Only game in town is at a ticket window

MIKE LITTWIN

January 08, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

As you may have heard, Miami and New Orleans are playing an exhibition game in Baltimore at the former Memorial Stadium next summer, on Aug. 28.

But the real game -- in fact, the only game that matters -- is being played Jan. 25 at 9 a.m. Be there.

That's the date and time when the tickets go on sale. The plan is for it also to be the day that all the tickets are sold. The idea is to impress the NFL muckety-mucks with not simply the number of tickets Baltimore can sell, but the speed with which they're purchased.

You see, it's all about tickets -- nothing about football.

It's a game show -- for you older folks, a cross between "Truth or Consequences" and "Beat the Clock."

They're selling tickets, not a game. This is a ticket bazaar. For all they care, you can frame the tickets, just so long as you buy them. Lots of them. And quickly.

And the prize is a chance for an NFL expansion team.

All you have to do in the meantime is jump through hoops. That's you, me and anyone else who cares about returning pro football to its rightful place (and I don't mean St. Louis).

They had a big pre-kickoff kickoff yesterday at the former Memorial Stadium, announcing not the game -- that had already been announced -- but the Jan. 25, line-up-and-get-your-tickets-while-they-last date. There were cheerleaders and dignitaries and politicians and athletes and balloons and buttons and ex-Colts legends, all brought together in one small room at the former Memorial Stadium to sell the idea of selling tickets.

The Guv put it this way: "If you sell out, it's not important. If you sell out, it's not important. [OK, so he repeats himself. It's allowed. He's the Guv.] If you don't sell out, that's important."

He never spoke truer words. All the contending cities play host to exhibition games, and they all sell them out. No big deal, unless you don't sell them out. What could be a big deal, however, is to sell tickets as if they were for a Madonna concert. The folks here want frenzy. They want to show the NFL that people are willing to injure themselves and loved ones in order to line up to buy exhibition-football tickets.

Yes, it's all about tickets. Did I mention that? As far as the local folks are concerned, they can take the game back to New Orleans, and we'd forward them the money.

When I approached a former gate of the former Memorial Stadium, someone handed me a button, which read, "Show 'Em You Want It," except the "Y" in "You" was in the shape of a goal post. There was a date: Jan. 25. That's not the date of the game. Nobody cares about the game.

The date is the day before the Super Bowl, and what Herb Belgrad, who heads the local expansion effort, wants to do is pick up the phone that very same evening, call the commissioner in Minneapolis and say, "Tags, we sold 'em all in about 22 minutes." The idea is to say you couldn't sell tickets faster if they were made in Japan. The idea is for the CBS announcers, looking for something halfway interesting to say in the long, long, pregame show, to mention how old Baltimore still has that NFL feeling.

Just about everyone showed up for the gala, pre-kickoff kickoff. The Guv, the Mayor, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, half the state cabinet and several city councilpersons were on hand. The contending ownership groups were all represented. Malcolm Glazer and two of his sons were there. Mike Sullivan was there for Boogie Weinglass. Somebody showed up for Tom Clancy, perhaps his agent. Clancy was reportedly in his garage putting together a nuclear submarine kit he bought in Moscow at a going-out-of-business sale.

The cheerleaders cheered every speech. Nobody got booed (not even the Guv). To the credit of all the speakers, none of them stood up and said how great a game this would be. People in Baltimore know better than to think exhibition games are any great deal. But it will be a game late in the season when the starters will see more action. And Don Shula and Jim Mora will return to Baltimore. And, hey, there may be worse ways to spend a weekend night in late August. You weren't planning to go to the beach, were you?

The point is, I guess, that there aren't many better ways to spend a cool November Sunday than at a football game, as of old. There was some testimony to that effect yesterday. My favorite came from Mikulski, who recalled that after college she bought season tickets and would go to Colts game with her Uncle Fred, armed only with a "little jug of whiskey sours and a blanket." That's football, back in a time when you bought tickets with the object being to see a game. There's a different objective now.

Call it blackmail. It is. But if it gives Baltimore a shot at an expansion team, then sign me up for a couple of tickets. Heck, I'll even buy one for Uncle Fred.

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