Baltimore gets the stall Delay infuriates fans and doesn't help civic pride

October 27, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

All day, the football freaks and the civic boosters had agonized, waiting for news from Chicago. A cold drizzle fell, just like the stinging rain on that morning in 1984 when the Colts left.

But in the end, the National Football League owners couldn't decide which city would win its second expansion team. And the non-announcement -- after 10 years of empty autumn Sundays, of desperate pleas to the NFL, of feeding crab cakes to team owners -- left Baltimoreans angry and frustrated.

"They couldn't decide like men and get it over with," said Myles Gipe Sr., a Colt fan and Mayflower truck driver who drove one of the vans that took the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984.

"If it weren't important to the city, you'd like to tell them [the NFL] to go shove it," said Baltimore state Sen. Julian L. Lapides.

Baltimore, never fully recovered from the loss of the Colts, wanted a team for the major-league benefits a franchise brings. But it also wanted a team to shore up its civic self-esteem.

"Baltimore is sort of lost in the shuffle of the East Coast," said Frank DeFord, the writer, National Public Radio commentator and Baltimore native.

"It naturally worries more about its image than New York and Washington. Baltimore is so much more regularly slighted. On top of that is the great sense of injustice Baltimore has. It simply wasn't fair what happened with the Colts."

Mr. DeFord and others see the league's delay as favoring St. Louis, giving that city time to solidify its financial package. As late as Monday, the St. Louis group was frantically changing investors while Baltimore's package has been solid for months.

The stall left 2nd District City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge outraged. The owners are like "19th century robber barons," he said. Maybe, he said, it's time for federal regulation.

"It's disgusting that these people couldn't make up their mind tonight," the councilman said. "It's obvious to me that they're buying time for the St. Louis group. And if that's the case, they've been using the other cities just to bargain for the best deal they could have.

"It just speaks volumes about the lack of honor."

Senator Lapides agreed.

"Just to have cities dangled in wait, there's something so wrong," he said. "I certainly hope we get the team, but just to go through this process by a bunch of greedy owners, it's just so demoralizing to have to go through this."

"I think it stinks," said Leonard "Big Wheel" Burrier, the unofficial cheerleader who for years spelled out C-O-L-T-S in body language from the Memorial Stadium stands.

Former Colts react

Former Colts players, who had been hoping Baltimore would emerge a winner yesterday, shared the disappointment.

Ex-lineman Jim Parker said the tension while awaiting the NFL decision yesterday was so great that "when it came on the TV, I had to turn it off. I felt my heart churning.

"I just feel we have done everything they have asked of us. There's not much more we can do." Former quarterback and wide receiver Sam Havrilak, "If you want to look at the half-glass full instead of half empty, maybe Baltimore's presentation today was so good that it might have made the owners take a second look.

"I thought we had our act together," he said. "I thought we should be awarded the franchise. I'm sure there's going to be a big outcry about this from the fans and the [former] players."

Don McCauley, former Colts running back, said the city had shown great support for the effort to win a team.

"I thought the NFL would take notice," he said. "It would be a shame if this dream didn't come true."

Even some Marylanders who care nothing for sports wanted a team. Cities, they said, need as many attractions as they can get.

David Bakkegard, first horn with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, understood.

"All of this stuff is a little piece of who we are as a city," he said. "There's the football team and there's the symphony. There's the Orioles and there's the Walters Art Gallery.

"The combination of it all is what makes us attractive," said Mr. Bakkegard, a fan but no fanatic. "Everything you have in the city, every significant institution, adds to our own sense of identity and our reputation."

Franchise benefits

For some Baltimoreans, football isn't important for the prestige it brings, but for the benefits it might generate -- if those benefits are used wisely.

"It's important because we have a culture that concerns itself with money," said the Rev. Marion C. Bascom, pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church. "In terms of money, it's good for the city," he said. And then, despite all yesterday's hype, there were citizens who didn't seem to care.

Take, for instance, John Waters, filmmaker and Baltimore native:

"I know nothing about football. I don't even know who's playing."

No, no, he was told. This wasn't about a game. This was about Baltimore getting a team.

"I never even knew we didn't have a football team," Mr. Waters said.

"I'm glad people in Baltimore are excited," he added. But, "I am no sports fan. I have no idea about sports. I am a sports bigot."

He said he was "dragged to those horrid football games as a kid." He knows what the Colts meant to the town.

But the possibility loomed that Baltimore would be rejected yet again, that another city would be smiled upon by the owners while Baltimore was cast into darkness.

"Yeah, well," Mr. Waters said. "We all have problems."

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