The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: How St. Louis Lost, Won, and suffered from the NFL ’89-’94

@DerekKingSports

Where do you want to start?

Where do you end?

It just seem that for the great people of St. Louis, it never began or ended. So lets start at the beginning, of the end (the first time).

1988, William “Bill” Bidwell wants out of St. Louis, the town he’s called home since 1960, filing for relocation with the league. On March 15th 1988 the NFL voted to allow the St. Louis Cardinals to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona putting the final coffin nail in the franchises 28 year history in St. Louis. The vote was 26-2 with the now Los Angeles Raiders¬†and¬†Miami Dolphins¬†abstaining. Both Al Davis and Joe Robbie were against the measure for their own reasons.

Davis was still engulfed in a legal battle with the NFL over his ill-advised move into the greater Los Angeles area. and due to the aforementioned legal issues with the league, Davis decided it was best to abstain from the vote, but he wasn’t all too thrilled about the matter.

Source: New York Times

¬†“It’s all a sham. They vote any way they want and allow anyone they want to move.” Al Davis

Joe Robbie was good friends with Joe Foss, former American Football League commissioner who represented a Phoenix group spent $2 million in a failed attempt to bring an expansion team to Phoenix.

The NFL as a group wasn’t enthralled about the idea of letting the Cardinals move to Phoenix either. The league would have preferred a move to Baltimore as the Phoenix area was looked at as an excellent candidate for expansion, this was all going down long after the Irsay-Rosenbloom debacle in 1972 which the Rams and Colts franchises were traded with their respective owners. That’s another story for another day.

St. Louis Expansion attempt

Jerry Clinton, Former Grey Eagle Distributors owner, who as part owner in the St. Louis Blues and St. Louis Steamers indoor soccer team, Mr. Clinton, told Civic Progress members over breakfast at the Bogey Club of their plans to build a new stadium and bring a new football team to St. Louis. On Feb. 27, 1989, they formed the St. Louis NFL Partnership.

Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch 

 

Mr. Clinton said it had been easy to raise money to buy a team. That turned out to be an exaggeration.

The partnership mailed a prospectus to local entrepreneurs asking for $250,000 each. They got just one solid commitment.

Meanwhile, Mr. Clinton was lending his partner money. “He had no other source of income. ‚Ķ He had to have living expenses,” Mr. Clinton explained.

The two partners lobbied the Missouri Legislature to approve financing to build a stadium-convention center they said would be self-supporting.

The legislation passed but never was used for the stadium. Instead, the city, county and state are paying the tab.

Mr. Clinton lobbied the NFL for an expansion franchise. He even signed a lease for his team to play at St. Louis’ new downtown domed stadium.

As most can see it was a very convoluted series of events. the original group lead by Mr. Clinton and¬†James Busch Orthwein was stalling financially where as Orthwien couldn’t sell his team¬†New England Patriots¬†so he stepped aside allowing¬†Stanley Enos Kroenke¬†to be added to the group. Clinton made a bold move, he left the group and then teamed with a competing group lead by Fran Murray

Source: New York Times, FRANK LITSKY

Although Clinton’s group seems out of the picture, Fran Murray, an entrepreneur and a former minority owner of the Patriots, said yesterday he had taken over as majority general partner of the group. Last week, Orthwein dismissed a proposal by Murray to exchange 100 percent of the Patriots for 66 percent of a new St. Louis franchise. Murray said he would pay the $140 million fee for the St. Louis franchise.

Speaking by telephone from a plane en route to Chicago, Murray said he and three investors now controlled 54 percent of the group. He said he would appear this morning at a joint meeting of the N.F.L.’s expansion and finance committees in Chicago and identify the three investors. He said his appearance before the committees had been arranged by Jay Moyer, the league’s general counsel.

Murray said the remaining 46 percent of his group would be held by Clinton (20 percent), Orthwein (12 percent) Walter Payton (10 percent) and Tom Holley (4 percent). He would not say what share of the group he would retain himself. When asked if Clayton, Orthwein, Payton and Holley had agreed to this change, he said:

“They have not told me they would not participate. I sent them faxes and letters and have not heard that they did not want to remain part of the group.”

