Let the money sit and gain interest

December 05, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Who cares if Baltimore gets stuck with the Los Angeles Rams, a low-budget, sorry excuse of a football team? The sole motivation for stealing a franchise should be to humiliate Paul Tagliabue.

So, if you're a club-seat or luxury-box customer, listen to the Baltimore expansion committee, and keep your deposit in an interest-bearing escrow account until March 31. The money is critical -- to get Tagliabue, to get a team.

The Sun King doesn't want a team to move to Baltimore. He said he isn't losing sleep over the prospect of franchise shifts. He said, "We'll continue to enforce the policies that we have."

Is this guy serious?

The NFL couldn't stop Robert Irsay from leaving Baltimore, Al Davis from leaving Oakland and Bill Bidwill from leaving St. Louis.

Oops, sorry, Bidwill met the criteria -- he moved to Phoenix, a city where Tagliabue could talk growth and catch some rays.

Say this for Tagliabue -- he's making Baltimore forget Cito Gaston. Heck, Cito could practically run for mayor now. He committed a petty crime against one man; Tagliabue and Co. conspired against an entire city.

Oh, the commissioner couldn't wait to tell the NFL owners that Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke was negotiating to build a 78,600-seat stadium in Laurel, a John Elway throw away from Baltimore.

It's a typical Cooke ploy to squeeze a better deal out of D.C. or Northern Virginia, but Tagliabue used it as one last dagger against Baltimore, even though he had already put the fix in for Jacksonville.

Now the question boils down to "the criteria" for moving, whatever that means. What's the NFL going to do, sue? Beating the league in court is easier than beating the Cincinnati Bengals.

Not long ago, the NFL sued to block the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles. It would be downright hilarious, seeing the league adopt the same strategy if the Rams tried to leave L.A.

And yet, Tagliabue the Lawyer is smug as ever -- even after the recent antitrust suit won by former New England Patriots owner Billy Sullivan, who had been forced by the league to sell the team.

Think Patriots owner James Orthwein appreciated Tagliabue's performance at Tuesday's news conference? Orthwein wants to sell the Patriots. By threatening to block franchise shifts, Tagliabue might have scared off prospective buyers.

Let's see the NFL argue that it can't afford to lose Boston, the nation's sixth-largest TV market, when it just awarded franchises to Charlotte and Jacksonville, the 29th- and 54th-largest.

The outcome of the Sullivan suit essentially means the league can't tell an owner how to run his business. If a team wants to move, it'll move. But it'll need reasons -- and $8.5 million is a start.

That was the amount raised in the expansion committee's sale of club seats and luxury boxes. The money was supposed to go to an expansion franchise. Now, it's available for an existing team.

That is, if no one asks for refunds.

We know it's the holiday season, and we hate to tell anyone how to spend his or her money, unless it's the owner of the Orioles. But if you're wealthy enough to afford a luxury box or club seats, you probably aren't strapped for cash.

If you are, too bad.

One less gift for the spouse.

One less Barney doll for the kids.

Suck it up.

The $8.5 million would provide one more enticement to an existing team, on top of a new, publicly financed stadium and a sweetheart lease. It also would provide further proof of the city's commitment to the NFL.

That commitment meant nothing to Tagliabue, but he's no longer in the game. It's sort of like when Eli Jacobs went into bankruptcy. Jacobs wanted to sell the Orioles to the buyer of his choice. But he lost that power when the sale went to a bankruptcy-court auction.

Tagliabue could sway the NFL owners, because as a group, they didn't care who paid their $140 million expansion fees, just so long as they got them. An existing franchise, however, would be acting solely out of self-interest.

So, Tagliabue can talk tough all he wants. He can boast about not losing sleep. He can even try to enforce his league's ridiculous policies. But let him try to stop a move. Let him try to stop us.

It's like Governor Schaefer said: "We're not going to let Tagliabue get off by making a monkey out of us completely."

Attention, rich folk:

Leave that money in the bank.

We've still got a chance.

We still need to settle a score.

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