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O'MALLEY'S NFL DREAMS.

Byline: MATT McHALE

The Dodgers were Peter O'Malley's baseball team, but bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles would have been his legacy.

When O'Malley announced Wednesday he was stepping down as Dodgers board chairman at the end of the year, few knew he was still around, given Fox's heavy-handed first season running the club.

But in a week in which two different groups flew to the NFL owner's meetings in Kansas City trying to get an expansion franchise for Los Angeles, O'Malley added a few comments that had a stinging resonance about what might have been.

Although he basked in memories of Fernandomania, Kirk Gibson and two World Series titles after replacing his father Walter as club president in 1970, O'Malley acknowledged not bringing professional football to Chavez Ravine was one of the reasons he sold the club.

Today, the final chapter of O'Malley's 46 years in baseball are getting boxed up along with the pictures of Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax.

Many thought Peter O'Malley was nothing more than a caretaker for the empire created by his father. He mixed a great gin and tonic and had the best pension plan in the business but never had the hell-fire and brimstone to help shape the game.

But the NFL, America's true national pastime? That would have been all his.

The money generated from pro football also would have enabled O'Malley to keep the Dodgers. Mike Piazza could not be reached for comment.

``Our interest in football was very keen,'' said O'Malley, who added he is watching the Kansas City meetings very closely. ``The deeper we looked, the clearer it became that it truly would have worked on the property. But when we were asked not to compete with the Coliseum, we did that. There is a saying, `You don't fight city hall.' ''

The NFL badly wanted O'Malley, whose reputation running the Dodgers was exemplary. It didn't want to put a new franchise in the Coliseum.

O'Malley became good friends with Carolina Panthers president Jerry Richardson, head of the NFL expansion committee. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue twice flew to L.A. to meet O'Malley.

O'Malley was lining up investors, including Fox, to cover the $500 million expansion fee.

Plans drawn for a football stadium were staggering. It had a walkway to Dodger Stadium near the right field line and overlooked the downtown skyline. Monday-night football at dusk would never have looked better.

But after two years and a $1 million feasibility study filled with positive data, O'Malley was told by Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan to throw his support toward the Coliseum.

``When we were asked not to compete, that was a big disappointment,'' O'Malley said. ``I couldn't deny that was one of the factors (for selling).''

Now, the Coliseum group, bankrolled by Kings owners Ed Roski and Philip Anschutz, has competition from the Hollywood crowd, headed by former superagent Michael Ovitz. Shaquille O'Neal is involved. So is actor Kevin Costner.

And there was nothing Riordan could say to make them go away.

The division could swing the expansion vote toward Houston, which has the money in place and is ready to break ground on a retractable-roof stadium.

``Nothing against a great city like Houston, but if Houston gets that expansion ballclub, the leaders of the city of Los Angeles have to feel very badly,'' O'Malley said. ``The sports fans should feel badly. I think we will win out over Houston. We should get it.''

Not only did the Dodgers lose out on pro football, the process changed club history.

When O'Malley went digging for NFL gold, he dispatched executive vice president Bob Graziano to be the corporate pitbull. For almost two years, Graziano spent nearly every waking hour trying to soothe nervous neighbors in nearby Echo Park.

He attended committee meetings, discussed freeway on- and off- ramps and made assurances eight home games would not cripple the community.

It was during that time Graziano flew past Fred Claire in the Dodger line of succession.

Claire, once ripped for not being a baseball man, would have been a better choice to immediately succeed O'Malley as club president and help with the transition to Fox.

Claire, O'Malley's top lieutenant for 30 years, was fired last June along with manager Bill Russell. O'Malley has extended an olive branch to Russell, who visited the owner's box several times after he was fired.

Claire and O'Malley twice had lunch after the firing, but the relationship remains strained.

``I really don't know what he is doing now,'' O'Malley said.

But O'Malley does know where he should be this week - in Kansas City getting a yes vote on a project that would have moved him from behind his father's shadow.

``I can never see myself rooting against the Dodgers,'' he said when asked about his future.

The same cannot be said if the NFL comes to town.

CAPTION(S):

Photo

Photo: Former Dodger's owner Peter O'Malley left, with new owner Rupert Murdoch, had big dreams of bringing an NFL franchise to Los Angeles.

John Soohoo/Dodgers
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Oct 30, 1998
Words:841
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