So, now you can see that series of events that unfolded during the process. Clinton-Orthwein, Clinton-Kroenke, Murray-Clinton-Orthwein-Payton-Holley and then Competing group; Stan Kroenke, Charles Knight, Andrew Taylor, and John Connelly.

If you are reading that trying to make sense out of what you just read, I was doing the same writing it. The process was so fluid and ever-changing I don’t even think the people involved knew what was happening. All of these things occurred between ’89-’94.

Also during this expansion process mess in St. Louis, Orthwein, bought the New England Patriots in 1992.

St. Louis had already begun construction on the soon to be Trans World Dome at America’s Center.

Orthwein was dead set on heading to St. Louis after the 1993 season. At that point, Robert Kraft, who owned the lease on Foxboro Stadium wouldn’t let Orthwein out of the lease, and due to that Orthwein sold the Patriots to Robert Kraft in 1994 and the rest is history.

I’m shaking my head even writing this stuff!

Thinking back on the entire saga of expansion one would have never thought it would have been this messy, yet it was.

At this point, the dream of having a franchise in St. Louis looked all but dead, on life support, but then, out of nowhere, there came a savior of football in St. Louis, or at least we thought.

Part 2 of this series will be coming soon, stay tuned.

Derek King

N The Zone Contributor

Sources: New York Times, St. Louis Post Dispatch, Chicago Tribune

 

The View From Mt. Airy – 04-02-2016

FB_IMG_1458263571898“That could never happen here.”¬† Ask any loyal, green bleeding die-hard fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, the answer will be the same. Could the NFL franchise which has existed in some form here since 1933 ever leave? Impossible, you’d think. Rabid fan base? Check.¬† 4th largest TV market? Check. History and tradition? Double check! Yet, as I’ve watched the St. Louis Rams snatch the NFL outta Missouri and head for LA, I exhale and thank the sports Gods, because that was supposed to be us. Yup. The Eagles, Cardinals, and now the LA RAMS are forever enjoined in a power play that ultimately left only the Eagles unscathed.

1984. The NFL season is winding down, the Eagles are a desultory 6-9-1 just three seasons removed from a Super Bowl loss to the Raiders. Dick Vermeil has exited the stage, in a sobbing press conference where he describes himself as burnt-out by the 7 day a week grind of coaching in the NFL. Some would say he abandoned ship after trading the future for the present, leaving the Birds bereft of draft picks and under the stewardship of Marion Campbell, who I don’t think will ever be confused with Hank Stram. Whispers around the city begin. Owner Leonard Tose is 42 million in debt and is considering selling the team. No problem, most think, new owner, new money, new beginnings for a franchise badly in need of a fresh start. Then the word gets out that the new money is a Phoenix real estate mogul named Monaghan who has no intention of staying in Philadelphia. The Eagles hold a press conference where a sobbing Leonard Tose tells the city, “The Eagles will NEVER leave, they belong to you as much as they do to me.” This soothes the masses for as long as it takes an enterprising reporter to learn that his daughter, team President Susan Fletcher, is in Arizona finding schools for her children. Ultimately, the Eagles would stay. Saved by a combination of Tose’s inability to withstand a long and threatened legal battle, a sweetheart of a new stadium lease and additional luxury suites, and finally the sale to Norman Braman for 65 million (43 million went straight to the casinos, they’d get the rest later) and Leonard Tose would die penniless in 2003, his only means of support being Dick Vermeil, who supported him financially for nearly a decade.

But Bill Bidwell saw the money, infrastructure, and thirst of the Arizona desert and jumped into the breach, taking the Cardinals out of St. Louis to Glendale in 1987, leaving the city without NFL football for 8 seasons until the Rams would arrive to save the day. I apologize. I couldn’t help it. But know that I feel for the people of Missouri who lost jobs, lost professional relationships, but most importantly, lost the investment of their passion and souls to a carpetbagger who I don’t believe ever had the intention of staying, or even negotiating the future of the franchise in good faith. So it didn’t happen to us, but it was close. That’s enough for me to root for a quick return to the NFL for St. Louis. I think it happens. Build a stadium. Share it with an MLS franchise. There’s not one in America losing money today. Give both teams the same name. Target a return in 2021. Meanwhile we’ll root for the LA team to play like the St. Louis version did for the past few seasons. Forever.

You can find me each week on N The Zone. You can follow me on Twitter: @MtAiryPhil