Tagliabue entangled in Charlotte's web

KEN ROSENTHAL

September 17, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Commissioner Tagalong wants a parade.

Isn't that what this is all about? Paul Tagliabue wants to ride down the streets of Charlotte as if he's Alexander the Great.

"New city!" he would cry.

"Blessed commissioner!" the masses would respond.

One new city, one old city -- that's what the man said, way back when. The old cities would be too cynical to pay homage to an NFL commissioner. The new cities, of course, wouldn't know any better.

So, that's how Commissioner Tagalong gets his parade. The whole thing might sound rather infantile, but how else do you explain Tagliabue trying to sabotage Baltimore in the NFL

expansion derby?

Oh, the commissioner claims to be neutral. You know, just like the judges for Whitaker-Chavez.

The truth is, Tagliabue -- or one of his flacks -- is the source every time Fred Edelstein, Will McDonough or some other media stooge chants the NFL mantra, "St. Louis and Charlotte, St. Louis and Charlotte."

The NFL Properties war room probably features a map of the Carolinas on one wall and a map of the Midwest on the other. Tagliabue took the map of downtown Charlotte for himself, the better to plan his parade.

No doubt it would be a mob scene -- after all, 9.7 million people live within 150 miles of Charlotte. Heck, the way Charlotte gloats about its population density, you'd think it were Hong Kong.

St. Louis and Charlotte. St. Louis and Charlotte. Did anyone notice that St. Louis lost its top investor and didn't sell all its luxury boxes? Or that even with two new, heavy-hitting investors, Charlotte still lacks public funding for a stadium?

We've said it before, and we'll say it again -- Baltimore gets a

team unless the fix is in. It's clear now that the fix is in, but Baltimore's package is so strong, the NFL owners might cancel Tagliabue's parade.

bTC That's what they usually do, especially when the issue is money. Tagliabue wanted to keep instant replay. He wanted the owners to accept a TV rebate. He wanted to revive the World League for 1994.

Each time, he got shot down.

The best was when a three-man owners' negotiating committee wanted to pay him a $3 million salary. The opposition was so heated, Tagliabue wound up with nearly 50 percent less -- $1.6 million.

Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke was among those who fought the pay increase. It's hilarious, listening to the experts who think Cooke is opposed to the Baltimore expansion effort. Mostly, he just hates Tagliabue.

The two have exchanged a series of nasty letters since Tagliabue penalized the Redskins for their conduct in the Wilber Marshall trade. The Redskins originally were to receive first- and fifth-round picks from Houston. Instead, they'll get only a third-rounder and fifth-rounder.

The decision made no sense, but Houston owner Bud Adams served on the committee that wanted to pay Tagliabue $3 million.

Oh, now we get it.

So, will Cooke support Baltimore just to spite Tagliabue? That's stretching it. Cooke couldn't care less about Baltimore. To him, the city is inconsequential, and the possibility of an expansion team 45 miles to the north irrelevant.

Tagliabue also sees the city as inconsequential, but for other reasons. He's the classic Baltimore devil -- an arrogant Washington lawyer. He probably figured that Baltimore would never sell all its club seats and luxury boxes. Nobody lives there, right?

Of course, the ticket drive was devised for Charlotte's benefit. It also helps Charlotte that the owners won't visit the competing cities. That would make sense, don't you think? Of course, but as Lawyer Tagliabue says, it's not part of the process.

So, no Inner Harbor for the NFL boys -- and no downtown Charlotte, either. Too bad: It would have been great fun hearing the Charlotte mayor say, "Well, not much here, Mr. DeBartolo, but there are 9.7 million people within 150 miles!"

Seriously, it's Squirm City for Commissioner Tagalong. What if St. Louis can't maintain its stability? What if Charlotte runs into new financial problems? What if (gulp, swallow, choke) Baltimore becomes the most viable option?

There'd be only thing to do:

Have a parade!

We'll start at the Owings Mills training facility -- a familiar point of departure for the NFL. We'll stop at Memorial Stadium for one last performance by the Colts' Band. Then we'd march downtown to William Donald Schaefer Stadium.

Hope Commissioner Tagalong approves.

% Squirm, baby, squirm.

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