SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2006/Families In Sports Fathers And Sons

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  • A family decision becomes a family business in Texas

    Stooped over and working his way into the back of a stretch limousine, a Texas Rangers cap atop his head, boots on his feet and a business suit in between, Tom Hicks settled in for the ride from midtown Manhattan to Yankee Stadium.

    Tom Hicks (right), with Tommy, says part of the joy
    of owning sports teams is sharing it with family.
    Across the limo from him, his 28-year old son, Tommy, did the same.

    Hicks got into the sports business a decade ago, buying the NHL’s Dallas Stars for $84 million in 1996. Two years later, he paid $250 million for the Rangers and, near their ballpark, a 165,000-square-foot office building and more than 300 acres. Today, he is in New York with Tommy, mixing his passions: business and sports. Bolting as early as they can from an MLB owners meeting, the Hickses are headed to the Bronx to watch their ballclub play the Yankees.

    “There are a bunch of better investments, really,” said Hicks, who put the hockey team up for sale four years ago but now says he’s glad he didn’t get his asking price. “But the emotional attachment and the sharing with your family, that’s why I still own them.”

    Before buying the Stars, Hicks gathered his family members around the dinner table and asked whether they were up for the move to the very public world of sports ownership. They said they were. Two years later, Hicks added the Rangers, finalizing the deal while on a family vacation in the British Virgin Islands.

    “I remember the very minute that the deal was closed,” said Hicks Jr., who was 18 at the time. “We all slapped some pretty hard high fives. We grew up as Rangers fans.”

    Hicks has five sons, ranging in age from 28 to 14, and a daughter, Catherine, who is 12. Tom Jr. was the first to work in the Rangers organization. After getting his degree in government from the University of Texas, he spent two years at a New York investment bank, Greenhill & Co.

    “My philosophy with all the boys is that they need to go off and do something on their own for a while to kind of achieve their own self-identity and success,” Hicks said. “So Tommy came to New York for a couple of years, had some success and came back.”

    Hicks Jr. said he expected to spend another year or two in New York, but returned to Dallas in 2004 when his father retired from the leveraged buyout firm Hicks Muse Tate & Furst. Hicks Jr. went to work in the Rangers corporate sales unit, learning the sports business. This year, he moved over to Hicks Holdings, the private equity firm that his father started when he left Hicks Muse. There, Hicks Jr. is involved in all the family’s business interests, including the sports teams.

    Ask the two generations how their business styles differ and it spawns a disagreement.

    “I think Tommy is probably more averse to risks than I am,” Hicks says. “I’ve always been a big risk taker. Sometimes too big a risk taker. I think Tommy provides good judgment.”

    Across the limo, the son stares at his father and grins.

    “I actually think I’m a pretty big risk taker,” Hicks Jr. says. “I enjoy taking risks. Educated risks.”

    There may soon be more Hicks boys joining the family enterprise. Another son, Alex, 22, is working with the Rangers, but in a different fashion than his brother, learning baseball scouting while finishing undergraduate work at University of Texas at Arlington. Mack, 25, followed Tommy’s early path into the investment world in New York.

    Hicks says he’d like all his children to join him in business eventually. “What father wouldn’t?” he asked. “But they all have their own interests. If it’s two of them in it or all of them, I don’t care.”

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  • After a franchise sale, battling empty-nest syndrome NBA-style

    Jerry Colangelo still finds it strange leaving the Phoenix Suns’ headquarters at the end of the day, knowing that the office around the corner from his is empty.

    Jerry Colangelo (left) remains in Phoenix,
    but Bryan has moved on to Toronto.
    For 15 years, it belonged to his son, Bryan, who served as general manager of the Suns for the last 11 seasons. Bryan Colangelo succeeded his father, the owner, who had held the GM’s job since the day the Suns opened for business in 1968.

    But franchises change hands and power is transient. Jerry Colangelo agreed to sell the franchise to Robert Sarver for an NBA record $401 million in 2004. Though Colangelo has remained as CEO, Sarver owns the team.

    So it is that it was Sarver’s call when Bryan Colangelo asked to renegotiate his contract this season. Sarver said no and opened the door for him to talk to other teams. On Feb. 28, Colangelo left the only team he’d ever worked for — and rooted for as a boy — accepting a five-year, $20 million offer to become president and GM of the Toronto Raptors.

    “When that office emptied out, that was a very strange time,” said Jerry Colangelo. “And it still is for me. He’s not there. He’s thousands of miles away, in another city in another country.”

    It also has been a strange, albeit busy, time for Bryan Colangelo. While preparing for the draft and crafting an offseason plan for the Raptors, he watched his old team advance through the playoffs, hoping it might finally land the championship that has eluded his father for 38 years. He figures this might have been Jerry’s last chance, at least with the Suns.

