Moments after announcing today that he will become the owner of the Baltimore Orioles Nov. 1, Edward Bennett Williams dug himself in for a battle with the National Football League over his role as president of the Washington Redskins.
"I am not breaching any rules or any ploicies of thee National Football League by making this purchase," Williams declared. "The rules and the policies of the league on cross-owner-ship affect majority stockholders. I am not the majority stockholder of the Redskins (Jack Kent Cooke is). I am the president of the Redskins."
But according to Jay Moyer, legal counsel to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the moment Williams becomes an Oriole stockholder, he will violate league policy.
"Anyone who is a majority owner of a team or is a chief operating officer- -which Mr. Williams is- -cannot own any stock or interest in another major league team, according to league policy," Moyer said. "If he were to purchase the Orioles that would be a violation of league policy."
Moyer said he did not know how Rozelle would react if Williams tried to retain the presidency of the Redskins after buying the Orioles.
"This has never come up before so I don't know what our reaction would be," he said. "Mr. Williams would make things much simpler if he would resign as president of the Redskins.
Williams has been club president 15 years and for the last five years has voted 100 percent of the Redskins stock at the behest of Cooke, the principal owner. Cooke owns 85.7 percent, Williams 14.3 percent.
Cooke sold the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Kings recently and is moving to Middleburg, Va., to take a more active role in the Redskins. There has been speculation that with Cooke becoming more involved with the Redskins, Williams muish his powers may seek to relinguish his powers with the team. Apparently that is not the case and Williams seems willing to fight Rozelle to keep his position with the Redskins.
"There is a rule proposed which would prevent office holders in a team from holding stock in other franchises," Williams said. "I have told the commissioner that I oppose that rule. But it is currently in litigation and not in effect at this time."
The North American Soccer League sued the NFL when it tried to institute the rule and won a temporary injunction against its passage. Moyer contended, however, that the injunction only affects such NFL owners as Joe Robbie (Miami Dolphins, Fort Lauderdale Strikers) and Lamar Hunt (Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Tornado), who own NASL franchises.
"As far as we're concerned, the league policy on cross ownership affects Mr. Williams," Moyer said. "Our office has not been in contract with him about it but Mr. Williams knows the policy quite well."
Whether Williams knows the policy or not, he was clearly not in mood today to discuss any impending battles- -legal or otherwise- -with the NFL. He began by apologizing to reporters for not returning their phone calls, saying, "I'm used to being the lawayer. But my lawyers told me not to speak to anymore until the deed was done.
"Now," he added quickly, "I will return my phone calls. I am not a discourteous person. I hope we can all be friends."
Williams was expansive in his answers to most questions- -evasive only on questions about moving the team- -and clearly appeared to be enjoying the spotlight and the conclusion of months of negotiations which began last year when he began neotiating to purchase the club on behalf of former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon.
In fact, sources close to Williams said today that from the beginning, Williams was determined that if Simon could not purchase the Orioies, he would.
"It has been a long and torturous journey to this moment," said Williams, who as a lawyer has a reputation for eloquence.
His law practice will not be neglected because of his new responsibilities, Williams insisted, saying "I don't make my living in sports. I make my living as a lawyer. I am a lawyer.
"But I love sports," he added. "I love contest-living. My life in the law has been contest-living. Every effort ends in victory or defeat. It is a difficult way to live but it is a very exhilrating way to live. Victory is very exhilarating.
"I find it an attractive way to live, so attractive that I found it irresistible. It is an exciting way to live."
Williams, 59, made it apparent that even though he wants to remain active with the Redskins and in his law practice, he will be commuting frequently to Baltimore, at least for the rest of this season and next.
"I haven't been here this season because I didn't want people speculating about what we might or might not be doing," he said when asked if he would be an absentee owner. "Now, I plan to be here. I can tell you one thing for certain, I won't be a disinterested owner."
Even when the questioning on his plans for the team became somewhat heated, Williams, obviously prepared for such questions, smiled and answered at length.
Only one question seemed to upset him, a question which implied that someone other than himself might control what Edward Bennett Williams does.
How much did Cooke's presence on the East Coast and his more active role with the Redskins have to do with Williams' desire to buy himself a baseball team?
"Absolutely zero," Williams snapped, turning away from the microphones, ending the press conference. CAPTION: Picture 1, Edward Bennett Williams has a new team; Picture 2, and it included slugger Ken Singleton; Picture 3, One of the game's most acclaimed managers, Earl Weaver; Picture 4, Slugger Lee May; Picture 5, and star pitcher Jim Palmer. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post, AP, and UPI; Picture 6, Jack Kent Cooke