Perfect payback: Certain Fun League

December 03, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

Today we begin with incontrovertible proof that the expansion abomination has worn a few holes in my precious gray matter: This Canadian football thing kind of sounds like a good idea.

This is somewhat troubling because, right away, I can come up with all sorts of reasons why it's a bad idea.

Competing against the Orioles in the summer and early fall in a baseball-mad city with a long-standing refusal to support anything other than big-league franchises -- you might as well go ahead and find room for another burial plot alongside the Skipjacks, Clippers, Claws, Stars and our other points of light that went dark.

It's hard to imagine the city of Unitas and Parker and Marchetti working itself into a froth over whipping Saskatchewan. Or transferring its wondrous passion to the issue of whether Winnipeg can repeat.

Hey, even Canadians don't get very excited about Canadian football. Most of them would rather watch Teemu Selanne do his thing (I'm not going to tell you who he is) or listen to the Guess Who's Greatest Hits. Or, best of all, watch the Blue Jays beat the Orioles again in the ninth.

There are more empty seats than fans at your average Canadian Football League game. A CFL team wouldn't begin to quench our NFL thirst, if there's any left. It would be the definition of a consolation prize, the expansion version of Miss Congeniality.

I'm not sure, but I think there is something called a scrum in CFL ball. No, wait, it's a rouge, I think. Whatever. The point is this: As much as we would want to, we just couldn't remake a CFL team into the major-league entity we sought until Paul Tagliabue turned expansion into "Ernest Goes to the NFL."

So, why jump in? Believe it or not, there are all sorts of reasons.

Let's start with the CFL product, which is only about twice as interesting as the NFL's. CFL quarterbacks actually throw the ball more than 5 yards downfield. The games are opened as wide as an NFL owner's wallet by three-down series, 12 men on a side, a longer, wider field and -- get this -- head coaches who actually go home at night and see their kids.

All the weird rules benefit the offense. OK, so it's not the Cowboys and Redskins. Big deal. NFL games have become grim corporate exercises. CFL games are lively, improvisational ballgames. I have seen several on TV while chasing the Orioles in Canada, and they're always fun. The final score is usually 38-36. Every player goes in motion before every play. It's like the AFL is back for a few minutes.

And another plus, as opposed to the NFL, are real people in uniform. CFL players don't make much money. They actually work jobs in the off-season. For some reason, as we emerge from this odious expansion shell game, that's appealing. Give me some earnestness for a change.

But the best reason for us to go CFL is that it's the best way to get back at the NFL. Forget boycotts and all that other stuff. CFL commissioner Larry Smith envisions a 10-team American division, a truly legitimate alternative to the NFL. It's not laughable anymore, with the NFL's image in such decline. Let's hit them where it really hurts: the market share.

And, of course, there's always this upside: Maybe we could be the warm-weather site for the Grey Cup.

As things stand now, a man named James Speros is fronting our bid. We don't know that much about him, but you can be sure that he'll treat us better than Al "I've got a plane to catch" Lerner. (Al, we hardly knew ye. Thanks so much.)

Speros' pitch is pretty attractive. He says he's going to use his money to get Memorial Stadium in shape for football. He says he's going to try to bring some good college games here. He says he's going to listen to what people want, and try to field an entertaining team.

What's wrong with that? He's young (34) and aggressive and thinking, so why not give him a fair shot and see what happens? The thing might even take off if we give it a chance, if we rally around our anger and have some fun.

It would be a good idea to put Tagliabue's picture on every piece of club material, every ad, letter and marketing plan. Brother, that would sell tickets. And it also would be wise to wait for the Orioles' schedule to come out before planning home games. That could make or break it.

I have to admit: Until a few days ago, I thought the idea was crazy. I still have serious doubts about whether it would fly. But an opportunity does exist for a team to come in here and lay down tender roots. People are fed up with the NFL and searching for an outlet for their anger. Personally, I can think of none better than a joined chorus of "Beat Edmonton!" It sure beats waiting around for Georgia Frontiere.

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