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Tisch Proves to Be NFL Master of the Soft Sell

March 18, 1990|JOHN STEADMAN | BALTIMORE SUN

Financial standing helps but it doesn't guarantee automatic membership in the richest country club in America--the National Football League. So that's why Preston Robert Tisch walks the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress Hotel in Orlando, Fla., endeavoring to improve his chances.

It's a natural workplace for him since he owns 16 hotels in the United States, Canada and Europe. He strikes the posture of a friendly innkeeper making the rounds who is intent on meeting, greeting and welcoming the guests.

Tisch doesn't come on strong. That's not his style. He was dressed in a white sportshirt and short pants, looking like any other tourist staying at this expensive rooming house on 1,500 acres in the central Florida vacationland made famous by the wonders of Mickey Mouse.

The NFL is having an enjoyable time. Hopefully, it will find happiness with its increased affluence and soon enter into an expansion program. That's where Tisch wants to come in but, before that can take place, the league must select Baltimore.

The prettiest owner in the NFL, Georgia Frontiere, of the Los Angeles Rams, said, "We have to do something about getting Baltimore a team." That was sweet music to the ears of Tisch.

Next he was talking over a crab cake with Victor Kiam, who speaks for the New England Patriots. "Yes, I think Baltimore has a great chance," he said. "I would believe you and St. Louis are almost a shoo-in now that the Raiders are going back to Oakland."

That made for pleasant listening, too, but Tisch turned the conversation to another topic. "About your razor, the one you make," said Tisch. "The battery runs out too quickly."

"All you have to do, Bob, is recharge it," Kiam answered. "Like your body, you can't go all day and not eat. It needs recharging." Then they got away from shaving and football and briefly reviewed the European business market.

Owners would come and go. Wellington Mara of the New York Giants, long a friend of Baltimore, expressed his best wishes. The same with Norman Braman of the Philadelphia Eagles. And so it went.

Does Tisch know all the owners? "Most of them," he replied. "And those I am not acquainted with, well, I have contacts via other friends."

Quickly, as visitors came by the Baltimore hospitality room, Tisch talked with Don Shula, of the Miami Dolphins, General Manager George Young of the New York Giants, and his wife, the former Lovey Reddington of Baltimore.

This is the NFL meetings, where owners, coaches and executives are on the scene. There's Chuck Knox of the Seattle Seahawks, Mike McCaskey of the Chicago Bears, Jim Miller of the New Orleans Saints, Ernie Accorsi of the Cleveland Browns and John Steadman of the Kansas City Chiefs.

What impression, if any, has Tisch formulated? "I believe the expansion process is starting. I hope it happens so somebody can join in 1992 but, more practically, it might be 1993. Baltimore has done everything right."

A gentleman with a foreign accent came seeking out Tisch. It was Bernard Guet, general manager of the Grand Cypress Hotel, where single rooms go for $260 a day. No doubt, the NFL can afford this kind of luxury.

Guet and Tisch talked as old friends. It was later explained by Guet that he had worked for Tisch and his Loews Hotel chain during a 12-year span in Bermuda, Canada, Scottsdale, Ariz., and Denver.

Asked to describe his former boss, Guet seemed eager to comply. "He's an ideal person. A great public relations man. The customers always get treated with respect. The same with employees.

"If a bellman wanted to leave, for instance, and I hoped the man would change his mind, then Bob would meet with him if I asked. He'd try to see if it could be worked out. He has a lot of charm."

Yes, but that's a difficult quality to read. It can be pure hokum if coming from an actor or con man. "Oh, no, not Bob. The difference is he's sincere."

So everything, to this point, reads positive about Tisch. He doesn't come from a football background yet is interested in Baltimore's past but, more importantly, its future.

Some other cities in quest of franchises, notably St. Louis, are saying that Baltimore is in first place but that doesn't mean anything unless 21 NFL owners feel the same way if they get around to voting in the next year.

Preston Robert Tisch is a key figure, no doubt, as he soft-sells himself and guards against pushing too hard. At this stage, all he intends is to establish a rapport and, hopefully, when the expansion game starts, be invited in to play.

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