3. Giving Peter The Ball, Scabs and The Angelos NFL Franchise in Baltimore
“I think they are concerned about litigation, but they feel as we do, that no one wants to litigate but one has to sometimes and the chances for success are excellent. I’m confident that Baltimore is the best applicant for an NFL franchise both from a financial and a fan standpoint.”
– Peter Angelos, May 18, 1994 to The Sun regarding Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke blocking his rights to buying an NFL franchise
TO UNDERSTAND BALTIMORE’S INNATE YEARNING for a National Football League team is to understand what the Baltimore Ravens have meant to the town, its sports psyche and the league since returning in 1996. After winning Super Bowls in 2001 and 2013, it’s very hard to fathom that time and space between March 28, 1984 and Nov. 6, 1995 – when the town that participated in what became known as The Greatest Game Ever Played in 1958, the place that the Colts of Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Raymond Berry and Jim Parker roamed on 33rd Street in what was affectionately known as the World’s Largest Outdoor Insane Asylum – was without the NFL.
The Orioles were the toast of Baltimore for sure in the early 1990s but there was always something missing in the Charm City when there weren’t NFL games on those 12 seasons of Sundays in the fall. After a decade of high-speed pursuits by the state of Maryland, Mayor of Baltimore and then Governor William Donald Schaefer, the Maryland Stadium Authority and several bidders in 1993, the city was repeatedly turned down in the expansion process. By the time Angelos had purchased the Orioles, the NFL had found itself in a precarious situation with Baltimore sitting empty and several suitors working every angle possible to steal an existing team and essentially steal another city’s team the way the Colts were stolen off in the middle of the night in 1984 by owner Robert Irsay. And Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke had tried every possible way to keep Baltimore from ever having a team again and once attempted to get a stadium built in Laurel to ensure it. Schaefer blocked Cooke and then rallied support for civic monies to be held to fund a Baltimore football stadium at Camden Yards if the NFL granted the city a franchise.
Despite all of the efforts of Schaefer and his steward Herb Belgrad, it didn’t work. In early 1995, the city of Baltimore was considered to be further away than ever in a search for a return to the NFL now that a pair of expansion teams had gone to Jacksonville and Charlotte and it was clear St. Louis was in the final stages of swiping the Rams from Los Angeles.
It was a dirty business, this franchise ownership, league gamesmanship, civic hostage taking of teams and the politics of modern sports. But Baltimore and Maryland were a unique player in the revolving door of NFL cities vying for the theft of teams from other markets where old stadia were failing to lure more revenue or ownerships were dissatisfied and looking for a bigger, better deal – led of course by Irsay’s decision to leave the land of pleasant living a decade earlier and the machinations of Al Davis in California with the Raiders.
Because of what the Orioles meant to the area and the success of the downtown revitalization spurred by the facility, Baltimore, Maryland had real money in the state coffers to fund a new stadium in the parking lot adjacent to the baseball stadium at Camden Yards. The area had always been earmarked as the site of a potential NFL team but the only problem was finding one of the existing 30 teams to find the deal too $weet to pass up. There was a lot of money to be made on an NFL franchise in Baltimore and the thought was that with many municipalities hard-lining NFL owners on the stadium issue on behalf of local taxpayers, it was only a matter of time before someone moved a team to the former home of the Colts. The insiders knew just how much money and how rich the Baltimore deal was for an owner who wanted to flee but the media and local fans were very skeptical after a decade of operating in the fog of having lost the Colts.
Once again, Angelos went into his office in Baltimore and tried to don the cape as a civic hero, flying in to save the day and bring the NFL back to his hometown.
But there were several other suitors pushing to be the winner in this grab for a football team in 1994.
Leonard “Boogie” Weinglass left Angelos’ partnership before it ever really began in September 1993 – he never invested in the team after being the original local person who was interested in the club when Eli Jacobs put it up for sale. At the time he said it was in an effort to pursue an NFL team that he hoped to call the Bombers, paying homage to the World War II planes that were built in Eastern Baltimore County at Martin Marietta.
Malcolm Glazer and his sons Bryan and Joel had been one of the three failed efforts by Baltimore to win the 1993 NFL expansion process. Now, they had set their sights on buying the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their home state of Florida, where they lived in Palm Beach.
Baltimore beer distributors Bob Footlick and Bob Pinkner had also partnered with Robert Schulman in an effort to pursue an NFL team.
And, of course, with his August 1993 victory in the New York auction house and his leading man status as the owner of the Orioles, Angelos was funded and motivated to join Miami’s Wayne Huizenga as the second man to own an NFL and MLB franchise simultaneously. There had previously been language to disallow such a local “monopoly” on sports teams.
By late 1994, when Charlotte and Jacksonville were granted the expansion teams, all parties were essentially competing with the Maryland Stadium Authority and its chairman Herb Belgrad, who was about to be replaced by local attorney John Moag from the law firm of Patton Boggs.
