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

Updated: Sep 27, 2021


Where do you want to start?

Where do you end?

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

1988, William "Bill" Bidwill wants out of St. Louis, the town he's called home since 1960, filing for relocation with the league. On Mar. 15, 1988, the NFL voted to allow the St. Louis Cardinals to relocate to Phoenix, Arizona, putting the final coffin nail in the franchise's 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 reasons.

Davis was still engulfed in a legal battle with the NFL over his ill-advised move into the greater Los Angeles area. 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 that 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 an excellent candidate for expansion. This was all going down long after the Irsay-Rosenbloom debacle in 1972, in 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 a 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. … 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 led by Mr. Clinton and James Busch Orthwein was stalling financially. In contrast, 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 led 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.”

St. Louis had already begun construction on the soon-to-be Trans World Dome during this expansion process mess at America's Center.

Orthwein, who was dead set on heading to St. Louis after the 1993 season, 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.

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.

I was doing the same writer. Suppose you are reading that trying to make sense of what you just read. 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.

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

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