    “I wanted to help make that happen for him so badly,” Bryan Colangelo said. “It was a goal for me, personally, but more than that it was something I wanted for him, because of what he built.

    “When people would suggest that I had big shoes to fill working for Jerry, I’d always explain that it wasn’t hard for me because I wasn’t competing with him. I was competing for him.”

    Severing that basketball connection was hard on both men. But when Bryan asked his father’s advice, Jerry told him, “If it were me, I’d go.”

    “On a personal note, it was gut-wrenching to me,” Jerry Colangelo said. “He had grown up with only one franchise, and that was the Suns.”

    Still, in business matters, Colangelo is a realist. When he sold the franchise, he turned over control. Those who follow him will hire and fire as they see fit. That’s a concern that Colangelo raised with his son before he sold the franchise. He said Bryan encouraged him to take his hard-earned profits and leave him to look out for his own career.

    “When the sale was put in place, the handwriting was on the wall,” Jerry Colangelo said. “There were no guarantees Bryan would be there. He just didn’t know. So he had to do what was appropriate for himself and his career and his family. As a result, he’s now in Toronto, Canada. I’m still not over that shock.”

    Bryan Colangelo was born in 1966, the year that his father signed on as marketing director, scout and assistant coach with the startup Chicago Bulls. Two years later, Colangelo moved the family to Phoenix to take over the expansion Suns as general manager. Bryan Colangelo went to work for the Suns as a scout shortly after finishing college.

    Jerry Colangelo can’t remember a time when his son didn’t have strong opinions on basketball, and particularly on who should or shouldn’t be traded. He was among the legions who blasted his father for trading Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey in 1983. Bryan was 17 at the time.

    “He still brings it up,” Jerry Colangelo says. “And it’s been how much time that has passed?”

    As a GM, Bryan Colangelo understands now that his father made the deal for reasons that stretched beyond the baselines. Johnson didn’t get along with the Suns coach, John MacLeod. It happens. Still, the son isn’t sure he’d have dealt with it the way his father did.

    “I kid with him about that stuff, but it’s always been important to me to give my opinions, right or wrong, because when you’re working for your dad people want to think that you’re a little bit of a yes man,” Bryan Colangelo said. “I didn’t want to be that way. I thought I could speak up, but still learn, and I think I did.

    “The best way to sum it up is that I pretty much learned everything I know about the business from Jerry.”

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  • After years away, fulfilling a baseball heritage in St. Louis

    Like his father, Bill DeWitt III grew up with the baseball business hard-wired into his genetics, but unsure of whether he’d ever get to complete the circuit.

    Bill DeWitt Jr. (left) and Bill III (center) escort
    St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial at the
    opening of the new Busch Stadium in April.
    His grandfather, Bill, was a baseball executive who owned the St. Louis Browns and the Cincinnati Reds and remained active around the game until his death in 1982, at age 79. His father, Bill Jr., was raised around the ballclubs and always planned to work for them, but ended up going down another path, building a successful investment firm.

    Bill DeWitt Jr. had made it back to baseball as a small investor in the Texas Rangers and then the Baltimore Orioles by the time Bill III was coming out of Harvard business school in 1995, but that didn’t mean the DeWitts were back in the business.

    “There was always that special feeling for baseball in the family, but for a lot of years, my father was out of it,” said Bill DeWitt III. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to be part of my future necessarily. When dad did the deals to be a limited partner, it was clear maybe he wanted to get back in. I wasn’t sure if it would ever happen, though.”

    It happened late in 1995, when DeWitt Jr. told his four children he wanted to lead the group that was buying the Cardinals, and asked Bill III, fresh out of business school, if he wanted to join him in the club’s front office.

    “It certainly would have been fine with me if my son wanted to do something else,” DeWitt said. “But when he expressed an interest, I have to say I was excited that we could continue something that goes back with my family to 1916.”

    Since just past the turn of the 20th century, growing up a DeWitt has meant growing up in baseball.

    Bill DeWitt started it all in 1916, selling peanuts at St. Louis Cardinals games at Sportsman’s Park. Branch Rickey, then the president of the Cardinals, hired him to work as an office boy while he took college classes at night. That led to a job as treasurer of the Cardinals, which he parlayed into one across town as general manager and, briefly, owner of the beleaguered Browns franchise.

    DeWitt worked for the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers before putting together a group that bought the Cincinnati Reds in 1961. By the time DeWitt Jr. was in college at Yale, he was spending summers at a desk alongside his father’s in Cincinnati. When he went off to Harvard business school, he expected he would return to follow his father into ownership of the Reds.

    But it didn’t work out that way. DeWitt Jr. was working full time for the Reds for only one year when the elder DeWitt sold most of his stake in the team in 1966. DeWitt Jr. stayed on until 1968, but realized he didn’t have a future with the club and went off to make his own way in business.

