Schaefer: stealth governor NFL appearance a secret weapon

September 22, 1993|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Like any secret weapon, his deployment was a surprise.

Outside of a handful of aides and organizers, few people knew Gov. William Donald Schaefer would be appearing at Baltimore's presentation yesterday to NFL team owners considering league expansion.

His official schedule showed him hundreds of miles away, in Virginia, attending a meeting of the Southern Governors' Association.

Inquiries about his participation were met with a disinformation campaign. Herbert J. Belgrad, coordinator of the city's NFL bid, denied that Mr. Schaefer would attend, even as the governor's staffers were confirming it Monday night.

On the official list of participants prepared by the league, Mr. Schaefer's name was followed by a boldfaced warning: "Not to )) be released."

But aides to the governor say the trip was planned well in advance, along with the secrecy designed to prevent other delegations from bringing along their state chief executives.

The manager of the O'Hare Hilton, where the meetings are being held, said he was notified last week, and NFL officials say they knew and had been asked not to talk about it.

In fact, Mr. Schaefer was at the Southern Governors' Association summit yesterday, but had a car on hand to whisk him to the airport and a scheduled commercial flight in time to make the presentation.

The ploy apparently worked: None of the other cities brought anyone of similar rank. Delegations from St. Louis and Jacksonville, Fla., included their mayors. Charlotte, N.C., and Memphis, Tenn., are scheduled to address the group today, and the highest-ranking public official on their lists is the head of the Memphis Sports Authority.

That Mr. Schaefer would be included should come as no surprise, however. He is the personification of Baltimore's urban renaissance and of its painful loss of an NFL team and emotional drive to regain one.

Mr. Schaefer was the mayor of Baltimore when the Colts left in 1984, and he oversaw the construction of the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards as well as the bitter legislative battle for approval of football stadium funding.

"We did not ask the governor to come here because he's the governor. He is participating because, when you think of the new Baltimore, you think of William Donald Schaefer," Mr. Belgrad said.

Mr. Schaefer appeared at the end of the presentation and acted as the "closer," participants said. His appeal was an emotional one, stressing all the city has done to bring a team back and what it would do financially for the NFL.

"The last thing I said to them was, 'I was there when they [the NFL] left, and I want to be there when they come back,' " Schaefer said.

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