Schaefer has eyes only for end zone

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 16, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

He's Don Quixote flailing at the NFL windmill, and heaven help those who stand in his way. Gov. Schaefer is obsessed with landing an expansion franchise -- so much so that he's now eating his young.

Bye-bye Boogie, hello Alfred, snap to it Herb Belgrad -- or is that Sancho Panza? As always with Schaefer, it's personal. Ask anyone on the Eastern Shore -- hell hath no fury like the governor scorned.

Nine years later, Schaefer still considers the loss of the Colts his biggest failure as mayor of Baltimore. And now, in the twilight of his political career, he's desperate to settle the score.

We saw him near tears the night NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue delayed the awarding of the second expansion franchise. And we saw him adopt his familiar man-in-charge pose as Baltimore began this last-gasp, two-minute drill.

In a sense, Schaefer can't lose with his endorsement of Cleveland businessman Alfred Lerner as the city's new NFL owner. If Baltimore gets a team, the Guv is the biggest hero since Johnny Unitas. If not, well, the fix was in, right?

It's perfect politics -- except this is beyond politics. John Paterakis, head of H&S Bakery, is one of Schaefer's biggest campaign contributors. Yet, Schaefer rejected him and the rest of Boogie Weinglass' local all-stars to back an out-of-towner.

The governor knows how petty Paterakis would look if he carried out his threat to stop supporting Baltimore charities. He also knows that Lerner represents the city's best hope of landing a franchise.

The decision was pure bottom-line, just like everything else in this shameful process. Still, no matter how much Weinglass screams, Schaefer will keep flailing at the windmill, keep trying to get Baltimore a team.

That the whole thing is still a long shot makes Schaefer's support of Lerner all the more remarkable. He's angering friends, angering local heroes, angering Baltimoreans who were rooting for one of their own. How many politicians would do the same?

Schaefer didn't want it to turn out this way -- no one did. The shift to Lerner is an admission that the Maryland Stadium Authority pursued the wrong strategy. No one will say so publicly; no one need take the fall. Schaefer is out front now, waving his lance.

Surely, he agonized over dumping Weinglass, not to mention Malcolm Glazer. Last week, he sighed and put his hands to his face when asked about Weinglass. The governor, of course, knows all about rejection. He experiences it even when he receives 60 percent of the vote.

But, as Schaefer kept saying yesterday, "We didn't win, we didn't win." He added, "Mr. Weinglass and Mr. Glazer, they fought hard, but we didn't get the franchise. . . . We can't stand pat."

Why, Schaefer would sooner resign. Standing pat didn't get the Inner Harbor built. Standing pat didn't get Camden Yards built. Standing pat won't get Baltimore a football team, but changing owners might.

Actually, Schaefer made two changes -- himself for Belgrad, Lerner for Weinglass and Glazer.

None of the other competing cities features its governor as quarterback. Then again, none of the other cities has a state agency, rather than an ownership group, leading its expansion effort.

Such is the strength of Schaefer's personality, he was viewed as an asset from the start.

And when everything fell apart in Chicago, he made his power move, in effect telling Belgrad the same thing he's telling Weinglass and Glazer: You fought hard, but you didn't win.

Schaefer took over as point man for Belgrad even before directing his attention to the owners. Belgrad played by the rules. It wasn't his fault the game was rigged. But he probably should have backed one owner, like Schaefer is doing with Lerner.

No, it's not pleasant. But, as Schaefer asked Friday, "What is the objective of all this? What are we trying to do? Not to glorify everyone. Not to make heroes out of anybody. It is one thing: to bring a franchise to Baltimore. That's the only thing we want to do."

So, Belgrad can't be a hero. Boogie can't be a hero. Glazer can't be a hero. The only possible hero left is Schaefer, and much as he loves adulation, that's not his motivation here. This is personal. This is emotional. This is a grudge.

As mayor, Schaefer was so obsessed with detail, he wanted to fix every pothole -- and the departure of the Colts left the biggest pothole of all. Now, someone must suffer.

Don Schaefer is charging like Don Quixote, trampling on soul mates, ignoring the consequences, challenging the odds.

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