MINNEAPOLIS -- Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday that a quick sellout today of an exhibition game will have "some impact" on Baltimore's chances for an NFL expansion franchise, but suggested that the city's past support of pro football and projected future support are more important.
At his annual Super Bowl news conference, Tagliabue was asked whether a 90-minute sellout of the exhibition game scheduled for next August at Memorial Stadium between the New Orleans Saints and the Miami Dolphins would have an impact on the city's bid for an expansion team.
"Well, I think it will have some impact," Tagliabue said. "But I think far more important in the minds of the people of the league will be the fact that Baltimore had the Colts and the Colts were a big part of the NFL for many years.
"I think the broader fact that we'll really be looking at [will be] in terms of the potential for support as well as the past support rather than whether there is a 90-minute sellout or a 48-hour sellout."
Tagliabue then added, "We like to sell tickets fast," and said, "We'll put a stopwatch to it."
Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, was pleased that Tagliabue mentioned the history of the Baltimore Colts, who were involved in two of the biggest games in NFL history -- the 23-17 victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 title game that fueled the modern pro football boom and the 16-7 loss to the New York Jets in Super Bowl III that made the Super Bowl the premier event it is today. The Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984.
"We're just honored and complimented that he remembered us," Belgrad said. "We hope there are 28 owners who share the memories of the commissioner."
Belgrad said he never suggested a quick sellout would get the city a franchise, but said it would answer the criticism of some of the officials from opposing cities who suggested Baltimore hasn't played host to an exhibition game because it wasn't confident it could sell it out.
Belgrad isn't attending the Super Bowl because he has been working on the ticket drive, but said the city's three ownership groups, Malcolm Glazer, the chairman of First Allied Corp., Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, the chairman of Merry-Go-Round, and author Tom Clancy, plan to be represented at the game. He said the NFL made tickets available for all three groups.
Tagliabue also said the league will continue with the expansion process and narrow the field of 10 cities to the finalists at the meetings in March in Phoenix.
Belgrad said he'll attend that meeting until the league tells him that representatives of the cities aren't welcome.
Tagliabue also repeated the NFL's official stance that the league could delay expansion if labor-management problems prove to be an "impediment." The league hasn't had a collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association since 1987.
"Under the resolution that the teams adopted on expansion, I, as the commissioner, and the expansion committee are to determine whether the state of the relationship on the players' side is an impediment to expansion. We could conclude there was no impediment even without a CBA. We might conclude there was an impediment. It doesn't turn in any rigid way on the existence of a collective bargaining agreement. It depends on the overall assessment," he said.
Belgrad said of the possibility of a delay, "That's something we have to live with. That's been the NFL's position from the beginning. They tried to build in a security blanket. If they decide not to move forward, they have the language in their resolution to fall back on." The resolution was passed last May.
Tagliabue said yesterday that there has been "some progress" in the labor talks. He's so hopeful that he said he probably will move back the start of the Plan B free agent signing period from Feb. 1 to March 1 to give the two sides more time to get an agreement. But James Quinn, an attorney for the players who have filed an antitrust suit against the owners, said he is preparing to go ahead with the trial this spring.
If the league follows its tentative timetable, it'll name two new teams in October to play in the fall of 1994.
Tagliabue said, "We're going to eliminate certain cities in March, and at the same time we're going to work and try to get the labor situation resolved. I don't want to speculate on the outcome of either, but I hope they both get resolved and we'll have a labor agreement and two more teams."