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.
Kenn says that he will focus his immediate attention on crowd noise, which he believes can be a decisive factor in games. "We've got to let games, especially in domes, be decided on their own merits," Kenn says. "When we went to New Orleans [on Oct. 24], it was the first time in years there that I've heard snap counts, and that's because we were ahead in the second half. We had taken the crowd out of the game. But you can't be your normal aggressive self in that place because you can't hear." Kenn favors use of the Audiblizer (SI, Oct. 11), which uses sideline speakers to project the quarterback's voice above the din.
Here's the flip side of free agency: Pittsburgh inside linebacker Jerry Olsavsky decided to play out the final year of his existing contract, at $215,000, rather than sign a new, two-year deal this fall that would have paid him about $450,000 annually. On Oct. 24 in Cleveland, Olsavsky tore three ligaments in his left knee, and his career could be over. If it is, he is guaranteed only the remainder of his salary for this year. Had he signed the new contract, he would have been guaranteed the balance of his wages this season, plus $175,000 next year if he fails a team physical before the start of the season....
Even with the sorry state of NFL quarterbacking, bet the farm that Bernie Kosar won't be a Brown in 1994....
Until Sunday, when the Rams' T.J. Rubley started his first NFL game at quarterback, his claim to fame was that his girlfriend is the sister of Sylvester Stallone's girlfriend. After Sunday's 40-17 loss at San Francisco, the Stallone connection is still his claim to fame. In the aftermath of Rub-ley's shaky 15-of-26, two-interception, seven-sack debacle at Candlestick, about the nicest thing anyone could say about Rubley came from the man he supplanted at quarterback, Jim Everett. "Overall," Everett said, biting his lip, "I thought he tried very hard."
GAME OF THE WEEK
Green Bay at Kansas City, Monday night. This is a tough game for Packer coach Mike Holmgren, not only because he'll be watching Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith trying to tear quarterback Brett Favre's head off. Holmgren was Chief quarterback Joe Montana's position coach when both were with the 49ers, and the two used to bet a pizza dinner on the annual meeting between USC and Notre Dame, their respective alma maters. Says Holmgren, "When Joe learned in the off-season that Green Bay was on the schedule, we talked. Joe said, 'Why don't we have a bite to eat before the game?' I told him, 'Joe, that's not such a good idea.' " On Monday night, they'll compete, not eat.
THE END ZONE
Sports quiz: Since 1960, who has the best passing rating while quarterbacking a first-year expansion team (minimum 50 attempts)?
Answer: Sam Wyche of the 1968 Bengals—89.51.
INTRODUCING YOUR CAROLINA PANTHERS
On Sept. 3, 1995, the black-, white-and blue-clad Carolina Panthers will come out of a tunnel for their first NFL game. What kind of team will Panther general manager Mike McCormack whip up? "If I know Mike." says Denver Bronco director of football operations Bob Ferguson, a former pro scout under McCormack in Seattle, "they'll be solid along both lines. They'll be tough. They won't make mistakes."
Here is SI's crystal-ball guess at the Panthers' starting lineup:
*Special teams captain