The ex-quarterback and the reluctant owner — “Name-Droppings,” Part 5
In my forthcoming memoirs (second and third in a series), I describe encounters with various famous people. I hope you enjoyed the first four, and I hope you will like this one, too:
We bought ourselves out from our parent company in 1970 with money raised from family, friends, and a few fools. Now CADCOM was independent, but – as a typical startup – we were far from profitable and thus short on operating capital. While my partners were busy generating business and developing software, I was spending most of my time looking for much-needed money. Banks would not lend to us, and we were too early-stage for venture capital funds. Our best – actually only – bet was to attract “angels” – high-net-worth individuals with an interest in getting in early, and cheaply, on entrepreneurial companies with promise of high returns in the future.
I tapped not only my own network, but also the networks of my friends and colleagues. I targeted some of the most successful businesspersons in the Baltimore-Washington region and looked for connections which would help me get through their doors. I ran into many dead ends, but often contacts came from surprising sources. One of my major targets was a man named Carroll Rosenbloom, a
icon who had made a fortune in the clothing business, but who was better known as the owner of the Baltimore Colts of the National Football League.
“I have a friend who can introduce Charlie to Carroll Rosenbloom,” our friend Jeanne told my wife Sue one day. Jeanne, a tall, beautiful redhead, was in the process of getting out of an unhappy marriage at the time. She told Sue that Don Klosterman, the General Manager of the Colts, whom she had met at the previous year’s Super Bowl, had asked her for a date. Jeanne said that she would accept, provided that Sue and I would be invited along. Of course, we agreed.
A few days later, Jeanne called and informed us that Klosterman had purchased four tickets to the performance of “Applause!” starring Lauren Bacall, at the Morris Mechanic Theater in
. We would meet on Friday evening for drinks before the play and then have dinner following the show.
I did some research on Don before meeting him. Six years older than I, he had been the top passer in the country as a college quarterback. After backing up future Hall of Famer Otto Graham with the Cleveland Browns, Klosterman moved north, where he quarterbacked the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. In 1957, he nearly lost his life in a skiing accident, hitting a tree while trying to avoid an out-of-control skier on a slope at
. A damaged spinal cord necessitated eight surgeries. Told that he would never walk again, Don walked with the aid of a cane within a year. In 1970, he came to Banff , where he guided the Colts to a Super Bowl win in his first year. In a city which worshipped its football team, he was a superhero when I met him in 1971.
We had drinks at the theater bar and spent a half hour getting acquainted. When Jeanne reminded Don that the show would begin in ten minutes, he suggested:
“Let’s order another round and take the drinks with us to our seats.”
“I don’t think they allow that,” countered Jeanne.
“Rules are made to be broken,” said Don with a smile, as he instructed the bartender to pour four glasses of wine, “to go.” Each of us was given a plastic glass filled with wine, and we made our way to the theater balcony. Along the way, we were informed by two ushers that we would not be allowed to take the drinks into the theater. Undeterred, Don led the way until we took our seats. Sue, Jeanne, and I set our glasses on the floor, hoping to sip our wine undetected once the lights went out. Don, on the other hand, made a show of breaking the rules and held his glass where it could be seen. Not unexpectedly, an usher came over and informed Don that drinks were not permitted inside the theater and that we needed to hand our glasses over to her and her colleague.
“Listen,” said Don. “I paid for these seats, and I paid for the drinks. We’re not bothering anybody. Just go away.”
As soon as the usher departed, the lights went out and the curtain opened. For the next few minutes, we watched and listened as Lauren Bacall, in her husky voice, sang the opening number. Toward the end of her song, the beam of a flashlight strafed our four laps and we heard a loud whisper.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am the theater manager. I must ask you to leave here at once.”
Don began to argue, and the spectators around us complained and requested silence. I stared straight ahead, wishing I could be someplace else. Finally, having concluded that Don would not give up his drink, I leaned across Sue and Jeanne and whispered:
“Don, let’s get the hell out of here.”
After a moment of silence, Don stood up and, with drink in hand, made his way up the aisle and out of the theater. The three of us followed, sheepishly carrying our glasses. Out in the lobby, as we sipped our wine, Don acted as though nothing had happened.
“So, is everybody hungry?” he asked and, without waiting for an answer, he announced: “We’re going to dinner.”
