With Belgrad calling signals, city team breaks huddle with gusto

John Steadman

January 08, 1992|By John Steadman

All kinds of assorted slogans were tried out on the audience. Such as "Give Baltimore The Ball" and "Show 'Em You Want It." In the long gone days of the Stutz Bearcat and raccoon coats, it would have been considered a good old-fashioned college-type "rouser." There were cheerleaders present. Hip-hip-hooray and all that jazz.

Herbert Belgrad, the lawyer who is the pro-bono leader of the Maryland Stadium Authority, talked with an eloquence and determination that rocked the assembly hall at Memorial Stadium with near-deafening applause. Belgrad, as it turned out, was the hit of his own show.

He had been complimented by the governor for what he has done. Jerry Sachs, an old school chum of Belgrad's from their days at City College and now president of the Capital Centre, shook his head and put it in perspective with a minimum of words: "The man is indefatigable."

Belgrad, who never played sports or claimed to know much about them, is what is called a "quick read." That was the scouting report when he was appointed to the position by former governor Harry Hughes. Provide him an assignment and he not only acquaints himself with the subject but goes on to absorb and diligently work the cogent points of the case at hand.

He expressed himself on Baltimore, calling it a renaissance that is "second to none in the country." Then he went on to say that during its 35-year past "the Colts had made some history for the NFL; had created a track record." Fortunately, he didn't lean on the tired old brag too often heard -- that Baltimore made the NFL. Not true. What the Colts contributed has been chronicled in the record books but the league would still be prospering whether Baltimore was involved in the first sudden-death game or not.

Matt DeVito, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, and Chip Mason, chairman of the city's Expansion Committee, were a part of the program that informed Baltimore it can start buying tickets Jan. 25 for the Aug. 28 exhibition between the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. The idea is to sell out Memorial Stadium in the blink of an eye.

"One day is Herb's goal," insisted Belgrad. Sportscaster Scott Garceau offered an exacting evaluation of what the exhibition is all about when he added, "It's not big news if we sell it out, but it is big news if we don't sell it out."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer provided a meaningful observation when he said,"Once you lose a team it's hard to get one back." Then he couldn't resist adding, "I don't want to see a negative story." End of journalism lesson, a mini-lecture from the state's highest official that was unnecessary considering the boundless enthusiasm.

If 61,479 seats are going to be sold in one day, then Belgrad had better arrange to have the corporate community send in orders that won't be announced until the morning of the kickoff. That would enable him to achieve his desire to do it all within a 24-hour period. The video proclaiming Baltimore as the greatest football city in the world without a team, the one that was shown to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and his staff last month in New York, was observed by the media for the first time.

It's well-produced, overall, but segments with fans screaming for a team come off as poorly contrived and ineffective. Those parts deserve to hit the cutting room floor before the NFL owners view it at their March meeting, when the list of 11 candidate cities will be cut in half for what will be intense focus on the front-runners -- Baltimore, Charlotte and St. Louis.

Potential owners were present, the Glazers, father Malcolm and sons Joel and Bryan; Michael Sullivan, an associate of Leonard Weinglass, who wants to "boogie back" to Baltimore; and Fred Arscott, who was representing Tom Clancy, the author of renown. DeVito, involved in the work of selling the city, said he was convinced "the best possible presentation is being made."

Belgrad remarked that even though rival cities hoping for expansion had staged a series of exhibitions (seven in the case of Memphis), he felt others in pursuit of a team had to prove their interest -- something he felt Baltimore didn't have to do since it had been a longtime member of the NFL. "We did not want to impose one on Baltimore," he admitted in explaining his reluctance.

Belgrad is of the belief all future exhibitions here will feature the hometown team. Ironically, the reason Baltimore got its first pro football team in 1947 was because it demonstrated an interest -- by the size of the crowds -- for similar games played in the stadium involving the Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills and what was fondly referred to as "your own" Miami Seahawks -- who subsequently became the Colts.

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