Combustible conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh has his eye on purchasing the St. Louis Rams. In 2003, Limbaugh had a very brief stint as an NFL color man (although he probably wouldn’t use that term). But he was forced to resign after he said of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, "I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.” That kind of comment might not go over so well in a majority-minority league.
Limbaugh’s ownership of a team would be the “NFL’S greatest nightmare,” according to at least one sports columnist.
It might cause distress among players—but Limbaugh might find himself more comfortable than you’d think in the owner’s box. The elite club of NFL executives has always been a group that runs right, not left. According to a report from the Center for Responsive Politics, only nine of 32 professional teams have given more to Democratic causes than Republican ones in the last two decades. San Diego Charges owner Alex Spanos alone has given $2 million to Republican candidates and groups since 1990.
Limbaugh might not even be the most outrageous guy in the group. NFL owners are known for massive egos, big mouths—and Democratic enemies. The Daily Beast presents a few of the leading contenders who, at their best, can out-rush Rush himself.
An Ego the Size of Texas
Limbaugh’s ego will have plenty of company. Leading the megalomaniac set in the NFL is Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones. His first move upon arriving in the NFL in 1989 was to fire coaching legend Tom Landry—one of the most successful in the game. Jones has been steamrolling ever since. "I had success in the oil and gas business and I wasn't a geologist," Jones told The New York Times in 1994. “I had success in the poultry business and I wasn't a farmer. I know enough about football to respect and adhere to the recommendations of the people who have done their homework.” Well, maybe not. It’s been 13 years since America’s Team has won a playoff game and most around the league are wondering whether Jones actually does know enough. This off-season, Jones erected the biggest stadium in NFL history, what Sports Illustrated called a “3 million-square-foot steel-and-glass middle finger that owner Jerry Jones has lifted to the recession.”
The Most Loathed Man in Football
The title was bestowed upon Raiders owner Al Davis a quarter century ago, and the flamboyant and litigious Davis has been rankling people around the league since. The NFL did not want him to move his team from L.A. to Oakland; when they moved to stop him, he took them to court—and won. "We're his partners, and he turned on us like some mad dog," former Dallas Cowboys President Tex Schramm once said of Davis, when the United States Football League filed an antitrust action against the NFL—and the Raiders’ exec sided with the upstarts against the established league. One time, a dozen NFL owners declined to appear at a winter meeting in Arizona, fearful that if they entered the state Davis would subpoena them. Then again, part of Davis’ head-butting attitude has been to hire minority candidates for top positions with the Raiders well before the rest of the league.
Limbaugh might not even qualify as the most colorful character to run the hometown team. Frontiere, who moved the Rams from Anaheim to St. Louis, was married seven times and was a noted student of astrology. She wanted to be an opera star but became an NFL owner when her husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, drowned in the ocean. Upon her death last year, The New York Times recalled that when Cabbage Patch dolls became hot, Frontiere bought one for each of her players. In the course of her 28 years at the head of the Rams, Frontiere fired her son-in-law, saw her last husband go to jail over a ticket-scalping scandal and introduced her players to yoga.
Limbaugh might find common cause with Jim Irsay, who, like the voluble radio icon, has had his own struggle with prescription-drug abuse. One Indianapolis news station reported in 2003 that Irsay racked up more than 100 painkiller prescriptions in the course of a year. When talking about Irsay’s quirky behavior, people usually mention his ownership of the original manuscript to Jack Keruaouc’s On the Road or his obsession with rock 'n' roll, but apparently there was a darker side to all that fun. In 2002, Irsay acknowledged having sought treatment for an addiction problem. Local news outlets later reported that authorities examined his relationship with a doctor as part of an investigation into possible prescription-drug fraud. But Irsay was never charged with wrongdoing.
Around the same time, Limbaugh was investigated for “doctor shopping”—asking multiple doctors to fill multiple prescriptions for painkillers. Limbaugh turned himself in to authorities on a charge of fraudulently obtaining prescription drugs, but the charge was subsequently dropped—and under the agreement his surrender was not considered an admission of guilt.
Like Limbaugh, Bill Bidwill, the owner of the Arizona Cardinals, has earned the wrath of the Democratic establishment. Watching the Cardinals, formerly of St. Louis, play in the Super Bowl with Kurt Warner at the helm, Senator Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat, turned to today’s favored platform for politicians’ complaints: Twitter. “Weird to have Warner in Super Bowl for those Cardinals,” McCaskill tweeted. “Bill Bidwill..yuk.” Bidwill’s no stranger to the hate. Before the Cardinals reached the Super Bowl this year, he routinely landed on most-hated sports owners lists. The group that most dislikes Bidwill? The denizens of Missouri, who had their football team punted off to Phoenix by Bidwill.
Tough competition even for Limbaugh.
Samuel P. Jacobs is a staff reporter at The Daily Beast. He has also written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.