Tagliabue has chance to do right thing for Baltimore

John Steadman

October 18, 1993|By John Steadman

An open letter to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue:

Dear Commissioner,

Your raising, as a boy from a close, devoted family growing up in Jersey City, taught you an awareness of respect for your fellow man. Now you are in position to help exercise some of those innate human values and correct a terrible civic wrong. At the same time, you would alleviate a sordid chapter in the history of the National Football League and ease the pain that brings embarrassment at the mere mention of the proud name Baltimore Colts.

After the team abruptly left in the middle of the night in March 1984 and legal action was instituted in behalf of Baltimore, you handled the case for the NFL as a member of the Washington law firm of Covington & Burling. You knew, much to the chagrin of the league, every aspect of the deplorable departure of a franchise that had been here for 35 years.

The league, in its 74 seasons, never had a team in one city for so long, only to see it uprooted without approval and taken away. It could have become a prolonged piece of litigation within the courts, costing the NFL and Baltimore endless hours of preparation and expense. You lived at the time in Potomac, Md., and, like one of your assistants, Roger Goodell, were fully aware of this remarkable love affair that existed between a city and a football team.

Baltimore withdrew its effort to regain its physical property, the team, when it was told confidentially that using such a recourse would likely put the NFL in a legal bind it didn't need. Win or lose, Baltimore would be painted as an adversary. So the way to handle it was for Baltimore to withdraw the suits and, when the appropriate time arrived, to pursue the NFL in a fresh start.

No special deal was cut, but a subtle kind of understanding or an impression was transmitted. Now Baltimore has responded remarkably in its quest to receive consideration for an expansion franchise. Hopefully, you, once the league's counsel but now its commissioner, will do all you can to restore Baltimore to NFL membership. You are aware of the background like no one else inside the NFL.

We watched you closely during the legal scrimmage with the U.S. Football League, both in and out of the courtroom. Your game plan was superb. Little wonder your predecessor, Pete Rozelle, was elated you were selected to succeed him.

Baltimore hasn't been pleading over what the NFL might owe for its past support nor its part in contributing to the ongoing tradition of the league. That gets tired in a hurry. All Baltimore has tried to do, while honestly feeling sorry it was ever put in this position, is to follow the prescribed expansion formula and fulfill it with near-perfect grades.

Every requirement has been met and, in most ways, in a manner that should please the NFL. You expressed the idea if Baltimore had one, two or three owners' groups vying for the franchise it would be a plus -- not a minus. It reflected the depth of interest there was in this city for a franchise.

Your voice has been the strongest for expansion. The league was entrapped in legal scuffles with the players' association and your leadership cleared the issue, which took you to your next ZTC priority, expansion. It's where we are now. Without you, it may not even be on the table.

Baltimore is down to two potential ownerships. Regardless of what your reaction and that of the 28 owners is regarding their desire to have a franchise, we only hope you and the owners decide to re-admit Baltimore. If the league needs more time to study resumes and conduct interviews, then by all means avail yourselves of that option.

What Baltimore wants to be told is it has a franchise, regardless of the identity of the owner or owners, be it Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, Malcolm Glazer or some other group. Baltimore deserves the best in ownership. Before any of that happens, we need the team.

Baltimore, hopefully, won't be denied. This is a city that has a band that has been parading non-stop and fan clubs, the Colt Corrals, which still meet on a monthly basis. This kind of inherent enthusiasm for your game could never be bought or orchestrated. Then it would be a mere charade.

As for a name -- and Bombers would be abominable, as bad as the earlier proposed Rhinos and Ravens -- we know two Baltimore men eager to study the possibilities and make a clearly-defined recommendation to you and the league. They want to do what is best for the city and the league without drawing attention to themselves.

Commissioner, just give Baltimore the ball. Right a wrong.

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