Dodger owner Peter O'Malley said Friday he is willing to be the driving force behind the return of professional football to Los Angeles by building a new stadium on Dodger Stadium property and "possibly" owning an expansion team.
A proposal endorsed by O'Malley received rave reviews during a meeting this week by owners on the NFL Stadium Committee, who believe that a team could be playing in an O'Malley-built facility by 1998.
"The idea of building the finest fan-friendly football stadium possible appeals to me a lot," O'Malley told The Times. "This city deserves it, and I would try to help it happen."
When asked about owning an expansion team, which league sources said could be awarded to Los Angeles for the 1998 season, O'Malley said, "possibly," and would not elaborate.
The NFL has rules barring its owners from owning another professional team in the same city, but they have already made a temporary exception for Wayne Huizenga, owner of the Miami Dolphins, the Florida Marlins baseball team and the NHL's Florida Panthers.
It is believed they would make another exception to accommodate O'Malley, whose history as a stable, "fan-friendly" sports owner is unmatched.
One NFL source has already predicted that the league would endorse the Dodger Stadium land because of its location and the sparkling reputation of O'Malley-run properties.
The Stadium Committee will present its proposals to the general ownership in a league meeting Sept. 19 in Atlanta.
Considering O'Malley has not even met with Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, no agreement is expected soon.
"We're still in the first inning here," O'Malley said.
According to the proposal, the facility would be built on land between the parking lot and Academy Road. The new stadium and Dodger Stadium would share parking, much like Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
The additional traffic in the neighborhood would be limited to Saturday and Sunday afternoons, 10 dates a year for the pro team and five or six dates for a college team that could share the facility.
It is understood that O'Malley would not have considered the idea if it meant taking football away from a city and county-managed facility such as the Coliseum.
However, insiders said Friday that the Coliseum "is not among our options," probably because of its condition and location.
Margaret Farnum, a member of the Coliseum Commission, was shocked by O'Malley's proposal.
"I always think of him as being the foremost baseball owner and doing it well," she said. "I'm disappointed because if a stadium went there, it doesn't bode well for the Coliseum getting a team."
Hollywood Park, which nearly landed the Raiders four months ago, has also been dropped to the bottom of the list because of concerns about the facility's proximity to gambling.
Another name being mentioned around the league as a possible Los Angeles stadium financier is oil man and entertainment mogul Marvin Davis.
Michael Eisner of Disney Corp., an earlier favorite in the stadium sweepstakes, has yet to convince influential owners that he is serious about bringing a team to Orange County.
San Francisco 49er President Carmen Policy expressed delight at O'Malley's potential involvement with bringing football to Los Angeles.
"The O'Malleys are synonymous with good ownership in professional sports," Policy said. "Assuming the cross-ownership rules of the NFL are not a factor, I think a display of this kind of interest in the NFL and in a new facility in Los Angeles is a positive sign."
O'Malley said he only recently began thinking about the stadium idea, at the same time he was approached by unnamed "officials."
"We were approached by officials to see if a site for a state-of-the-art football stadium made any sense on our property," he said. "Our response was, if that would help the city without inconveniencing Dodger fans, we would be receptive to their ideas."
Football LA, a task force organized by Mayor Richard Riordan, has conducted helicopter surveys of the Los Angeles area, specifically including Dodger Stadium, to identify a suitable venue for a new football facility. Officials from Football LA met with O'Malley's representatives this week and will be in New York next week to discuss the situation with the NFL.
The site being studied is already zoned for an "auditorium or stadium," and no city money would be involved in such a land transaction.
"One of our constraints in finding a venue was the fact we could not spend any public money," a Football LA representative said. "That's why this opportunity by Dodger Stadium is so appealing. L.A. needs a hero, and Peter O'Malley can be that person."
Owners feel that the most important ingredient to a successful franchise in Los Angeles is a new stadium and respected local ownership. O'Malley could offer both.
"If I had to vote right now, I would only vote for a team that has 51% local ownership, somebody who can appreciate the emotions of the city and wants to share in its success," said Robert Kraft, the owner who turned the New England Patriots from losers to winners in two years. "That is the only way to make it happen.
"I told the fans, 'I'm taking this team places, get on my back and ride with me.' We need that kind of local feel."
City Council President John Ferraro received the news of the O'Malley overture with guarded optimism.
"It would be an ideal place for a stadium," Ferraro said. "And the O'Malleys have been wonderful community people. But until they break ground, until they [find] a team, until they do a lot of things . . . I want to see it in writing."
Staff writer Jeff Brazil contributed to this story.