Expansion talk is merely extra point at Block awards

John Steadman

March 13, 1991|By John Steadman

Intentions were to keep it all so subtle, offering hope Baltimore would score points in its quest for a National Football League expansion franchise. Dan Rooney, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was in the banquet room for the Ed Block Courage Award festivities, which meant he would have a chance to measure the ongoing excitement and anticipation.

Rooney arrived last night to receive a grant in his late father's name for the creation of a Courage House in Pittsburgh that will offer a residence and wholesome home environment for abused children. If the push was too aggressive it might give Dan reason to wonder if the reason he was invited here was to lobby his support for Baltimore. Not so.

Paul Tagliabue, the NFL commissioner, has talked continually about expansion in 1993. It's as though he's on a personal mission. Let's applaud him for that. But, realistically, it looks more as if the process will happen a year later. Rooney, however, wouldn't project a timetable, even if he is chairman of the expansion committee.

The master of ceremonies for the program, Joe Knight, let it be known in his opening remarks the theme of the evening was wrapped around the thought that NFL spirit still lives in Baltimore. Then he announced, "I got a case of expansion fever."

Seated on Rooney's left was Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who never once mentioned to the featured guest that he wanted him to back Baltimore's bid. He might have been thinking it but never said it. That would have been a case of tactless pressure and bad judgment.

What the governor did say, when asked to speak to the audience, with Rooney listening, was that an NFL club would mean $30 million a year in economic benefits. He then talked about his experience in seeing abused children, others that are retarded and how important it is to offer the kind of care the St. Vincent's Center provides.

After Schaefer was introduced by ex-Colt Tom Matte, there was one boo amid the cheers within the gathering, which Schaefer heard and foolishly challenged -- asking the man what he had ever done for abused children.

Comments from numerous visitors to the microphone alluded to Schaefer's earlier degrading comments about the Eastern Shore and it was even suggested he might need a passport to visit there. It was unfortunate that such attempts at levity came on an occasion when Baltimore was honoring 28 players from the NFL (one per team), all recipients of the Ed Block Courage Award, as voted by their peers.

Rooney agreed how his father had so much love and affection for Baltimore. After Pittsburgh, it was his second-favorite city, since he had a horse farm in Winfield, Md., and visited here frequently. Still, young Dan, not given to effusion, offered no expansion promises, except to add, "I wish you good luck."

In an aside, he said, "Your chances are as good as anyone else's. You have to impress on everyone you are going to have a stadium. That's important."

Rooney and Schaefer left before the conclusion, not together but going in different directions, which meant they missed an inspiring finale by the Baltimore Colts' Band, under leadership of the animated Jack Vaeth.

Instead of the usual head table, there was a raised platform, covered with artificial turf and a simulated gridiron, with yard line markings and a set of miniature goal posts to create a football atmosphere. Vaeth, jumping higher than "Jack In The Beanstalk" of fairy tale fame, arrested the attention of the crowd as the musicians produced a rousing concert.

Frank Deford, editor of the daily sports newspaper, The National, was placed in the Courage Award Media Hall of Fame, which made him happy since it was an honor conferred by an organization in his old hometown. Drawing on 30 years as a reporter and author, dealing mostly with sports subjects, he is often asked about the greatest event in all that time.

"And my answer is in 1958, I saw the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants for the world championship," he replied. So in his memory book, the Colts' sudden-death win over the Giants surpasses them all, including Olympic Games, World Series, Super Bowls and everything else.

Former Colts in the room and also the head coach at Maryland, Joe Krivak, were introduced. It was a pep rally that made Baltimore feel good about its past, while hoping fervently for the future. The children at St. Vincent's Center, abused no longer, are the lasting winners.

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