Baltimore gets the stall Furious fans feel slighted by owners

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

After 10 years of empty autumn Sundays, of desperate pleas to the NFL, of feeding crab cakes to team owners, there was no rest for Baltimore last night. The city's struggle to replace the Colts, the National Football League decreed, will go on another month.

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

But in Chicago, the National Football League owners could not decide on a second city for an expansion franchise. Charlotte won the first. The second remains a prize that four cities are still fighting for.

In Chicago, an exhausted Gov. William Donald Schaefer was reportedly seen leaning up against a hotel wall, a tear in his eye. For 10 years, he'd worked to undo that damage of the Colts' move. Last night, he learned he hadn't succeeded yet.

Back home, where fans had waited through a tense day, the commissioner's announcement left frustration and anger.

"They couldn't decide like men and get it over with," said Myles Gipe Sr., who was a Colts fan when ordered that miserable night in 1984 to drive one of the Mayflower vans taking the team to Indianapolis.

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 boost in 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.

"I think probably there's also a smidgen of guilt. Baltimore has always let outsiders decide it's fate. All the Baltimore teams were always owned by people from other cities. Somehow that sense is involved in that psychic scar."

Mr. DeFord and others read the league's delay as favoring St. Louis, giving that city time to solidify its financial package. As late as Monday, the St. Louis investment group was making last-minute changes.

Second District City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge was furious. Maybe the owners have gone too far, he said. Maybe it's time for federal regulation.

"I think it's disgusting that these people couldn't make up their mind tonight," he 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" among the NFL owners.

The NFL, Mr. Ambridge said, "is a monopoly equivalent to the railroad robber barons of the late 19th century, just using cities. . . . It's unconscionable."

"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.

The anxiety of some Baltimoreans was easy to understand: They were the fans. They wanted a football team of their own, something to replace the long-mourned Colts.

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

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