Baltimore football fans have fronted cash before

March 09, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

Selling football tickets for a team that doesn't yet exist is nothing new for Baltimore.

Baltimore was required to sell 15,000 season tickets before the Dallas Texans were allowed to move here in 1953. The tickets were sold in four weeks -- two weeks less than the maximum established by the NFL commissioner -- and the team moved here and changed its name to the Colts.

And city leaders, incensed with the 1984 departure of the Colts to Indianapolis, announced a season-ticket drive that year to try to convince the NFL that there were football fans here, even though many of them had soured on the Colts. They handed out bumper stickers reading, "Don't get mad, get football."

The drive was conducted by a group called Baltimore Football Associates Inc., headed by the late Robert Merrick, a local businessman. The idea was to raise money in an escrow fund, with the interest used to fund efforts to procure a team.

It raised $700,000, but fell short of its goal. Prices were dropped from $120 to $40 in an effort to shore up sagging sales, but the group was disbanded in 1986. Some contributors converted their deposits to U.S. Football League Baltimore Stars tickets, and others took their money back.

But that doesn't mean the city will not respond to a drive this year for an NFL team, said Walt Gutowski of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

"It was a much different environment. People were still kind of dazed by the whole experience of the Colts' departure," said Gutowski, who was public relations director of the team when it left.

The city's NFL efforts were splintered, with many people concentrating on legal challenges aimed at forcing the Colts back. And expansion was far less certain then, he said.

"The NFL was just mentioning expansion here and there. There were no resolutions or definite talks," he said.

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