Belgrad: City's hopes not raided by Oakland

September 12, 1990|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Evening Sun Staff

When Oakland tumbled into the pool of NFL expansion candidates yesterday, repercussions were felt across the country in Baltimore and St. Louis.

Early indications, however, were that Al Davis' decision to keep the Raiders in Los Angeles did not carry tidal wave proportions.

Herb Belgrad, the front man in Baltimore's bid for an NFL franchise, certainly didn't sound like a man wrought with anxiety after Oakland took the expansion plunge.

Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said Oakland's inability to reach a long-term agreement with Davis could not be blamed solely on the team's owner. Davis announced at league meetings last March that he would return JTC to Oakland, but the deal fell through when city residents protested long and loudly.

"Unlike Baltimore and St. Louis, Oakland did have the opportunity to negotiate a return of the Raiders," Belgrad said last night. "It would appear there was a lot of community and citizen opposition, and I think that speaks for itself. In contrast, the fact that we so actively sought the [then St. Louis] Cardinals is an indication there is real community commitment here to the return of NFL football."

In other words, Oakland's best chance of returning to the NFL may have been by raiding Los Angeles. And that opportunity apparently passed yesterday when Davis signed a 20-year agreement to play in Los Angeles in return for $145 million worth of renovations to Memorial Coliseum.

There was similar sentiment in St. Louis and Charlotte, two other prominent members of the expansion pool.

A spokesman for the NFL partnership team in St. Louis said it was questionable whether the league would place a fifth team in California. "The feeling here is, [Davis' decision] really doesn't diminish our prospects," said Al Kerth, secretary for the Missouri-Illinois NFL expansion committee.

In Charlotte, a spokesman for the North Carolina entry said he felt Oakland might be a hard sell for expansion.

"We've always known that depending on what the Raiders do, one old NFL city was going to be back in expansion consideration with Baltimore and St. Louis," said Mark Richardson, son of ex-Colt Jerry Richardson and general manager of Richardson Sports. "We just didn't know if it would be Oakland or Los Angeles.

"It would be tough for an expansion team in either one of those markets -- Oakland because of the proximity to the 49ers. Oakland and San Francisco are the same TV market. The 49ers dominate the media there. They're highly successful, the team of the decade. And it doesn't look like they're losing any momentum.

"On the other hand, Baltimore is an old NFL city and I think it would be accepted much more quickly and be more successful in expansion than Oakland or Los Angeles. But that's an outsider's perception."

Richardson said he has heard speculation that the league will expand to one of the cities abandoned by NFL teams and to one new territory.

"There's been no official statement, but it seems we're hearing more and more about the combination of one old market and one new market," he said. "We've always had three new markets. Now it looks like there are three old markets."

Baltimore, St. Louis and Oakland are the abandoned cities. New markets include Charlotte, Jacksonville and Memphis.

Under the leadership of new commissioner Paul Tagliabue, the subject of expansion has heated up in the past year. Tagliabue has said he wants to expand by 1993, and would do it without a collective bargaining agreement if other circumstances were favorable.

Tagliabue appointed a seven-man realignment and expansion committee last March. That committee will meet for the second time this Friday in New York.

Last night, Belgrad reiterated his position that Baltimore is "not competing with other cities as much as we're competing with ourselves.

"We're responsible for putting together the best package, and place our strengths and merits in front of the NFL and sell ourself," he said.

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