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Original Issue

One for the Money, Two for the Show

The scramble for two new NFL teams has attracted some weird acts—including Elvis

The ghost of elvis may soon own an NFL expansion team in Memphis. I am not making this up. The King apparently caught the ownership bug during production of his 1964 film Viva Al Davis.

I know what you're thinking. "Steve," you're thinking, "the NFL is like the universe: I hear it's expanding, but I really don't care."

Well, I didn't care, either, until last week, when the Estate of Elvis Presley joined the investment group that hopes to bring a team to Tennessee in 1995. Think about it. In two years the No Fun League may get the solution to all of its problems: muttonchop chin straps.

In fact, later this month the NFL will select two new franchises, which will begin fielding teams the season after next. Memphis is only one of five cities in contention. The others are Baltimore, Charlotte, Jacksonville and St. Louis. Each of the cities brings something wildly entertaining to the table (besides the expansion fee of $140 million) in the way of comical owners and/or comical nicknames.

The investors in Jacksonville include J. Wayne Weaver, a Connecticut shoe executive, and Jeb Bush, a son of the former president. One of these men hears "Nunn-Bush" and thinks wing tips, the other hears "Nunn-Bush" and thinks 1992 election returns.

In St. Louis (civic motto: A wholly owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch) the principal investors include Jerry Clinton, a local beer distributor, and John E. Connelly, who owns a riverboat casino in Iowa. Yes, the latter literally runs a floating crap game. The former, meanwhile, has promised St. Louis fans that within a mere five years, their team will win—not just appear in, mind you, but actually win—a Bud Bowl.

Of all the bidding cities, St. Louis is believed to be the best bet to receive one of the two new franchises. This delights another partner in that operation, the NFL's alltime rushing leader, Walter Payton. Yessir, everything in St. Louis these days is Sweetness and Bud Light.

Payton hopes to become the next former NFL player to have a major stake in the ownership of an NFL team. (The first was the late George Halas.) The same goes for would-be Charlotte franchise owner Jerry Richardson, a wide receiver for the 1959 and '60 Baltimore Colts, who owns the restaurant chains Hardee's and Denny's. Richardson, of course, had a crack at Elvis, who was last seen eating a French Slam breakfast at the Denny's in Biloxi, Miss.

Hilariously, Richardson is selling what he calls seat licenses to people we call suckers. A seat license—48,500 have been sold, some for as much as $5,400—entitles the holder to purchase a season ticket. The better the seat, the more expensive the license. It is not clear if Richardson is required by North Carolina state law to carry a license to steal. Nor is it clear why, exactly, a license is necessary to buy a seat at a football game, especially when you consider that the NFL already has a seven-day waiting period between games.

Usher: May I see your license and registration?

Fan: Sir, I'm just eating a chili dog.

Usher: I know, but you're violating our emissions standards.

The prospective franchise in Baltimore may be owned by a man named Boogie Weinglass, a Crabtown clothier who hopes to become only the second man with a ponytail to own an NFL club. (The first was the late George Halas.)

The head of the investment group in Memphis is William B. Dunavant Jr., the world's biggest cotton magnate. But cotton is no longer king. The King is king. So Dunavant made one of his limited partners the Estate of Elvis Presley/Elvis Presley Enterprises, of which Priscilla Presley is president.

Priscilla Presley is president. This calls to mind the nicknames of these possible new teams. Jacksonville Jaguars. St. Louis Stallions. Ah, alliteration. Always annoying.

Of course, neither of those nicknames is as bad as the Carolina Panthers. This name violates the first rule of nicknaming your professional football team: Never have the word hers in your name, especially when the word Carol is already in it.

And while Baltimoreans would love to have a football team to replace the long-departed Colts, fans there are understandably loathe to cheer for a team that will be called the Rhinos. Thus, as folks in Baltimore see it, the Weinglass is still half empty.

Not so in Memphis, which has it all: The best owner and the best nickname. The Memphis group hasn't yet picked a nickname, though it short-listed Rockers and gave Heartbreakers some serious thought. Honest. Hound Dogs was considered and, alas, rejected too. Presumably, floppy ears would have been appended to the helmets.

Of course, I am biased in favor of the Memphians. For starters, Elvis gave me my nickname. ("Wise men say/Only Fools Rushin.") And, I'll admit, I just like the euphony of the word Memphians.

Samuel Goldwyn, the famously malaprop film mogul, once read a novel that was considered racy in its day but announced that he was going to make a motion picture of it anyway. With one minor alteration. "Where the author mentions lesbians," said Goldwyn, "we'll use Austrians."

My recommendation to the NFL: Use the Memphians.