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ST. LOUIS BLUES
It was well after midnight on Oct. 27, hours after NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue handed the NFL's 29th franchise to Charlotte, and Leonard (Boogie) Weinglass was sitting with friends in a Chicago airport hotel. Weinglass, a 51-year-old Baltimorean who owns a chain of clothing stores, was near tears as he reached behind his neck and grabbed his distinctive silver ponytail. "What more can we do?" he said. "If it would mean us getting a team, I'd cut the ponytail."
The league's 28 owners had adjourned earlier that night after accepting team owner Jerry Richardson's Charlotte bid but deadlocking on the second choice for a new team, and Weinglass had every reason to fume. Of the four cities angling for the other franchise, Baltimore made the best presentation to the expansion committee. Jacksonville and Memphis put their best feet forward as well. St. Louis brought up the rear, yet it remained the likely choice for the second franchise, and that was the reason for Weinglass's funk.
All along, the league had let it be known through leaks that its choices were Charlotte, in sports-crazy North Carolina, and St. Louis, the largest U.S. market without an NFL team. However, in the weeks leading up to the scheduled decision date, St. Louis seemed to do everything it could to spoil the league's best-laid plans. The St. Louis ownership group had changed twice, and on the eve of the meeting yet another group was trying to elbow its way in. Of the five cities, only St. Louis had failed to presell all its stadium luxury boxes.
The St. Louis group that is recognized by the NFL is headed by Columbia, Mo., businessman Stan Kroenke. Married to a niece of late Wal-Mart billionaire Sam Walton, Kroenke did nothing to further St. Louis's cause last week. He became the Admiral Stockdale of the expansion meeting. He was so garbled and reticent at one press conference that St. Louis mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. grabbed the mike from him and said, "You may not have detected much enthusiasm from Mr. Kroenke. But with his money, you don't have to be enthusiastic." Tawdry stuff for the NFL's favored group.
Baltimore, on the other hand, aced its presentation. The Maryland legislature had already approved the construction (contingent on the city's landing a franchise) of a $165 million open-air, natural-grass stadium adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Maryland Stadium authority had sold all 102 luxury suites (at $45,000 to $105,000 apiece) in six weeks, and 7,500 club seats (at $700 to $1,700) in eight weeks. The Baltimore group, led by Weinglass and moviemaker Barry Levin-son, talked with fervor to the owners about what a team would mean to their city. Weinglass finished his address to the owners, saying, "This is all about trusting your team to a group that's passionate—I mean passionate—about football."
When the meeting was over, the consensus was that the no-decision was simply a maneuver by the league to give St. Louis one more chance to get its house in order, probably because of fears that the Patriots would go there if an expansion team didn't. Still, at week's end some owners were beginning to defect from the St. Louis camp. Said one owner, "I could see the expansion committee coming out 7-5 in favor of St. Louis over Baltimore. Without a consensus Jacksonville could sneak in as the compromise candidate."
What will Weinglass and the Baltimore group do if they're turned away at the next meeting? Will they give up or pursue an existing team, perhaps the Rams or the Bucs? "If, and only if, we aren't granted a franchise," Weinglass says, "we'll go after a team full throttle."
THE PLAYERS' VOICE
Lost amid the attention focused on free agency and the salary cap in the league's new collective bargaining agreement is the fact that for the first time players will have a say in writing the rules of the game. Under the contract, the NFL Players Association will have one voting representative on the eight-member Competition Committee, which meets every March to amend rules and address issues of player safety. Last week NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw told SI that Falcon left tackle Mike Kenn, the NFLPA president, will be the first player-voter.