Belgrad hopes to woo NFL with 'Dream of a Field'

PRO FOOTBALL

April 26, 1992|By VITO STELLINO

Just in case NFL owners missed the Sports Illustrated profile, or The Sporting News cover, or all the national television coverage, Baltimore is making sure they know that Oriole Park at Camden Yards is getting rave reviews.

Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, will be writing the owners a cover letter next week that will go along with a four-page pamphlet featuring the message: "We gave baseball a Field of Dreams. Let us give the NFL a Dream of a Field."

Belgrad is inviting the owners to visit the new stadium and reminding them that the city has a lot next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards for the proposed football stadium that will be built if Baltimore gets an expansion team.

It's all part of the continuing lobbying to get an NFL team for Baltimore. The effort has moved into a higher gear because of the hoopla over the new baseball stadium.

Belgrad also said the enthusiasm for the new baseball park has fueled the fans' appetite for a football team.

"Even though they're focusing on baseball, football is on everybody's minds," he said. Belgrad added that about half the people he meets at the stadium ask about the effort to get a football team.

Meanwhile, the next step in the expansion process will be an owners meeting in Pasadena, Calif., May 19-20 when the field of seven expansion candidates is cut to at least five. The owners also are supposed to discuss the proposed purchase price for the new teams and the formulas for sharing the national TV revenue.

The final step is supposed to be the naming of the two teams this fall to play in 1994.

Of course, expansion could be delayed by the court fight between the owners and players.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue sounded downright ominous about the future of expansion if the league doesn't get labor peace in an article he wrote for USA Today last week.

"Already, the league's expansion plans are jeopardized by player-club lawsuits and the fear of unknown -- but looming -- labor management crises," he wrote.

It's likely that the league will have to win the antitrust suit scheduled to start June 15 in Minneapolis, if it's to go ahead with expansion.

Belgrad, meanwhile, wrote to Tagliabue on April 8 suggesting that, if there's a delay in expansion, the league should name the teams this fall and just delay the start of play to 1995. He said that would permit the winning cities to have new stadiums constructed by 1995.

Belgrad also pointed out to Tagliabue that it would put Baltimore at a disadvantage, if the league authorizes all the finalist cities to begin selling sky suites and club seats this fall because it's the only city with three potential owners. That means it doesn't have a single owner to set a price. Belgrad told the commissioner Baltimore wants to "compete on an equal footing." Tagliabue hasn't yet responded to the letter.

Belgrad, though, remains upbeat about the city's chances. He thinks the enthusiastic response to the new baseball stadium puts a crowning touch on Baltimore's football application.

"If it's done on the merits, it'd be hard to find a city that looks better on paper," Belgrad said.

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Washington woes: While Baltimore is hoping to get the go-ahead build a second new stadium, Washington is having trouble getting one built.

Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, has halted talks with D.C. officials about building a privately owned stadium near RFK Stadium just when the city officials thought they had a deal.

Although Cooke has talked about an alternative in Virginia, there's some speculation that he may have decided it's not a good deal in this economy to build a stadium with private funds. He has raised prices $5 a ticket for two straight years -- the majority of the tickets cost $35 -- and may figure the Redskins are so popular that he can keep doing that every year to offset the loss of revenue because RFK doesn't have luxury boxes.

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Shaky precedent: Even though the Indianapolis Colts have the first two picks in today's draft, don't count on them turning around the team. The last team to have the first two picks was the Chicago Cardinals in 1958. They moved twice since then and still haven't won a playoff game. Their first two picks, King Hill and John David Crow, each got a $1,000 signing bonus and a salary of $15,000.

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Expensive scuffle: Michigan State defensive lineman Bill Johnson was the big loser in the draft even before it was held. In a scuffle with former teammate Percy Snow recently, he injured his knee and probably won't play this year. The Miami Dolphins were thinking of making Johnson the seventh pick in the draft. Now he'll probably go late in the draft.

Last year's seventh pick, Charles McRae of Tampa Bay, got a

contract averaging $955,000 a year.

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World League update: The World League, which starts the second half of its 10-game regular season today, featured a lot of exciting games in the first half including three games decided in the final 12 seconds in the second week of the season.

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