Now, Baltimore must play in political arena


August 22, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

The Selling Game is almost over for Baltimore in its bid to gain an NFL expansion franchise.

That means it's nearly time for the city to start playing the Political Game.

Since Baltimore had fewer than 550 club seats left as of noon Friday, it now seems almost certain the city will achieve a sellout this week.

By virtually any standard, that means the city will have the best financial package to offer the NFL.

St. Louis doesn't have as many club seats, and Charlotte, N.C., ** doesn't have public funding for a stadium.

The fourth city, Memphis, Tenn., doesn't have a new stadium in its plan, and even though Jacksonville, Fla., which dropped out in July, might enter again, it may be too late.

All this doesn't mean Baltimore will automatically get a franchise. Having the best bid should do it, but there are no guarantees.

The city also has to line up votes because of all the league politics involved in the selection process. Baltimore has to deal with the fact that James Busch Orthwein, the leader of the St. Louis bid, already owns the New England Patriots. Then there's the fact that league officials, including commissioner Paul Tagliabue, want to go to a new city.

This is why the presentations in September and October will be so important.

Baltimore has to make sure the owners (only the expansion and finance committee members will hear the September presentations) understand how lucrative its offer is.

It became obvious last week that Baltimore must overcome the league's preference for Charlotte when ESPN rumormeister Fred Edelstein predicted once again that the North Carolina city will get a team and Joe Gibbs will coach it.

It's easy to scoff at Edelstein because he has a poor track record on predictions -- he said in 1988 that the Cardinals were coming to Baltimore -- but his views reflect the party line coming out of the league office.

In trying to sell the league line, Edelstein overlooks the fact that the league office doesn't have a vote. The owners are likely to be receptive to taking the best deals if Baltimore outlines them well.

Baltimore's final presentation also should have an edge that no other city will have -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who relates well to businessmen.

OC Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority,

won't confirm that the governor will lead the group when it makes its October presentation. He doesn't want to tip his hand. But it might be a good idea to have the governor on hand for the September presentation, too.

It never hurts to pull out all the stops in the stretch drive.

Bound for Hartford

The state of Massachusetts is running into roadblocks in its attempt to put together a stadium proposal to keep the Patriots.

It turns out that legislators in the western part of the state would prefer that the team move to Hartford, Conn. It would be more convenient for the taxpayers there to go to the games, and they wouldn't have to pay for a new stadium. Springfield, Mass., is 26 miles from Hartford and 65 miles from the current stadium in Foxboro.

"I'm for them going to Hartford," said state Sen. Linda Melconian of Springfield.

The question now seems to be not whether the Patriots will move, but when and where.

Advantage, Redskins

When the NFL made its schedule, the Redskins figured to face the challenge of stopping two top running backs -- Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys and rookie Garrison Hearst of the Phoenix Cardinals -- in the first two games.

Thanks to agents Richard Howell and Pat Dye Jr., who represent both players, there's a chance neither player will be signed in time to play the Redskins.

Howell and Dye have a reputation for being tough in negotiations. Hearst, for example, is the only unsigned player drafted on the first round.

In the Smith talks, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is being as obstinate as the agents. He won't concede that Smith should make as much as

Thurman Thomas of the Buffalo Bills ($3.375 million).

Even coach Jimmy Johnson is starting to be concerned. At the start of camp, he said the Cowboys would go to Washington and beat the Redskins in the Monday night opener with the players they have.

Now with the season just two weeks away, he's getting worried about the effects of Smith's holdout.

"As coaches, we constantly stress that the players have to deal with it, block it out, move on . . . but when you're talking about

one of the top players in the league, and a leader on our team, you just don't suddenly block that out," Johnson said.

Smith, meanwhile, said last week: "I'm not looking to be the highest-paid player in the NFL. But the highest-paid running back? Yes. The highest-paid non-quarterback? Yes."

Jones is offering about half of the $4.25 million that Reggie White -- the highest paid non-quarterback -- makes.

Goodbye, Joe?

The Phoenix Cardinals' Joe Bugel is the leading contender to be the first coach fired this year.

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