Soon the challenge will be passed to Baltimore to demonstrate how fast it can sell out an exhibition game. The National Football League makes no promises. It never has. And it realizes a city that supported the sport for 35 years doesn't need to prove itself by buying tickets to a one-shot event that will be played when a large segment of the population has taken "time out" to visit ocean beaches and mountain resorts in the annual summer pilgrimage to find natural air conditioning.
This preseason encounter between the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins, scheduled for Aug. 28, represents what NFL officials agree is "colorization." It goes along with the full presentation, another part of how Baltimore wants to improve its case for gaining an expansion franchise. Window-dressing of a sort. It's certainly not the kind of a one-time "make or break" situation that is going to determine "yes" or "no" about Baltimore's football future.
But it is important all the tickets be sold. The record for a Colts' official league game is 61,479, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, in 1983. That figure should be surpassed if Baltimore wants something special to brag about. A way should be found to stretch the seating capacity, even if it's only by one, so Baltimore will be able to boast that a mere 1992 exhibition surpassed anything that has been done for any previous league game.
Financial arrangements are such that each team will be guaranteed in the range of $500,000 (more if it's on national television) and most tickets are priced at $25. Mezzanine seats, however, are scaled at $30. The Greater Baltimore Committee, through David Julian, and the Maryland Stadium Authority, with Walter Gutowski handling other details, will stage a joint news conference tomorrow to outline the program.
Some members of the media will be called upon to express their views on Baltimore's past and present enthusiasm for pro football, including Vince Bagli, who was a stadium usher when the Colts started in 1947; Max Morgan, John Buren and Scott Garceau. Mayor Kurt Schmoke, who, as a City College quarterback, never played in a losing game at Memorial Stadium, and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, once a Colts' season ticket holder, will be there.
Herbert Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, and Chip Mason, who heads the expansion body of the Greater Baltimore Committee, are to comment on the importance of quickly selling out the stadium for the Dolphins-Saints so as to "make a statement" to the NFL. Matt DeVito, speaking for the business community, will relate much of what he told NFL representatives at a New York screening session early last month.
Henry Butta will be recognized for the vital role he performed in leading the way to a new downtown complex rather than renovation of Memorial Stadium. It was Butta who solicited contributions from corporations to finance surveys being taken to determine (1) if a new stadium was needed; and (2) where it might be located.
A video boosting Baltimore, the one commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the NFL staff viewed, will be shown to those in attendance. For the most part, the gathering is a starting place for providing information on how the ticket sale will be handled for the exhibition. Actually, the sale will not commence until Jan. 25, Super Bowl eve, and already almost 30,000 mail-in requests have been received.
Restaurants, social clubs and the Colt Corrals are ordering large blocks of tickets. Competition for an expansion team will come from four cities that have already promoted exhibitions, namely the Carolina entry, St. Louis, Memphis and Jacksonville. Baltimore, since the Orioles no longer will be playing in Memorial Stadium, has for the first time the availability of a facility to stage an exhibition.
In the past, the Orioles were opposed to sharing the field, even when they were scheduled on the road, for a football preseason visit by teams (non-Baltimore) that were just passing through. A rainy evening would have decimated the turf and the Orioles didn't want to take the chance of creating potholes that might have endangered the health and welfare of infielders.
There's no question that Baltimore, denied of a team to call its own since it was robbed under the cover of darkness March 28, 1984, will respond in a spectacular way. Just blow the whistle and tell the customers where and when they are supposed to line up.