He limped out the front door and headed toward a taxi parked in the street. When we caught up, the driver stood outside, holding the door and showering Don with praise for having built a great football team for
. The ladies and I piled into the back seat, and Klosterman sat down in the front passenger seat. When the driver came around and took his seat behind the wheel, Don announced:
“Cy Bloom’s Place in the Alley.”
Jeanne, with an incredulous look on her face, whispered: “That’s across the street!”
The cabbie started the engine, made a U-turn and coasted a few feet down an alley. It marked my first-ever taxi ride of less than a minute. We were in front of the restaurant. Don handed the driver a fifty-dollar bill, thanked him, and told him to be sure to keep rooting for the Colts.
During dinner, Don promised to introduce me not only to Carroll Rosenbloom, but to a number of “heavy hitters,” including the most famous citizen of the city, the great quarterback, Johnny Unitas. Moreover, Don committed to an investment of his own.
He was true to his word, almost. He wrote a check in exchange for a small equity interest in our company. He introduced me to several of his friends and acquaintances, some of whom invested in us. But, Don did not manage to get me together with Carroll Rosenbloom. Then, in 1972, the city of
was hit with a bombshell. In one of the more bizarre sports transactions of the period, Rosenbloom swapped teams with the owner of the Los Angeles Rams. Carroll headed for the west coast, and Don Klosterman went with him – now as general manager of the Rams.
Don and I stayed in touch, but I stopped pestering him about introducing me to Rosenbloom. Thus, it came as a surprise one day in 1973, when Klosterman called me.
“I’ve talked to Carroll about CADCOM, and he’s interested. Why don’t you come out and meet with him?” Enthusiastically, I agreed. Don called back a few days later with a date and time for the three of us to meet at the Rams’ practice facility, at the
Long Beach State University
I arrived around 2:30, an hour ahead of our scheduled meeting. Wearing a suit and tie, I felt out of place at a football practice, watching sweaty, oversized men smash into tackling sleds, a few normal-sized players running through passing drills, and one little guy kicking field goals. I watched and I waited. And waited. An hour went by, and then another hour – no Don Klosterman, no Carroll Rosenbloom. Finally, just as practice was ending and players were beginning to file toward the dressing room, Don showed up.
“Charlie, I’m really sorry,” he said. “Carroll was held up in his office, and he won’t be able to come over. But, you can close the deal on the phone, so let’s go call him right now.”
Naturally, I was disappointed. I could have made the phone call from
without having to spend the money and taken time from the office. But, I was there and the opportunity existed, so it was time to go into my sales mode. I assumed that the Rams had an office at the stadium and that Don and I would be doing a conference call with Rosenbloom from there. Klosterman led me out on the field and we followed the players into a short tunnel. Then, instead of turning off toward an office which I assumed existed, we walked with the players into the locker room.
“Strange,” I thought. But, I had been in many dressing rooms as an athlete, and some of them had adjoining coaches’ offices. “That must be where we’re going.”
Wrong. There was no office. The only adjoining room was a tiled area with several showers, some urinals, and a few enclosed toilets. The dressing room, too small to be comfortable for 50 or 60 huge men, contained only metal lockers, wooden benches, and – on the wall between the showers and dressing area – a single black pay phone. To my horror, Don headed for the phone. He inserted a coin and then I saw him speak into the instrument. Although I was standing next to him, I could not hear a word he said because of the din created by the banter of players undressing and showering and by competing rock and roll music coming out of several radios. Then Don handed me the phone.
“Carroll’s on the line. Go ahead and tell him what you’re looking for.”
I picked up the instrument and blurted out a greeting. I could barely hear Rosenbloom, and I wondered how he could possibly make out my voice from the ambient noise. From what I could understand, it was obvious that either Don had not told him anything about CADCOM and our stock offering, or Carroll had forgotten.
I spent a large percentage of my time as CEO of two software companies raising money. In the process, I had many weird experiences and met a variety of crazy people. But, no fundraising experience could match that of standing outside a shower room in my dark suit, giving my standard investor spiel into a pay phone, while naked black and white giants walked by, often rubbing their enormous butts against me in the narrow aisle between the lockers and the wall.
The fact that Carroll Rosenbloom never did invest is an anticlimax to this bizarre story of my friendship with an ex-quarterback and the pursuit of an elusive NFL owner.
Great story, as usual, Charlie. I don’t remember hearing that one before. Karen