    He dabbled in sports, investing in an ABA team and in the Cincinnati Bengals and buying a franchise in the ill-fated World Hockey Association. But none of it quite scratched his itch the way baseball had.

    “I always knew that I wanted to get back into baseball and was kind of looking for the right opportunity for years,” DeWitt Jr. said. “Once the Rangers deal took place, I felt one way or the other I’d be involved in baseball for the rest of my life.”

    When DeWitt Jr. finally made his way back into a controlling position with a franchise, the timing was perfect for his son to join him. DeWitt Jr. suggested an orientation that differed from the one he’d gotten with his father. Rather than working at his side and soaking in the big picture, Bill III would work on specific projects, starting out with responsibility for merchandise and then working on renovations to Busch Stadium, relocation of the team’s Florida spring training camp from St. Petersburg to Jupiter and, eventually, the development of the new Busch Stadium that opened earlier this year in St. Louis.

    “His style isn’t to go in and put you in as president on day one,” DeWitt III said. “Both of us felt that learning the business was critical. You’re going to have to work your way up through the organization.”

    With an undergraduate degree from Yale and an MBA from Harvard, DeWitt III was prepared for responsibility.

    “It really helps, frankly, and in a different way than I ever thought about,” DeWitt III said. “People are always going to whisper that it’s the son, and that’s why you’re where you are. You know it’s happening. But for me, it was always good to be able to fall back mentally on the knowledge that I deserved a position of authority based on having accomplished some things.

    “After that, you earn the credibility in the job. And you work a little harder than anybody else if you can.”

    DeWitt III chuckles when asked about the manner in which his father has passed along lessons over the years. “He’s just not one of those Mr. Brady types, sitting the kids down for a lecture,” he said. Instead, he teaches by example. When the financing structure of the Cardinals ballpark went awry a week before it was to close, DeWitt Jr. restructured it.

    “I remember my dad being unbelievably tuned in to everything from the financial and legal side, and I was amazed at how he held it all together,” Dewitt III said. “I remember thinking, I still have a lot to learn.”

    It’s the same thing that Bill DeWitt Jr. thought at times, 40 years ago.

    “Since my father was not just a passive investor but an actual owner/operator, I got the benefit of the series of positions he had,” DeWitt Jr. said. “I was able to observe and listen. And we were close. He would tell me all kinds of things that were going on. You remember those things. I think it’s an advantage to have that kind of background.”

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  • For Hunts, a bond forged on the field

    Norma Hunt’s eyes still glisten with the preface to tears when she tells the story of Mother’s Day, 1972, when her 7-year-old son went tumbling from a stone urn while playing on the back porch of their Dallas home.

    Clark Hunt landed hard and the urn fell on top of him, pinning his right foot. When she reached him, he was mangled and bleeding. It took 75 stitches to close the wounds and further surgery to repair the damage, and even then the orthopedists and vascular surgeons who worked on him weren’t sure that they’d fixed it.

    The small boy with the father who paid large men to run fast went home in a wheelchair.

    Six months later, he was back on his feet, but not fully healed. And yet his father, Lamar, the son of an oil baron and owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, had an idea to press the bounds of his boy’s rehab.

    He wanted Clark to run with him in a Thanksgiving Day road race called the Turkey Trot.

    An eight-mile run.

    “His mother sort of came unglued, and of course the doctors told her we shouldn’t do it,” Lamar Hunt says today, sharing a favorite story. “Clark had an oozing wound. And I’d never run eight miles in my life.”

    Still, Hunt and son entered. They followed a plan meant to give Clark the best chance of finishing, alternating between running and walking at two minute intervals. Norma Hunt parked the car near the start/finish line and met them along the course with cups of water.

    The design called for them to cover two miles out along the lake, then double back to their starting point. Then, they would head two miles out in the opposite direction and come two miles back to the finish.

    Clark Hunt made the first two miles without pain, but began to struggle on the way back. As they passed the five mile marker, the boy’s pain persisted. They were headed outbound along the lake, away from his mother and the car. Lamar Hunt remembers that it was cold and windy. He kept encouraging his son, but the boy began to cry.

    “We can do it, Clark,” Lamar said time and again. “We can do it.”

    As they made the final turn the boy looked up, sobbing, but still trudging forward.

    “We’ve got to do it, Dad,” Clark Hunt said, “because up there is where the car is parked.”

    Lamar Hunt smiles as he leans forward in an armchair at his son’s Dallas home, where they have rendezvoused before heading off to watch the Major League Soccer team that the family owns, FC Dallas. His eyes fire as he tells the story of the Turkey Trot all these years later.

