Chattanooga businessman Gordon Davenport said yesterday that he has dropped plans to purchase rights to a U.S. Football League franchise in Memphis and said he would probably assume "a greater role" with the Washington Federals. Davenport now owns approximately 15 percent of the Federals.

Neither Federals owner Berl Bernhard nor Davenport, whose business holdings include Crystal restaurants, a fast food chain, and numerous Wendy's franchises in the Baltimore-Washington area, ruled out the possibility that Davenport might eventually purchase a controlling interest in the team.

"But I'd be pretty surprised if it turned out that way, though," said Davenport. The two plan to meet within the next two weeks.

Of the 1-13 Federals, Davenport said, "Something has to be done to improve the team. Money is going to have to be spent. Obviously, we're the worst team in the league, and something has to be done."

Bernhard said his responsibilities as owner of the Federals, especially in such a trying year, have been time-consuming. "I will not give up my law practice, which is my life's blood and consuming interest. Earlier in the year, I think I was worried about that. The team took up so much time . . . What I need now is somebody to commit both time and finances. People with something at risk tend to do more."

While Bernhard is a successful attorney, his personal finances do not match those of Michigan Panthers owner A. Alfred Taubman, for example. The Panthers have improved dramatically during the season by pursuing and signing quality players to substantial contracts.

In order to build a winner, Bernhard must act similarly. Davenport's increased participation would help.

"My intention is to insure that we have the strong financial capability to get a winning team," Bernhard said. "It's not my intention to find somebody, duck and run."

Davenport said he finally gave up plans to acquire ownership of a Memphis franchise because, "I think there's more long-term potential in Washington than in one of the expansion cities. If we can get a .500 club in Washington, we should succeed."

No matter what agreement Bernhard and Davenport reach, they both said they want the Federals to remain in Washington.

With Mike Holmes and Vince Kinney out of action, the Federals sought help at the wide receiver position yesterday, signing Stan Rome who played for the Kansas City Chiefs for three years, and Mike Fisher who was drafted by the Cardinals in 1981 and recently released by the Denver Gold.

At Clemson, Rome won all-ACC basketball honors in 1977 and had a tryout with the Cleveland Cavaliers the following year. In 1979 the Chiefs drafted him on the 11th round and he played in a reserve capacity.