Carolina Is NFL’s Newest : Pro football: The Charlotte group is awarded one of two new franchises. Decision on second is delayed.

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Nothing was finer than to be a Carolina Panther on Tuesday, when the NFL owners unanimously voted to award one of two new franchises to a group from Charlotte.

But nothing was more frustrating than to be the other four contending groups, which were left in limbo when the league announced it would require six more weeks to choose a second team.

Sources say the team will be from St. Louis if the league can be convinced of the proposed ownership group’s financial health, which was not stabilized until Monday.


The 12 members of the league’s finance and expansion committees, who could not agree on a second team to recommend to the general ownership, will use the extra time to study the new group backed by Missouri businessman Stan Kroenke, who is reportedly worth more than $500 million.

The owners will meet again in Chicago on Nov. 30 to select the other franchise, which even rivals are conceding will probably be the St. Louis Stallions.

“I think the feeling from all of us is that it’s going in that direction,” William B. Dunnavant Jr., proposed Memphis owner, said. “And that’s really not fair to us.”

George Westfall, St. Louis County executive, agreed that the request for more time was a good sign for the largest market in the country without a team.

“You’ve got to understand, we were unraveling for two weeks and just came together Monday,” Westfall said. “This is definitely good news for us. They need to take a closer look at us, then everything will be fine.”

The league’s 29th and 30th teams will begin play in 1995. They will be the first expansion teams since 1977, when the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers began play.


This new beginning marked the end of the Panthers’ six-year, $6-million effort, which has given the city a second major sports team along with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

“This is a dream come true,” said Panther owner Jerry Richardson, a South Carolina businessman who runs the food company that owns Denny’s restaurants. “And this is especially a dream come true for the 10 million people back in the Carolinas.”

It is the presence of those people, in an untapped NFL market four hours from the nearest team in Atlanta, that convinced the NFL to move in that direction.

“This gives us a new market, and an attractive fan base,” Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.

It also gives the Panthers a load of work between now and 1995.

The franchise has a general manager, former Seahawk General Manager Mike McCormack.

And they have a place to play in their first season, the 81,743-seat Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C., about 130 miles south of Charlotte.

But here’s what they need, and how they intend to get it:

--A permanent facility. The first shovel will be put into the ground this week on a 72,300-seat, privately financed stadium that will be ready for the 1996 season.


--A head coach. McCormack has set January of 1995 as the target date for hiring one. The heavy favorite is Joe Gibbs, the former Washington Redskin coach whose stock car racing team is based in Charlotte.

Even though Gibbs is retired, he has two years remaining on his Redskin contract, so McCormack would not comment on him. He is also considering Raymond Berry, a former New England Patriot coach.

--Players. McCormack will immediately begin hiring scouts to look at college juniors and players who could be eligible for free agency in two years.

Then he will rely on the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement, which will allow the teams to participate in both an expansion draft and the college draft beginning in the spring of 1995.

In the college draft, the new teams will receive an extra draft choice at the end of each round for three years.

In the expansion draft, they can combine to choose three players each from the 28 teams, giving them 42 players apiece.


Besides St. Louis and Memphis, the other cities left in limbo Tuesday were Jacksonville, Fla., and Baltimore, both of which are facing problems with either the size or location of their market.

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