His passion and commitment and drive and determination are defined most by that majestic and scenic place in upstate New York. It’s a spot that overlooks the Hudson River and traces its roots to 1801, when Thomas Jefferson directed plans be set in motion to establish the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Bill Foley loves the Army and everything it stands for, loves the values and discipline and traditions he learned years ago in those Norman-style buildings constructed from gray and black granite.
He lives his life within the structure of such uniformity.
It’s also how he made sports history in Las Vegas.
Foley has officially brought the town its first major league professional franchise, the National Hockey League on Wednesday making official that Las Vegas will debut its expansion team in the 2017-18 season.
It’s the culmination of a 2½-year pursuit by Foley, the 68-year old billionaire businessman and chairman of Fidelity National Financial who will build his team in the image of those standards he came to embrace as a member of The Long Gray Line.
“It’s much bigger than just a team for him,” said Foley’s wife, Carol. “It’s about the community and what this can do for Las Vegas. You get those guys from West Point together now and it’s just like it was yesterday, like time hasn’t passed. He was convinced this would be great for Las Vegas. He stuck with it and stayed true to his convictions. All of that comes from Army.”
Army engineers helped provide the infrastructure that allowed the country to grow from a weak agricultural society into the strongest industrial nation on earth. They directed the construction of the Panama Canal and supervised the Manhattan Project. They managed construction of the Manned Space Center in Houston, Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Space Shuttle complex at Edwards Air Force Base.
In other words, they build things really, really well.
So why not a hockey team in Las Vegas by a man who earned his degree in engineering at West Point?
The days and weeks and months will pass and Foley will make those hires that best shape any team. He will make those important decisions about a general manager and head coach and scouting department and marketing team and media relations arm and so on. His will be a team with as good a chance to be immediately competitive as any expansion side in league history.
But for today, the man who smiled a smile broader than those 53 miles from West Point to Manhattan when being introduced as the team owner at the Encore wants this time to represent all of Las Vegas.
He talked most about community, about the team being a major extension of how the town is perceived, about building a much larger youth hockey base, about opening those two sheets of ice at his soon-to-be-raised practice facility to everyone, about ensuring those players and their families who make Las Vegas home are intimately involved within the city’s fabric.
Wealthy and successful men often don’t have the greatest sense of patience. There is no question the expansion process wore on Foley at times. He was under strict orders from the NHL not to discuss the team or his plans publicly and, like a good solider, fell in line.
“It took a long time and it was hard not only to go through the process, but to understand it,” Foley said. “But I do now, and I’m going to be a good and supportive owner. In the military, you’re always part of a team and something bigger, working together. That way of thinking has helped me a lot in my career and building my companies. We’re going to build our team around the same philosophy.
“This is more personal for me. My other endeavors have been business-related, and that’s great and you’re successful and you do a deal and it works out. But this is different. This is better. Much better. This is going to be a lot of fun.
“We’re going to be dedicated, we’re going to be focused, and we’re gong to take no prisoners. We expect to be successful early. We’re going to take care of our players, but when you go on the ice, you better win. We’ll take care of everything else.”
Trophy Point is the finest location at West Point where the past comes alive, where memorials commemorate many of the nation’s military campaigns. At its center is a spectacular view of the Hudson, and several links from the Great Chain, strung across the river during the Revolutionary War to prevent the British from advancing farther north.
George Washington ordered the chain – 1,800 feet long, 65 tons, supported by log rafts – to be used in 1778 along the waterway he strategically termed, “This is the place.”
On Wednesday, Las Vegas for the first time welcomed a major league professional sports franchise, and the man who made that possible wants the entire town, from one end to the next, to now link arms and form the chain that defines the moment.
Finally, because of the commitment and drive and determination of Bill Foley, this is the place.
Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be a heard on “Seat and Ed” on Fox Sports 1340 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. On Twitter: @edgraney
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