Baltimore marches right down field in NFL presentation

John Steadman

September 22, 1993|By John Steadman

This is comparable to the two-minute offense. Baltimore is on the move and closing in on touchdown territory. The National Football League hasn't yet given Baltimore the ball, as its rallying call proposes, but -- put it this way -- the city has appreciably advanced its hopes for gaining an expansion franchise.

The succession of first downs it recorded yesterday at the meeting in Chicago means Baltimore has improved its situation immeasurably. It's "goal to go," to keep the language analogous to football.

Included in the list of NFL owners listening to the presentation were such Baltimore advocates as Lamar Hunt of Kansas City, Rankin Smith of Atlanta and Art Modell of Cleveland. They are aware of what the Baltimore Colts meant to the NFL for more than three decades.

The final decision will be made on Oct. 26 when the expansion committee makes it recommendation to all the owners at another session in Chicago. What transpired yesterday was entirely positive. Baltimore, to put it succinctly, got their attention.

After the group heard from the Baltimore representatives, headed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Matt DeVito and Herb Belgrad, San Diego Chargers owner Alex Spanos wanted to know if it was "appropriate" to applaud. Spanos and Ted Hoffman, 40 percent owner of the Seattle Seahawks, were particularly impressed.

The fact Baltimore will provide each visiting team $1 million as its share of gate receipts was enough to makes Spanos inquire if his Chargers could "play home and home."

The opening video, narrated by Jim McKay, scored points for Baltimore. The cities of Jacksonville and St. Louis, which also made proposals, to be followed by Charlotte and Memphis today, sent their mayors.

Schaefer out-ranked them in the political pecking order and this, too, impressed the NFL owners. He was in office as mayor of Baltimore when the Colts left for Indianapolis and now, as governor, would like to be presiding for the re-franchising of an NFL club in a city that had a pro football team for 35 years.

Baltimore's two prospective ownership groups, one headed by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Mike Sullivan, and the other, the Malcolm Glazer family, offered a contrast in styles and financial resources.

The Glazers stressed to the owners, along with commissioner Paul Tagliabue, that The Baltimore Sun had endorsed their effort with an editorial when they first made it known they wanted to own a franchise.

Charlotte, meanwhile, prepared its pitch in the presentation process. Charlotte, which is Baltimore's strongest competition, presuming St. Louis is a near-certainty, gained sizable resurgence by adding three giant names to its ownership roster from diversified areas of American business, namely Don Keough, retired president of the Coca-Cola Co., and chairman emeritus of Notre Dame's board of trustees; Leon Levine, owner of the Family Dollar Store chain; and Bill Simms, president of the re-insurance division of Trans-America.

They join ex-Colt Jerry Richardson, who has called the signals for Charlotte in its expansion bid. Charlotte, if it obtains a team, will play its first year -- until a stadium is built -- in Clemson's Memorial Stadium, with a capacity of 81,474, one of the largest college facilities in the country.

This would enable Charlotte, even though it means opening away from home, to put itself in position to set the NFL single-season attendance mark currently held by the Buffalo Bills.

Furthermore, as another boasting point, and that's all it is, such an arrangement will provide visiting teams a record take-home pay -- but only for one year. Once a Charlotte stadium is built, accommodating 72,300, the gate receipt checks will be below Baltimore's projections.

To this point, it still remains a selling job. Charlotte, unless it creates something that hasn't been revealed, can't match the overall Baltimore bid financially, which is what Belgrad has been advocating.

Now, though, it's more than posturing or public relations maneuvering, as when Baltimore served crab cakes in the hospitality room at league meetings and other cities offered inducements of their own. The money is on the table, which is what professional football is all about. Dollar signs have a way of getting attention.

Baltimore has complemented its already established credentials with a bottom-line proposition that can't be denied.

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