    Hunt is quick to point out that he is proud of all four of his children, but it is Clark who has taken the path most similar to his, first as an athlete at SMU, then as an executive in the soccer league they helped launch and, most recently, as chairman of the board with the Chiefs.

    “There’s a great determination that Clark showed on that run that he has exhibited again and again since then,” Lamar Hunt said. “I believe it sets him apart. He has always had great determination from an athletic and academic standpoint, and now he has it in business.”

    Both of his parents trace it back to the foot injury, and an eight-mile trek that could have harmed a fragile body, but instead ignited a young spirit.

    “I think it showed Clark that you can overcome tremendous obstacles,” said Norma Hunt, who is a fixture alongside her husband and son in the family’s box at FC Dallas games, just as she has been for decades at Chiefs games. “Despite all that he went through, he was able to be successful on the athletic field. Like his father, he’s been successful in so many ways. He believes that whatever is put in front of him, he can truly overcome it.

    “Sometimes, very good things come out of bad things.”

    Playing catch on the field
    It is worth noting that, for all the gilded memories that are unique to Clark Hunt, all the sideline passes and big-game perks that were part of his childhood, the cherished moment that comes to his mind first is set in an empty NFL stadium.

    That’s where he played catch with his dad.

    Typically, the family would fly to Kansas City from Dallas on a Saturday and head directly to Arrowhead Stadium, where Lamar and Norma Hunt turned the owner’s suite into an elaborate, two-story apartment, replete with choir stalls from Spain, a fireplace from France and sports-themed artwork collected on trips around the world.

    After settling in, Lamar Hunt would take his son down to the field, where they’d break out a bag of footballs, often alone.

    “As a kid, to have the chance to be up there when there wasn’t a game going on — wow,” Clark Hunt said. “On those Saturdays, I could get down on the field and throw the ball with my father. He was great about that.”

    Lamar Hunt crafted a game in which he and his son would trade punts, each of them trying to kick a perfect spiral that would nose over and then land, accurately, in the other’s hands. When Clark became a quarterback in high school, Lamar worked with him on passing.

    “It’s an extremely special memory,” Clark Hunt said. “It’s something I’ll associate forever with my father.”

    When Clark Hunt was considering colleges, his father joined him at each of the seven schools he visited. He chose SMU, but says Lamar Hunt never pushed him in that direction. Clark went with the intention of playing football, but wound up on the soccer team, which he eventually captained.

    Lamar Hunt has missed only 19 games in 46 seasons as owner of the Chiefs and their predecessors, the Dallas Texans. He’d missed only three regular-season games when Clark started college: one for a funeral, one for a wedding and one for the birth of his first son, Lamar Jr.

    Hunt missed three games in four years to watch Clark play soccer at SMU.

    “He picked my games over Chiefs games, which meant a lot to me,” Clark Hunt said. “And it means even more to me now.”

    For all his success, Lamar Hunt paints his time at SMU as a one of vast fun, but little achievement. “I was such a mediocre student, it’s embarrassing,” Lamar Hunt said. He spent four years on the football team, but never lettered.

    Clark Hunt graduated atop his class at SMU in 1987, an achievement that he attributes more to work and desire than to innate intellect, although he clearly has the latter.

    “I figured out how to be a good student because I was motivated to win,” Clark Hunt said. “Same thing with soccer. I was a mediocre soccer player who worked hard enough to become a starter on a nationally ranked team. It was not a talent that I was born with. And it’s not something your family can give you.”

    That’s a distinction Clark Hunt points out at several stops on this guided tour of his life, and that Lamar echoes in a separate conversation. Clark Hunt’s first job after school was a plum one at Goldman Sachs in New York, an investment banking firm where his father says he had no connections. He spent two years there before returning to a slot in the Hunt family’s conglomerate.

    He had little to do with the sports teams, focusing instead on investment strategies. While working with the family holdings, he started his own financial services business, which he says has been a success.

    The 1994 World Cup, held in the U.S., changed his course. The event was a rousing hit. An idea for a major U.S. pro league percolated. Lamar Hunt, a longtime soccer proponent who owned the Dallas franchise in the NASL, but was admittedly gun-shy about doing it again, found himself sucked in by the momentum.

    He invited — or, in Clark Hunt’s words “dragged in” — his son to join him in the endeavor, assigning him to assess a unique approach to ownership that the league was floating: a single-entity structure that would allow investors to share all the franchises, rather than parceling them out.

    “We needed the expertise that he had, not because he played soccer, but because he knew how to analyze a business,” Lamar Hunt said. “The whole single-entity approach was new. Somebody had to really analyze it to determine whether it could work.”

    Clark Hunt was intrigued, but he wasn’t sure his father should open his heart and wallet to another go-round with so fickle a temptress. Lamar Hunt also was making noise about spending millions to build soccer-specific stadiums, and his son clearly thought that was too risky a venture.