The sheer volume of rhetoric, headlines and power plays by Angelos in 1994 in an effort to lure an NFL team is staggering, especially considering his new status as an incredibly busy neophyte baseball owner and the wealthiest attorney in the region. In addition to parting ways with Calvin Hill, Doug Melvin and Johnny Oates, plus the ongoing baseball strike and the free agent signings and hiring of Phil Regan as the new manager, it’s an astonishing catalog of activity.
The timeline is exhausting:
February 11, 1994 – The Sun reported that Gov. Schaefer spoke to Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis about moving his team to Baltimore. The article mentioned that Angelos had emerged as a potential bidder in a quest to bring the Los Angeles Rams or Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Baltimore.
February 23, 1994 – Angelos told The Sun that he had talked with former Oriole president Larry Lucchino about participating as both an investor and in the management of an NFL team. “He would hold a major position,” Angelos said. “He would be offered that, if that was his interest. I have a high regard for his ability.” Angelos essentially demoted Lucchino five months earlier in his first act as managing partner the day after he closed on the sale of the Orioles in October 1993. He also indicated that his co-investor in the Orioles, local author Tom Clancy, whose stated first love was football, could also be involved.
May 1, 1994 – The Los Angeles Times reported: “He could be the next owner of the Rams. Or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Or, he could be the next governor of Maryland. Then again, he could merely continue being Peter G. Angelos, managing partner of the Baltimore Orioles, head of his thriving Baltimore law firm, member of Loyola College’s Board of Trustees and hometown hero to thousands.”
May 18, 1994 – Angelos met with Rams owner Georgia Frontiere in Bel Air, California, and reported: “She’s a very gracious lady, and I thought the evening produced a very clear conclusion that all parties were very compatible. The meeting went very well. Obviously, we intend to follow through.” Angelos acknowledged that potential objections by Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke came up. Cooke planned to build a stadium in Laurel, about 15 miles from Baltimore. “I think they are concerned about litigation, but they feel as we do, that no one wants to litigate but one has to sometimes and the chances for success are excellent,” Angelos said. “I’m confident that Baltimore is the best applicant for an NFL franchise both from a financial and a fan standpoint.” This was essentially Angelos threatening that he would sue Cooke and the NFL if he needed to get their attention.
June 11, 1994 – The Los Angeles Times reported that Angelos met with Rams president John Shaw for a second time.
October 5, 1994 – The Associated Press reported that Angelos has a standing $200 million offer to buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “The Baltimore Buccaneers,” Angelos said. “I like the sound of that. We’ve been working on it for quite a while now, and I would say our chances are very good that we will be successful.”
October 6, 1994 – The Los Angeles Times reported: “Shaw and Angelos have met before and Shaw said recently a deal with Baltimore could be completed ‘within 24 hours.’ However, such a deal has not been completed because of the Rams’ concern about possible legal problems with the NFL. Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, who is expected to fight a Rams’ move to Baltimore, won approval from the league last week to move his team to Laurel, Md., as soon as a new stadium is constructed.”
November 13, 1994 – Angelos met with Shaw in Los Angeles for four more hours and reported: “I’m convinced the deal with St. Louis is not a done deal, and that makes me optimistic. As far as I’m concerned, Baltimore is still very much in the running.”
November 18, 1994 – Former New England Patriots owner Victor Kiam filed a $450 million lawsuit alleging that Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke refused to allow him to move his team to Baltimore in 1991. Kiam’s lawsuit said Cooke “has made statements to a number of persons, including the governor of the state of Maryland, to the effect that he will not permit an NFL team in Baltimore, by expansion or relocation; and that he intends to maintain his monopoly position in the Baltimore-Washington area.”
December 20, 1994 – The Associated Press reported: “Negotiations between Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers officials have reached the advanced stages, and Angelos said Monday he is close to buying the team and moving it to Baltimore.” But Steve Story, one of three trustees in charge of the team since the death of owner Hugh Culverhouse, said the trustees will also talk this week with other interested parties, primarily those who want to keep the team in Tampa, including New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. “I would definitely classify our meetings (with Angelos) . . . as going beyond the preliminaries,” Story said. “We are going to move forward with some more in-depth discussion to see if we can consummate a deal. We’re interested in consummating a deal with someone quickly.”
December 27, 1994 – Bucs trustee Steve Story tells The Sun, “The right price may not come and we may retain it. That’s not our intent, but that could be the eventuality.” Angelos said he has received no signals from the trustees that they are considering anything but selling, and doing so quickly. “It’s news to me. As far as I’m concerned, the team is for sale at the present time, and the announced intention of the trustees is to sell them. We have no reason to believe there’s any change in the trustees’ intentions,” Angelos said. His attorney, George Stamas, was in Tampa to continue negotiations. “We’re in very intensive discussions with them,” Angelos reported. The Sun also reported: “Because Baltimore has public funding in place for a lucrative new stadium and Tampa does not, Angelos can spend more on the team and still earn a profit. Several local bidders have emerged in Tampa, but several of them have expressed concern that they would not be able to bid as high as Angelos.”