As the Philadelphia Eagles' move to Phoenix appeared more likely, the National Football League yesterday called a special meeting for Tuesday to discuss the situation and three U.S. senators said they would introduce legislation to limit franchise shifts when Congress reconvenes next month.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Wilson Goode said the city has a "50-50 chance" of keeping the Eagles. He also said team owner Leonard Tose is seeking $42 million for an unspecified minority interest to keep the team in Philadelphia.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was said to be opposed to the move, partly on the grounds that it would strengthen the U.S. Football League's $1.2 billion antitrust suit against the NFL, according to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Don Weiss, executive director of the NFL, also said Rozelle opposed the move, but declined to say why.
There were no indications that the NFL would act to establish guidelines for a new rule on franchise shifts, as many lawyers contend a federal appeals court ruling in the Los Angeles Raiders antitrust case allows. The NFL holds that it is powerless to set such guidelines, and no vote was taken when the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis after the 1983 season.
"It primarily will be an airing of the facts on the situation as we know them," Weiss said. "The commissioner feels that under the circumstances a meeting is called for."
Other pro football sources said the owners likely will decide the league's public stand on the move; Rozelle was unavailable for comment.
In Philadelphia, Goode canceled a trip to the White House to negotiate with area businessmen in an effort to keep the franchise in his city, which it has represented for 51 seasons. Goode said it would be easier to sell the franchise outright, but Tose does not want to sell a controlling interest in the team.
Goode and three aides met with Tose for two hours Tuesday night. The mayor talked to about 75 Philadelphia businessmen yesterday and met with representatives of 15 lending institutions. Later, at a press briefing, Goode expressed hope that Philadelphia interests could put together the package by today, thus outbidding James Monaghan, a Canadian citizen and part-time resident of Phoenix who would buy a 25 percent interest in the team and move it to Arizona.
Goode said Tose had assured him and other city officials that nothing was signed with the Phoenix interests, but that negotiations were continuing. "The longer they continue, there's less likelihood we can keep the team here," Goode said.
Tose, who had announced through a spokesman Tuesday that he was considering a move to Phoenix, remained unavailable for comment. Monaghan also was unavailable.
Specter, speaking at a press conference on Capitol Hill, said he had spoken with Tose yesterday morning and was told there was "nothing binding in writing" that a deal was set in Phoenix. But one source said the move was "almost certain."
Bob Maynes, press secretary for Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), said, "Our information, through multiple sources, is that the Eagles will move and an announcement will come as early as Monday. Dennis would be surprised if the move didn't take place."
But, in Phoenix, Michael Gallagher, chairman of the Mayor's Professional Sports Advisory Committee, denied he told the Philadelphia Inquirer the "move is done." Gallagher said he was not involved in negotiations with Tose or Monaghan.
"There's been a lot of speculation, maybe prematurely," Gallagher said. "I'm in the dark. What I'm getting is from the media."
The first reports of Tuesday's NFL owners meeting in New York came from Specter, as he announced he would reintroduce a bill he originally proposed in 1982 after the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles.
That bill would give the NFL limited antitrust exemptions only in the area of franchise relocation. "I intend to fight to keep the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia and out of Phoenix," he said. "We have to set some standards for transfers of pro football teams . . .
"Now (with the move of the Raiders, Colts and possibly the Eagles and with the NFL rule on transfers ruled in violation of antitrust laws), you'll see a real epidemic of this type of transfer. No city is safe . . . It's open season on pro football teams."
The Specter bill, which he said may include baseball to prevent a move by the Pittsburgh Pirates, would allow teams to move if their stadium was inadequate or if the team had lost money for three consecutive years.
The DeConcini bill, originally introduced two sessions ago, would grant the NFL a limited antitrust exemption, so the rule voided by the courts would be legal. It required a three-fourths vote without any other guidelines.
A bill introduced last session by Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Wash.) would set criteria for franchises wishing to move in all professional sports and mandate an additional four NFL franchises by 1989, including teams in Baltimore and Oakland, and two baseball franchises by 1987. This bill was reported out of the Commerce Committee last session but never reached the floor for a vote. The other bills were never reported out by the Judiciary Committee.
Asked why he thinks he can keep the Eagles in Philadelphia, Specter said, "It's a lot earlier in the picture. The vans haven't started to load up in Philadelphia yet."