    Still, Lamar Hunt had a track record. There had been failures. The NASL collapsed under the weight of its stars’ salaries. World Team Tennis, another Hunt signature, has survived for 30 years in varied states of health, but never captured a large national audience. But his idea for the AFL was akin to Columbus choosing to sail west, and after that, don’t you have to follow the man anywhere?

    The Hunts went to work, side by side, to build the MLS.

    “Lamar is the father of new sports leagues in this country,” Clark Hunt said. “There is nobody like him in that regard. And I had a chance to be there with him on the ground floor with one of them.”

    That was neither his expectation, nor his plan. Clark Hunt says that, like his father, who has carried the nickname “Games” since childhood, he always has loved sports. But there are many tentacles to the Hunt’s family business, and Clark Hunt says he never thought sports would be the one to grab him.

    MLS changed that. Involved since its inception, he feels connected to it, much as his father does to the NFL. Five years ago, Clark Hunt started upping his engagement with management of the Chiefs, prompted by Jack Steadman, then-chairman of the team’s board of directors, and confidant to Lamar Hunt since before he founded the franchise.

    “None of us are getting any younger,” Steadman reminded Lamar Hunt.

    Clark Hunt already was attending league meetings and Chiefs upper management sessions, but he was there without portfolio. Steadman suggested he take more responsibility. They named Clark Hunt vice chairman.

    His progression came as the Chiefs were in the midst of negotiations for a stadium renovation. The first vote for public funding failed. It came to the ballot again in April, this time split into two measures: one that would renovate the stadiums for the Chiefs and Royals and another that would incorporate a “rolling roof” that would allow Kansas City to host a Super Bowl.

    The voters delivered a split decision that had to be considered a victory, but was bittersweet for the Hunts. The renovation was approved, but the voters refused the roof, which had been a dream of the Chiefs’ patriarch, going back to the original plans for the sports complex that opened in 1972.

    “For my father, whose legacy — he is so closely intertwined with the Super Bowl,” Clark Hunt said. “To not be able to bring his baby home for him was a disappointment. But he took it like a gentleman, like he always does. He was a very celebratory part of the party.”

    Complementary interests
    Neither flies to the spotlight, but Lamar Hunt is even more understated, publicly, than is his son. He eschews titles, insisting that he be referred to as founder, rather than owner. For most of his life, he insisted on flying commercial, in coach, agreeing to book in first class only when traveling with wife Norma, a grudging concession that she refers to as a “gift.” Recently, Clark Hunt convinced his father to use the family’s private jet in deference to failing health.

    “Lamar is as humble and unassuming as they come,” Clark Hunt said. “He has given me plenty of room to be my own person and shape my own way. As I look 30 or 40 years down the road from now, thinking about my own son, I wonder if it would work the same way, and I have a hard time seeing it.

    “If my son came in and shared his thoughts sometimes like I do with Lamar, I’d think: ‘What in the world is he doing as part of this business?’”

    If Lamar Hunt has thought that, he’s never said it. He gushes about the acumen that Clark Hunt has brought to the enterprise, which he describes as different from his own.

    “The entertainment piece of the business is really what I was infected with: the marketing and ticket sales,” said Lamar Hunt, who spent much of that Saturday afternoon before the FC Dallas game jotting down ideas to better promote the team. “That’s not as much Clark’s bent.”

    Lamar Hunt’s interests are most evident in the content of 50- and 60-item memos that he will craft after a game, based on observations that he accumulates through the day, which invariably begins for him with a walk-through of the stadium. He never takes notes, yet he opines in detail, with accuracy.

    Clark Hunt says he focuses more on finance, asset values, organizational structure and making key hires. The sports franchises capture more of his attention than they used to, but he remains engaged in the family’s other businesses in ways his father rarely did.

    Lately, Clark Hunt has begun to think of the sports properties as intertwined in something that his father steadfastly refuses to acknowledge: the Lamar Hunt legacy.

    “A huge responsibility that I think about all the time is that he has a legacy in sports that no one else in this country has, and it’s my responsibility to make sure that that’s maintained for many, many years to come,” Clark Hunt said. “In the context of the decisions we make, I have to consider how it will affect his legacy. He won’t think about it that way. He’s not interested in creating a legacy. So those of us around him need to think about it and take it seriously.”

    A mother's last word
    It is story time in the owner’s box at the FC Dallas game, and, prompted by a few questions, Norma Hunt has shifted into a gear reserved for carnival barkers and mothers of sons.

    There is more to the story of the rehabilitation from Clark’s foot injury — a supremely painful ordeal which, by the way, Clark Hunt never mentioned during a three-hour conversation that made multiple swings through his childhood.

