Minnesota's Super Bowl salesmanship has lessons for Baltimore

PRO FOOTBALL

February 02, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

As Baltimore officials plan their expansion offensive this year, they could steal a page from the Minnesota Super Bowl committee.

Those guys proved last week they could sell ice in Alaska, or at least in Minnesota, which is the next best thing.

The Minnesota officials, led by former Vikings general manager Mike Lynn, the team's former owner, Max Winter, and several politicians, did a first-rate lobbying job to get the game for Minneapolis-St. Paul.

They had to overcome Minnesota's reputation for fierce winters, which is probably somewhat overblown. The temperatures were in the 40s for much of Super Bowl week.

Once they got the game, they didn't apologize for winter. They sold it.

They promoted their winter carnival, their ice castles and even ice fishing. Before the week was up, ice fishing became the offbeat thing to do for players and writers alike.

Minnesota wound up getting much more positive press for its Super Bowl than Detroit did a decade ago. It helped that President Bush didn't arrive to cause a world-class traffic jam the way he did in Detroit when he was the vice president.

Baltimore's expansion package already has a lot going for it. The topper was the city's quick sellout of the August exhibition game week ago.

Baltimore also is the only city that has public financing for the construction of a new, open-air football stadium with a grass field. And it is all alone among the suitors with a would-be owner offering to buy the team for cash without any partners. The league wants a "narrow-based" ownership group, and you can't get any narrower than that.

What's left for Baltimore to do is ignore the "conventional wisdom" -- that St. Louis and Charlotte, N.C., will get the two franchises -- and sell itself.

So far those two cities have done a better job than Baltimore, even though St. Louis' stadium is a convention center and Charlotte's is being financed privately, which means the new team would have a crushing debt to handle.

The real selling, though, hasn't started because there are only 28 voters -- the 28 owners -- in this election, and they haven't focused on the issue yet.

How Baltimore does depends on how well it sells those 28 owners. If Baltimore can sell its deal as well as Minnesota sold ice, it still has a chance.

*

Looking into the crystal ball: The expansion picture became even cloudier Monday when the NFL announced it was going ahead with Plan B on schedule today -- three days after commissioner Paul Tagliabue had said there had been "some progress" in the labor talks and Plan B would be postponed a month.

The switch shows there wasn't as much progress as Tagliabue had thought -- he apparently had thought he had a deal with NFL Players Association head Gene Upshaw for the delay -- and means the two sides appear headed toward an antitrust trial on free agency this spring.

How will this affect the NFL's plan to name two expansion teams in October? Nobody knows, but when the NFL changes policy in three days, it's another sign that there's no guarantee the league will expand this year.

*

Scapegoat: Scratch the idea that Chuck Dickerson, the former defensive line coach of the Buffalo Bills, will become the new Artie Donovan. Dickerson reminded writers of Donovan's colorful style with his comments about the slobbering and bad breath of the Washington Redskins' offensive linemen last week. The comments were obviously in jest. After all, the linemen call themselves the Hogs.

Unfortunately, Bills coach Marv Levy decided to make Dickerson the scapegoat for all the Bills' whining and fired him. Since he can't fire Thurman Thomas, he apparently decided to use Dickerson to send a message to his team.

"I think you're better off being totally bland in your comments," Levy said the day after the game.

He overlooked the difference between Thomas' whining and Dickerson's jesting. It didn't help that Redskins coach Joe Gibbs played a tape of Dickerson's comments for the Hogs.

The fear is that the rest of the league is going to become as dull as the Redskins. Remember, the Redskins weren't always this dull. They once won a Super Bowl with Joe Theismann, John Riggins and Dexter Manley. And it wasn't being dull that made this year's team a winner.

*

The Al Davis file: Even when Al Davis, the managing general partner of the Los Angeles Raiders, got into the Hall of Fame last week, the controversy about his candidacy didn't end.

It turns out that Davis made it only because the Hall of Fame selects the top four vote-getters if four people don't get the required 25 of 31 ballots. Although it's a secret ballot, at least eight of the voters have said they voted against Davis, so he wouldn't have made it if the Hall of Fame didn't insist on enshrining at least four men each year.

Some of the voters are complaining that it tarnishes the shrine to let men into the hall if there's a weak field just because Hall of Fame officials want to induct four at the annual ceremonies.

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