Saturday is D-Day for Baltimore-area sports fans, the day when they get to show how determined they are to win a new National Football League franchise for this town. If they quickly gobble up all of the 58,000 seats that go on sale tomorrow for a late-summer NFL exhibition game, a strong message will have been delivered to NFL owners that Baltimore is ready, eager and more than able to support a professional football team once more.
It has been eight long years since the last NFL game at Memorial Stadium. The midnight exodus of the Colts to Indianapolis, engineered by a craven owner who had run a glorious team into the ground, remains a painful blight on the NFL -- and a painful memory for loyal Colt fans. The healing process for both the NFL and area football fanatics could begin with the Aug. 28 or 29 (depending on network television) game here between the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints.
When word of the exhibition was announced, 26,000 mail-order seat requests flooded into the NFL Expansion Committee's office without any promotional advertising. Should the committee's fondest dream come true -- a one-day sellout of the Dolphins-Saints game -- expansion-minded owners in the NFL should sit up and take notice.
Baltimore is in the novel position of having three well-heeled groups bidding for the right to represent the city in the NFL expansion bowl: industrialist Malcolm Glazer; clothing chain owner Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, and best-selling novelist Tom Clancy. It is in their best interest to make the Saints-Dolphins game an early sellout.
"If you don't produce on the bottom line, you don't get a team," noted Gov. William Donald Schaefer in underlining the importance of showing how devoted the folks in Baltimore are to pro football. It will be a first-rate exhibition game, the last before the regular season. Starters will play most of the way. Both coaches -- the Saints' Jim Mora and the Dolphins' Don Shula -- used to run football teams here and are fondly remembered.
When the ticket windows open at Memorial Stadium at 9 a.m. tomorrow, let's show the NFL how much we deserve an expansion team. Tickets also will be sold at Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 410-481-SEAT. Wouldn't it be great if the next day, on Super Bowl Sunday, the football world learns that Baltimore's still-crazy fans gobbled up over 58,000 tickets to an exhibition game (at $25 a piece) in less than 24 hours? It would be a spectacular touchdown play, the kind that NFL owners could not ignore.