    “Of course they told you about the geese,” Norma Hunt says matter-of-factly, stopping the conversation dead.

    The geese? Her son rolls his eyes.

    It seems that soon after Clark Hunt returned from the hospital, while he was still confined to a wheelchair, his father came home one afternoon with a dozen baby geese, and a plan to keep his son occupied through the blazing Dallas summer.

    Clark would help raise the hatchlings, and when they were ready to live on their own, the family would hold a ceremony. Then, they would march the baby geese through the yard, into a pond, and on to self-sufficiency.

    “Clark was still in the wheelchair when we had the parade,” Norma Hunt said.

    But not for long after it.

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  • From water boy to executive, as his father did before him

    There wasn’t room for Bill Bidwill at the table when he started attending NFL owners meetings with his father, Charles, who bought the Chicago Cardinals in 1932. Space was limited, and he was young.

    Michael Bidwill (left), a former prosecutor, joined
    Bill and the Arizona Cardinals.
    He and his brother, Stormy, would take seats along a wall, where they could stay out of the way.

    “I remember Dan Rooney would be sitting on the one wall, and my brother and I would be on the other, just listening,” said Bidwill, 75, who followed his father into the football business, carrying a vice president’s title while an undergraduate at Georgetown and taking over as owner of the Cardinals in 1972.

    “We wouldn’t be at the table,” Bidwill said. “None of us spoke. But I was in the room and listened to the various discussions. That was very worthwhile.”

    Bidwill’s first recollections of the NFL go back to the 1940s, when he served as a Cardinals water boy in Chicago. His son, Michael, did the same during his childhood in St. Louis in the 1970s. As his father did before him, Michael has ascended to top management with the Cardinals, although via a different path.

    “I knew at some point I’d like to be involved in the team, if I could have a role that would be productive,” Michael Bidwill said. “But I decided I wanted to go do my own thing first.”

    Michael Bidwill got a law degree and spent seven years as a federal prosecutor, specializing in violent crimes. When he joined the Cardinals in 1996 as vice president and general counsel, he put his political experience to work, focusing on the push for public funding for a $450 million stadium that will open this season near Phoenix.

    Like most owners, the Bidwills took a beating in print and over the airwaves during that debate.

    “The kids have been raised in it,” Bill Bidwill said. “We always take some flak for whatever reason. They’ve seen that as they were growing up. But I never got upset about it. And the kids never saw me get upset about it, because it’s part of the business. If you get wiped out on a Sunday, you’re not going to like the newspapers on Monday.”

    Michael Bidwill points to several high points that have balanced out those miserable Mondays. There was the securing of the new stadium, which will host the Super Bowl in 2008. And there have been victorious Sundays — among them, a win in the last regular-season game of 1998 against the San Diego Chargers that ended a 15-year playoff drought.

    “We were down on the field, and I got about the biggest bear hug I’ve ever received from anybody,” Michael Bidwill said. “It was from my Dad.”

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  • Happy to deal with tension that running the Cowboys can bring

    Jerry Jones was in a Dallas hotel room, offering a Texas-sized chunk of money to land Deion Sanders for the Cowboys as the football season opened in 1995, when he summoned son Stephen with word that things were getting close.

    Jerry Jones (left) and Stephen have found themselves
    on opposite sides of arguments over team decisions.
    This surprised Stephen, the team’s director of player personnel. He had worked for months to figure the salary cap calculus that would allow the team to keep Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin together for the foreseeable future. Sanders’ financial demands would blow up that plan. Stephen had explained that to Sanders’ agent, Eugene Parker. Now, his father was negotiating with Parker without him.

    When Stephen Jones got to the hotel suite, his father entered from an adjoining room.

    “We’ve just done the deal,” Jerry said.

    Stephen was stunned.

    “We’ve done the deal,” Jerry said again.

    “We can’t,” the son said, running the numbers through in his head. “We have parameters and we’ve got to get within those parameters.” Stephen suggested that if they spent more time negotiating, they might get better terms.

    “We’re late in the day here,” Jerry Jones said. He turned and headed for the door to rejoin Parker.

    His son got there first. Stephen put one hand on the door and extended the other to hold back his father. The two stared at each other.
    “What are you fixing to do, son?” Jerry asked. “Hit me?”

    “I kind of feel like it right now,” Stephen said.

    A decade later, with a third Super Bowl trophy in their cabinet thanks in part to Sanders, the father and eldest son both chuckle when retelling the story. Both were right. Sanders got the Cowboys another Super Bowl. But they paid for it with a cap crunch later on.

    “He was frustrated, and I understand that,” Jerry Jones says now. “That’s the kind of thing that a son and father can experience working together where you might really strain something permanently if you weren’t family.”

