Wanting to remove any question about Baltimore's support for the National Football League, the Maryland Stadium Authority has decided to explore the possibility of hosting a preseason NFL game in 1992.
Members of the stadium authority and the Greater Baltimore Committee unanimously agreed last week to pursue a preseason game for next summer at Memorial Stadium.
"We want to close any doors and put to sleep any doubt as to our commitment [to the NFL]," said Herb Belgrad, chairman of the stadium authority. "Other cities have been critical of us for not hosting games, saying Baltimore has copped out. But that's not the case."
The stadium authority's position in the past has been that Baltimore could stand on its rich tradition, which includes a string of 51 consecutive sellouts from 1964 to 1970. What caused Belgrad to change that stance was last month's NFL meeting in Minneapolis, where the owners voted 22-4-2 to adopt a resolution to expand by two teams in 1994, provided there are no major labor obstacles in the way.
"We're not doing it because we're backed into a corner," Belgrad said. "We're not doing it because pressure has been applied. We're doing it because it's part of our expansion plan.
"There's a right time to do things, and those on the committee agree that right time for a preseason game is '92. I should also point out that we have been very tied up the last two or three years designing a baseball stadium. By next February or March, that will be completed and we'll be able to devote our energies to a preseason game."
Attending the meeting last week were Matt DeVito, Raymond "Chip" Mason, Hank Butta and David Julian of the Greater Baltimore Committee, and Belgrad, Bruce Hoffman and Walt Gutowski of the stadium authority.
The NFL's preseason schedule will not be made up until after the 1991 season. But Belgrad said he has sent out feelers to let the NFL community know Baltimore is willing to host a game.
Belgrad said he believes Baltimore can meet financial guarantees for the two teams through sale of tickets, without leaning on the corporate community.
"It will be a test to confirm what we've said all along, that this is a football town," he said. "Despite some scar tissue left over by the loss of the Colts, there is still a lot of support here."