Stardom in WLAF rekindles NFL ambitions for ex-Terp Gelbaugh

PRO FOOTBALL

May 05, 1991|By VITO STELLINO

When Stan Gelbaugh was cut by the Cincinnati Bengals in training camp last year, the former University of Maryland quarterback thought his pro football career was over almost before it had started.

Without ever playing a regular-season down in the National Football League, he had been cut six times by three National Football League clubs -- the Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Bengals -- and once by a Canadian Football League team.

At 28, he said he decided it was time to get on with his life.

That's why, when he was contacted by the new World League of American Football last year, he said he wasn't interested.

He wasn't sure the league would get off the ground.

But after the players had been assembled in Orlando, Fla., for tryouts in February, he got a call from Jim Haslett, a former teammate with the Bills who is an assistant coach with the Sacramento Surge.

Haslett convinced him the league was a go and sold him on the idea of giving it a try.

"He didn't have to sell me very hard," said Gelbaugh, who was tired of a sales job he had.

Gelbaugh had one more surprise coming. He apparently thought Sacramento was going to take him in a supplemental draft for late-arriving players, but they passed him for a linebacker named Anthony Henton.

Instead, he was snapped up by Larry Kennan, head coach of the London Monarchs who had worked him out in Gelbaugh's senior year when Kennan was a Los Angeles Raiders assistant coach.

The rest is WLAF history. Gelbaugh is the league's first star.

The Monarchs, who play at San Antonio tomorrow night to start a three-game American swing that includes stops in New Jersey and Sacramento, are 6-0, with Gelbaugh throwing for 1,778 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Gelbaugh alternated with John Witkowski the first half of the first game, but then took over the job.

"I've always thought I could play if I had the opportunity," he said.

There were a few potholes along the road. When the team arrived in London, most of its footballs didn't make it. The few available had gotten soggy in the rain.

"I felt like Otto Graham throwing those big, feather-stuffed footballs," he said, even though Graham threw a modern football in the 1950s.

But it's been an unusual experience, and this is what a new league is all about -- players getting a second chance.

Gelbaugh, whose goals include becoming a high school coach, makes a $25,000 base salary. He hopes he'll get another call from the NFL when the WLAF season is over.

"That's what everyone still strives for," he said.

Meanwhile, he's enjoying the new league and likes the radio helmets, but isn't keen on the Helmet Cam.

"For me to wear that thing week in and week out, it'd have to be a lot lighter and a lot less load to carry around," he said.

After he thought his football playing days were over, he must b happy just to be pulling on a regular helmet.

*

Mike Lynn, head of the World League, said he's been contacte someone in Baltimore interested in a WLAF team.

Lynn declined to identify him, but Herbert J. Belgrad, chairma of the Maryland Stadium Authority, doesn't project a WLAF team for the city. He said it'd be viewed as a "consolation prize" if the city didn't get an NFL expansion franchise. If it does get one, Belgrad said, he doesn't think there would be a lot of interest in a WLAF team.

If Washington doesn't get a baseball team, the capital should b considered for a WLAF team.

RFK Stadium would be available, and because the league is big hit in Europe, a team in Washington certainly would have more panache there than Raleigh-Durham.

*

With the NFL realignment and expansion committee set to meet New York on May 15 before it presents a report to the owners in Minneapolis on May 22-23, a debate is being held within the league on whether it should expand in 1993 or delay it until 1994 or beyond.

Belgrad said he wouldn't mind if the teams aren't put on the field until 1994 as long as they're named fairly soon. That way, if Baltimore got one, it would have more time to build the football stadium.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is on record as saying the league will expand "certainly by 1993," but has conceded some owners aren't keen on going ahead that soon.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville, Fla., hopes to be adding some heavy hitters to its expansion effort.

The city is courting the owners of the Hyatt hotel chain (the Pritzker family) and the Philadelphia Flyers (Ed Snider). The Pritzkers have close ties to the NFL. When John Mecom was trying to sell the New Orleans Saints in 1984, then-commissioner Pete Rozelle tried to interest the Pritzkers in buying the team.

They wound up declining, and Tom Benson bought them at time when a Baltimore group was negotiating with Mecom in hopes of moving the team to Memorial Stadium.

Chick Sherrer, the president of Touchdown Jacksonville!, said "Both the Pritzkers and the Sniders are super heavyweights in professional sports. They would bring tremendous influence and prestige to our effort."

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