    Jerry and Stephen Jones say they always planned to work together, going back to when Stephen was choosing colleges. He was accepted at Princeton, but wanted to play football at Arkansas, where his father had co-captained the 1964 national champion. Jerry preferred the Ivy League for his son, but suggested a compromise. Stephen would play at Arkansas, but pursue a challenging major: chemical engineering.

    When he graduated in 1987, he went to work for his father in the oil business, based in Little Rock, Ark. Less than two years into that career, Stephen was dispatched to Dallas to review the finances of the Cowboys.

    The family was in Washington for George Bush’s inauguration when Jerry Jones gathered his wife and three children to ask if they thought he should go through with the purchase.

    “This is not an investment for me, it’s a change of what I do and my occupation, and it’s going to change all our lives,” Jones told his family. They agreed he should buy the team.

    Jerry Jones stresses that all three of his children are involved in management of the Cowboys. Son Jerry Jr., 36, is chief marketing officer and general counsel. Daughter Charlotte Anderson, 39, directs charities and special events. All hold stakes in the team.

    Because of his role, Stephen, 41, carries the highest profile. Because he was out of school when the family bought the team, he also has spent the most time working closely with his father.

    “I think Stephen has an engineer’s logic,” Jerry Jones said. “I’m probably a little more aggressive, a little more willing to try and have one and one make three. He’s more into making it fit going in. That’s a great combination. You don’t need two dreamers in the same room. You can get in trouble that way.”

    The two balance each other, albeit not without the occasional combustion.

    “I can tell you we have disagreements,” said Stephen Jones, who now serves as chief operating officer. “But at the end of the day we’re both running to the phone to catch back up, because neither one of us wants to go to bed thinking we’re in a huge fight with the other.

    “It’s just a blessing. I get to work with my father, and we both get to do something in sports. It’s very unique.”

    Print | Tags: Families in Sports: Fathers and Sons
  • Owning the Canadiens creates ‘a mutual learning process’

    The story of George Gillett’s purchase of Canada’s national sporting treasure climaxes like a classic bit of film noir, set in midwinter at a Rocky Mountain ski lodge, where the protagonist and his son end a day on the slopes in an office with a man they have only recently come to know.

    George Gillett (right) with Foster, the most
    active of four sons in the Canadiens
    The man reaches into his pants pocket and emerges with a sheet of paper, folded and crinkled. He hands it to Gillett, and asks, “Would you do this deal?”

    And the lives of Gillett and his son, Foster, change forever.

    “Our family loves hockey. Loves hockey,” said Gillett, who bought the Montreal Canadiens in June 2001, adding the team to a portfolio of family business interests ranging from meat packing to ski resorts. “And, [owning] the team, there’s a mutual learning process going on that has created a personal relationship between the boys (Gillett has four sons), and the boys and me, that is truly different than anything I’ve had in any of our other businesses.

    “The other businesses are great, and we have wonderful people running them. But the level of passion in hockey is unique.”

    Gillett’s quest for the Montreal Canadiens began in June 2000, on the day after Molson announced that it was putting the team up for sale to concentrate on its beer business. Foster Gillett read the report online, printed it, and brought it to his father’s office. A day later, they traveled to Molson’s Toronto headquarters to check out the Canadiens.

    Gillett quickly realized that Molson wanted to turn the sale into an auction. Gillett had already been on the losing end of one of those as part of a group that tried to buy the Avalanche and Nuggets. He didn’t want to go down that road again, so he bowed out.

    Six months later, the Canadiens still hadn’t sold. Gillett got a call from Molson CEO Dan O’Neill, who was visiting a resort near the Gillett home in Vail, Colo. O’Neill suggested the two families spend a day skiing together.

    When they were finished, O’Neill suggested they head to Gillett’s office, where the Molson CEO produced that crinkled sheet of paper. Gillett read the terms on the sheet and showed them to his son.

    “No,” George Gillett said.

    “What would you do?” O’Neill asked.

    The Gilletts stepped out. When they came back, they handed O’Neill their own sheet of paper. He looked it over and extended his hand.

    “We had to work out a few conditions,” George Gillett said. “But the money was almost identical to what we agreed to very quickly that day.”

    Gillett points out that each of his four sons holds an ownership stake in the Canadiens. But it is his youngest son, Foster, who is the most active, making his home in Montreal during the season and representing the Gilletts in the day-to-day business of the team.

    “Ever since I was a young boy, I wanted to understand how we do business, how my dad has been successful, how we operate and run a business,” said Foster Gillett, 30, whose title with the Canadiens is special assistant to the president. “There are no classes for that. One of the great things that this provides us is a common language. It allows him to have a template to transmit to me how the Gillett family does business.”

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  • Taking different paths, they’ve met at the top of the Blue Jays

    Rob Godfrey remembers that it was cold on the day that the Toronto Blue Jays played their first game. And that, because it was cold, he wore a jacket over his Jays uniform.

