About 260 miles southwest of here tonight, on the cobblestone streets of a renovated warehouse district on the Mississippi River, some people are planning a party.
There will be fireworks, a stage full of dignitaries and banners, saying, “St. Louis Welcomes The NFL.”
And you thought there was still some suspense left in the pro football expansion race, which concludes today when owners vote on a 30th team to begin play in 1995 with fellow newcomer Charlotte.
Travel another 241 miles down the Mississippi from St. Louis, and the mood will be different.
Along Beale Street in Memphis, bands will be playing the blues and the locals will be singing them.
Certain that the NFL is going to abandon their proposed expansion group, the owners of shops there have been displaying T-shirts illustrating a city’s disgust.
“NFL--National Fraud League,” they read.
“There is an expression for what has happened to us down here,” said Pepper Rodgers, a former football coach--he had three seasons at UCLA--and now spokesman for the Memphis investors. “It’s called bait. All this time, the NFL has just been using us for bait.”
If you think that’s harsh, just wait until you hear what the people from Baltimore and Jacksonville will be saying if the vote goes as expected.
Baltimore has offered the best financial package and Jacksonville and Memphis have offered the most solid local ownership, but all three were shunned during the owners’ first expansion meeting in Chicago 35 days ago.
There, the NFL broke its promise to name two new teams, announcing only Charlotte and delaying naming of a second team apparently because owners couldn’t make up their minds.
But sources said they were just giving St. Louis more time to solidify a shaky ownership group.
That has happened. The St. Louis Stallions will join the NFL because:
--The owners are in love with their TV market, largest in the country without an NFL team.
--The owners are in love with the TV flexibility of a Central time zone team.
--The owners don’t want to do anything to upset one of their largest TV advertisers, the Anheuser-Busch brewery of St. Louis.
Construction has also begun on a 70,000-seat downtown stadium that should be ready by the first month of the 1995 season.
St. Louis presented a bewildering ownership group last month, but the new group has an unwritten agreement to add Walter Payton, Hall of Fame running back, to its mix. There also is an oral agreement with James Orthwein, a member of the former St. Louis group, to lease the stadium for $1.
If the vote goes as expected, Baltimore probably will try to persuade the Rams to move there.
The Maryland Stadium Authority is offering an expansion team a lucrative lease deal that includes all money from parking, concessions and sky boxes, something other groups cannot do.
But the NFL apparently cannot forget that the Baltimore Bombers would be playing home games only 50 miles from the Washington Redskins.