Madison Square Garden always sent down these guys from New York in their pin-striped suits and horn-rimmed glasses. Smooth as good Scotch, Sonny Werblin was the godfather of the Gardeners. Whereever Sonny went, sure to follow was his bulky consigliore, Jack Krumpe. The Garden bought the Diplomats, and Sonny, in his confidential whisper of a voice, said it was an honor to be in Washington, a city he called glamorous and exciting, a cosmopolitan city, perfect for soccer.
Beware of pin-striped carpetbaggers who whisper. Here we are about a year ago, sitting in the dark of the Madison Hotel bar. Sonny has a Scotch well in hand. "Harrison Williams," he says. "I don't believe they've got Harrison Williams."
The feds had Harrison A. Williams Jr., a U.S. senator from New Jersey. They said he accepted titanium mining stock in exchange for helping to steer defense contracts to the mine. Abscam, they called it. "Harrison is an old friend," Werblin said. "Fact is, I'm going from here right now to a dinner honoring Harrison."
No one will arrest Sonny Werblin for dumping the Diplomats, although that's not a bad idea, but it is fact that neither will any Washingtonian show up at a dinner for the godfather of Dipscam.
Sonny has accomplices in the job he has done on Washington. Krumpe, the mouthpiece, told the Washington newspapers, practically hourly for a year, this was a horsefeathers town and the Garden was losing money like crazy. Occasionally the godfather spoke on the same theme, once sulking because senators and congressmen didn't come to the games.
Far be it from an angel of the keyboard to suggest that the pin stripes and horn rims were up to no good the whole time they ran the Dips.
It also would be unfair to say the fans of Harrison Williams were only out to make a quick buck and if that buck wasn't there they would get out of town fast.
There may have been a period lasting, oh, as long as two or three minutes, when Sonny and Krumpe were unalterably in love with our town.
As long as we're being fair, we should not pin Dipscam solely on the horn-rimmers from the Garden.
Phil Woosnam, commissioner of the North American Soccer League, has been a gnome of Bowie Kuhn proportions in these goings-on. As Kuhn has stiffed the nation's capital for a decade now, promising but never delivering a baseball team, so has Woosnam turned the knife in this town's back.
The local soccer types were given only three weeks to find new money to keep the Diplomats alive in Washington. Woosnam says the league's Nov. 24 deadline for buying the team cannot be changed except by getting permission from all the owners in the league.
Well, do something, Phil.
Woosnam has said Washington is vital to the NASL's future, that it is the single most attractive city in the league internationally, that if the World Cup is ever to come to the U.S. it will come because Washington is a soccer capital.
We're told the Garden has lost $6 million running the Dips for two seasons. Such a loss is good reason to get out of the soccer business, no matter how much the Diplomats improved in attendance from the first year to the second (11,973 up to 19,205 with a record crowd of over 53,000).
Nothing personal, then, just business. We are to forget the Gardeners' promises of commitment to Washington as a soccer town. We are to forget the 53,000 who paid to see the Cosmos here. We are to forget the 50,000-plus who paid to see the Soccer Bowl matching two out-of-town teams.
We are to remember the $6 million. We are to remember that senators and congressmen didn't sit at the godfather's table. "I don't know what Washington is," Sonny said midway through his first season with the Diplomats. "I don't know that there is a Washington."
How the devil wrestles with the angel in a sportswriter. As much as the angel is convinced that the pin stripes and horn rims made a business decision any businessman would approve of, here comes the devil typing out a cynical scenario of what he thinks the Garden did to Washington . . .
The Garden tried very hard this year.It bought Johan Cruyff, a superstar. It brought in top management personnel.
But then the team played poorly. When the Cosmos came to RFK, the Diplomats had a 3-7 record and Cruyff had not scored a goal all year. Until the 53,000 came to the Cosmos game, attendance was barely ahead of 1979's pace.
A decision was made. Dipscam was ordered. Sonny and his mouthpiece, normally available to the press to threaten the fans with moving the franchise, suddenly became recluses, not returning phone calls. The team's late resurgence, with Cruyff scoring well, brought out more than 24,000 customers for a playoff game with Los Angeles.
Too little, too late. What the Garden wanted this year was Cosmos-like success, attendance going up threefold instead of showing "only" a 60 percent growth. Even as the wheels of Dipscam were in motion, the pin stripes told no one the plan. They intended, to drop notice on the league so near the Nov. 24 deadline that it would be next to impossible to find new ownership.
If no one would step forward with the necessary $2 million to keep the Diplomats going with Cruyff in the lineup -- and with a committment to operating expenses in the millions -- then the Garden could exercise its option of folding the franchise.
The Garden's best business deal would be to fold the team, not sell it.
That way they would not only be off the hook for a $913,000 debt to the previous owner; they also could auction off the Diplomat players and put that money in their piggy banks.
Nothing personal, just business.