    Paul Godfrey (right) became CEO in Toronto
    as Rob came into the AFL.
    A Cookie Monster jacket.

    Godfrey was 4 years old and the son of Paul Godfrey, who then held a political office that was the Toronto equivalent of mayor. Paul Godfrey led the chase for a baseball team for Toronto, taking it up as a pet issue starting in 1969, when he awoke to find that Montreal had hit the big leagues and wondered, “What are we, chopped liver?”

    It took eight years, but Toronto got its team. Godfrey was to throw out the first pitch until some questioned why that honor would go to him, rather than the premier of Ontario or the prime minister of Canada. To avoid the controversy, Jays management decided it wouldn’t be any of them. It would be a child.

    Godfrey’s child, Rob.

    “They said, ‘You worked the hardest at this, your kid is going to do it,’” Paul Godfrey said. “So we dressed him up in a Blue Jay uniform and put him out there.”

    Twenty-nine years later, that tiny Jays uniform hangs in Rob Godfrey’s office at Rogers Centre, the ballpark formerly known as SkyDome. Godfrey is the Jays senior vice president of communications and external communications, responsible for most of the franchise’s business departments. His father is the team’s president and CEO. That neither ever planned to work in the organization is a testament to the unpredictably winding path that careers can take.

    Paul Godfrey was a rabid Jays fan, first as mayor and then as publisher of the Toronto Sun. He took his son to Jays games and to spring training, where Rob was a bat boy. But he never contemplated a career in baseball until one was offered. Godfrey was planning his retirement in 2000 when billionaire Ted Rogers bought the team and asked him to run it.

    Godfrey jumped at the chance, officially taking over as CEO when the sale closed on Sept. 1.

    At the same time as he landed in sports, his son was working his way into the business, unsuspectingly, along a different route.

    Having graduated from Pepperdine with a joint MBA and law degree, Rob Godfrey had abandoned his initial plan to become “the next Jerry Maguire” and joined the investment banking fray. One Sunday afternoon in June 2000, he took a client who had only distant connections to the sports business to a Blue Jays game. The client surprised him when he asked what Godfrey thought of the Arena Football League, and whether he might be interested in working to bring a franchise to Toronto.

    Rob Godfrey flashed back to the stories his father told him about his lengthy quest to attract baseball to Toronto. He thought he might enjoy chasing an AFL team, although only as a gig “on the side” for the few years that it might take. He told the client he’d like to hear more.

    In his office on the following Monday afternoon, his assistant brought the news that she had — she paused to read from her notes to make sure to get the name right — David Baker, the commissioner of the Arena Football League, on the phone.

    Did he want to take the call?

    Baker was shopping for a buyer for the New England franchise that Madison Square Garden wanted to sell. A few weeks later, Rob Godfrey was in his back yard with two new business partners and a lawyer, delivering some news to his father.

    “Dad, I don’t know how to tell you this,” Godfrey said, “but I think we bought a football team yesterday.”

    “Great,” his father said. “Where are you going to get the money?”

    The son didn’t have a clue. But he did know it couldn’t be a part-time endeavor. He went to his boss and requested a six-week leave to line up the money to make the deal.

    Looking for investors, he approached some of Toronto’s leading companies, including Rogers Communications, which was about to buy the Blue Jays and hire his father. “My meeting with them lasted about 30 seconds,” Paul Godfrey said. “Not interested.”

    That’s the way things went for about two weeks, until a chance encounter with his father’s new boss turned his fate. Ted Rogers had heard that Rob was lining up investors for an AFL team. He asked Paul if there was any reason he wouldn’t want to own a majority piece of it.

    “Ted is a very spontaneous guy,” Paul Godfrey said. “He made up his mind right there.”

    Rob Godfrey landed his team, and a new career operating it in a sports enterprise run by his father.

    “In the middle of June 2000, I had not a single thought in my head about running a sports team, except for wondering who I was going to take in my fantasy football draft,” Rob Godfrey said. “I never thought about working in sports, or working with my father. And in six weeks, everything changed.

    “It’s been a long, strange, unplanned ride.”

    Fifteen months after launching the arena team, Rob Godfrey was promoted to a role with the Blue Jays. Paul Godfrey has given him expanded responsibilities each year. Now, he oversees all business functions except for human resources and finance.

    “In a family-owned business, it’s almost expected that junior is going to be anointed at some point,” Paul Godfrey said. “As a family working in the same business, but not as owners, you are judged by a different standard. There is always the question of how did (Rob) get this job. However, I think that Rob has proven himself. You can point to his education and his success in (investment banking). You can point to the work he’s done here and say, ‘This is how.’”

    Print | Tags: Families in Sports: Fathers and Sons
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