Why Peter Angelos Wants The Redskins

It's got as much to do with baseball as it does with football

It's no big deal anymore when Baltimore lawyer Peter G. Angelos peels off a few million bucks and annexes another piece of his beloved hometown. Last week, he bought a 237-acre horse farm a few furlongs from the city line. That came on the heels of news that he's financing a splashy new downtown building to be adorned with a Times Square-style news ticker. Count on that ticker to dish up the latest on the Baltimore Orioles--Angelos owns them, too.

But many in Baltimore were surprised when Angelos revealed that he had his sights on the Washington Redskins. "Am I serious? Of course I'm serious," says Angelos from his 22nd-floor law office, where the view of Baltimore's Inner Harbor goes on for miles.

The estate of late owner Jack Kent Cooke is selling the team and the 80,116-seat Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in a Washington suburb for a price expected to top $500 million. A deadline of Nov. 23 has been set for initial bids.

As many as 10 investor groups could bid, including New York real estate and banking baron Howard Milstein; Daniel Snyder, the 33-year-old founder of a Maryland communications company; and John Kent Cooke, president of the Redskins and son of the late owner. To that list, add Angelos, a shrewd trial lawyer from East Baltimore who made his fortune extracting rich settlements on behalf of shipyard workers exposed to asbestos. That underwrote his purchase of the Orioles in 1993 for $173 million, then a record for a ball club.

Now, Angelos is nearing another mammoth payday. For his work on Maryland's lawsuit against the tobacco industry, Angelos, 69, stands to collect 12.5%, or as much as $500 million over the next 25 years. Sure, he may have the cash to buy the Redskins. But in Baltimore, Pete-watchers are wondering why he would want to.

This hardscrabble city and the nation's austere capital, though a mere 37 miles apart, have never been especially chummy. Novelist Tom Clancy, a Baltimore native who was raised on the Baltimore Colts, summed it up once. During the years the city had no NFL franchise, he was asked if he'd ever root for the Redskins. Clancy replied: "I'd sell my children to the gypsies first."

For his part, Angelos insists that he simply sees the Redskins as a business deal. The team has sold out every home game since 1966 and rakes in its share of a new TV deal that pays the NFL $17.6 billion over 8 years. "Why wouldn't I be interested in an economically successful franchise?" says Angelos.

BASEBALL PITCH. In addition, owning the Skins might help Angelos address a potentially serious problem facing the Orioles. The club draws roughly 25% of its 3.5 million annual attendance from the Washington area, fans the team risks losing if Major League Baseball permits a franchise to move to Northern Virginia. Baseball moves are rare--no team has relocated since Washington lost its franchise in 1972. But Northern Virginia keeps coming up as a potential home for the revenue-starved Montreal Expos. In 1996, when Maryland was approving money for improvements around Cooke Stadium, Angelos worked behind the scenes to win a provision effectively eliminating the facility as a temporary home for an MLB club.

"If he owned the Redskins, I believe it would help him block a baseball team in the metropolitan Washington area," says Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr., president of the Maryland state senate and a longtime Redskins season-ticket holder. "He'd have an inordinate amount of influence. Fact is, he'd be king of the franchises in the Washington region."

In fact, Angelos' bid faces obstacles. NFL rules bar "cross-ownership": Controlling owners can't acquire teams in other pro leagues. One exception is for owners seeking more teams in the same market. Angelos contends that the Orioles and Redskins are in the same market. The league disagrees. But if Angelos knows how to do anything, it's negotiate.