Rockefeller's brother David. Subsequently, several New York bankers admitted that the call for their freeze-out came from Albany, which, with billions invested in New York banks, did not have to dictate, but merely suggest.
"In 30 years in Wall Street," says Robert Wohlforth, then of Hornblower & Weeks, "I've never seen such a deliberate effort to undermine a deal. Selling those bonds was one of the worst things I've ever been through in my life."
On the verge of going under for the third time, Werblin and crew bailed away during a frantic 24-hour period that saw a spokesman for Governor Byrne announce, "For all practical purposes the sports complex is dead." But with a $140 million block of bonds still to be sold, who was being practical? The New Jersey banks and insurance companies, preaching pride and feeling panic at the thought of losing their original $51 million loan, scraped together another $50 million to plug the gap left by the last-minute defector. The underwriters squeezed an additional $30 million out of Wall Street and finally the mighty Prudential Life Insurance Co. of Newark, N.J. lumbered forward with the $50 million clincher.