Unconscionable NFL merely sticks knife deeper in Baltimore

December 01, 1993|By John Steadman

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Now, for the second time, the National Football League has broken the heart of Baltimore. Not once but twice. There's no end to the pain.

What could be termed a death notice for Baltimore's expansion chances was served when the owners gathered in a hotel in this Chicago suburb on "Torturous Tuesday" and committed their own version of the infamous Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929 -- only this time three cities were shot down in the cold blood of ignorance.

Additionally and with more hurt, the preponderance of owners in the NFL have personally reaffirmed the dastardly deed of Bob Irsay in 1984 when he plundered Baltimore of the Colts and carted them off to Indianapolis. Rejection of the city's bid to gain an expansion franchise offers tacit approval, at least within their rationalization, that Irsay's move didn't bother their conscience -- if they have one.

For fairness and reasons of accuracy in this trauma of emotion, let it be said that not all NFL owners can be painted with the same brush. It needs to be pointed out that the three most loyal to the cause of Baltimore were Norman Braman of the Philadelphia Eagles, who made a rousing speech, Bob Tisch of the New York Giants and Mike McCaskey of the Chicago Bears.

All three were members of the Expansion Committee and pitched for Baltimore. The Bears, reading the tenor of the room, later joined the majority, but McCaskey and Tisch at least tried.

Finally, as the full vote was taken of the 28 owners, only Braman held, while the Giants and Bears accepted the committee's recommendation for Jacksonville. Going with the suggestion of the committee is getting to be a new way of life in the NFL.

Owners obviously feel if they designate a segment of the members to concentrate on an issue they should accept what they offer as a solution. That's precisely what happened to Baltimore and St. Louis when the NFL decided it would take another warm-weather site, Jacksonville, and the two larger cities that had NFL clubs taken away were invited to come back and try again in the future.

What this reporter has been hearing, unconfirmed, is that Jack Kent Cooke, owner of the Washington Redskins, might like to have a new stadium near Laurel, rather than in the District of Columbia, in an attempt to represent both cities. This is what the Orioles do in baseball.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who annoyed Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the Maryland Stadium Authority with what they felt was a total lack of courtesy in the way they were informed of the decision, makes no promises for Baltimore being taken care of in the next expansion.

Earlier, in 1976, the league told Memphis it would get first preference when it expanded again after taking in Tampa Bay and Seattle. So much for promises and Memphis, again in 1993, is drubbed again. How much more can it take?

A startling turn of events transpired when Al Lerner, who was vying for Baltimore's team, and Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns, left the meeting at midday to keep a previous engagement in New York. The Browns' vote, cast by Modell's son, David, went to Jacksonville.

Just another twist in the bizarre Baltimore expansion story. No city should be made to endure such disregard for its pride and the 35 years of contributions it has made to pro football.

Alex Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers, said Lerner was a help to Baltimore, even though his effort failed. "It's a shame they didn't have Lerner earlier. Really a shame. Baltimore impressed us, fantastic, fantastic."

Another boost came from Ken Hofmann, part-owner of the Seattle Seahawks. "There was a lot of support for Baltimore," he commented. "If this owner [Lerner] had been in before you would have made it. I also think Tom Clancy, who withdrew to buy part of the baseball club, would have made it."

The strongest ally of Baltimore was Braman. Another owner, who asked not to be identified, reported Braman's speech was powerful and virtually said the "city was raped when the Colts were taken away."

Baltimore met every commitment the league asked. If its location, between Washington and Philadelphia, was a natural disadvantage then it should have been eliminated when Sacramento, Oakland, San Antonio and others failed to make the cut list.

The NFL, in discounting Baltimore, fails, oh, so painfully, in knowing its own heritage and what passion for the game truly means.

This is a regrettable infliction of harm on a city that deserved much more than to be subjected to such a wanton act of cruelty.

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