In museum of gall, Tagliabue's expansion remark is masterpiece

PRO FOOTBALL

December 05, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

It was appropriate that the day after Baltimore was knocked out of the NFL expansion race, the Friends of the Performing Arts announced they'll be raising funds to build a $60 million performing arts center in the Mount Royal cultural district.

If they're looking for contributions, they should start in Bethesda, where they could speak to that well-known Maryland patron of the arts, Paul Tagliabue.

It was Tagliabue who suggested Tuesday that cities could spend their money on museums instead of football stadiums.

That often has been said by critics of sports, but it's probably the first time it has been said by a football commissioner. But Tagliabue is the Jimmy Johnson of commissioners. He likes to run up the score.

It wasn't enough that he used the committee system to stop the entire ownership from ever voting on Baltimore's application. He couldn't resist gloating about it afterward.

To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, let them go to museums.

The empty suits Tagliabue has surrounded himself with also showed their usual lack of class after the deed was done.

The first words league president Neal Austrian spoke when he entered the Baltimore room were, "I guess you've heard, huh?" even though the Baltimore delegation hadn't been notified.

Austrian even had the gall to add that Baltimore had many friends in the league. With friends like those, Baltimore doesn't need any enemies.

Of course, it was no surprise when Baltimore was bypassed. Tagliabue made it obvious last time that he had an ABB policy -- Anybody But Baltimore. Once St. Louis faltered, Jacksonville was the choice.

Tagliabue didn't want Baltimore for the same reason he didn't want Oakland. He felt Baltimore was too close to Washington and Oakland was too close to San Francisco.

Oakland had the consolation of being eliminated on May 19, 1992, before it got its hopes up. Baltimore was strung along another 19 months.

Oakland didn't have to go through the premium-seat campaign and the expense of three visits to Chicago the past three months.

Tagliabue even shamelessly led on Gov. William Donald Schaefer, telling him one thing to his face while he worked behind the scenes to scuttle Baltimore.

As Schaefer said: "When I met Mr. Tagliabue up in his office, [he said] all the time how great the city was, how wonderful this was, and how great Mr. [Leonard] Weinglass was, how great Mr. [Malcolm] Glazer was, how wonderful Mr. [Alfred] Lerner was and all the time, the die had been cast."

It brings to mind the famous quote from Joseph Welch to Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings, "At long last, do you have no sense of decency?"

It turns out Tagliabue doesn't.

The Laurel Redskins?

If you can put a team in Jacksonville, Fla., why not Laurel, Md.?

That seems to be Jack Kent Cooke's new motto now that he's talking with Joe De Francis about building a stadium at Laurel Race Course for the Redskins and trying to make the team a regional franchise. The advantage is that the zoning is already in place there for a stadium.

If Cooke can make look like it can become a reality, it may energize D.C. officials to cut through the red tape and get the OK for the stadium he has proposed next to RFK Stadium.

The problem is that while all this is going on, it's going to make it even more difficult for Baltimore to lure another team here -- and the odds weren't very good in the first place.

There are two major problems. The first is that Georgia Frontiere doesn't appear to want to sell the Los Angeles Rams. That means she'd have to fight the commissioner and the league to make the move herself.

Roger Goodell, who ran shotgun for Tagliabue in gunning down Baltimore's expansion bid, tipped the league's strategy when he said he doesn't think the Rams meet the criteria to move. That means the league is going fight the move on those grounds. The league could be beaten on the issue. Al Davis proved that. But Georgia Frontiere has shown no signs of being Al Davis.

As far as buying the New England Patriots or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the first priority is to find somebody with deep pockets to come up with the money. Glazer hasn't decided to make a move and Weinglass seems preoccupied with the problems at Merry-Go-Round.

The alternative

If a team doesn't move here by next spring, Baltimore would seem to have a good chance in a court battle against the NFL.

By going to such a small market as Jacksonville, the league proved that there are any number of cities that can support NFL teams.

The NFL was found guilty of being an illegal monopoly in the USFL case and it is using monopolistic practices to artificially hold down the number of teams in the league.

Joseph Alioto, the San Francisco lawyer who just won $114 million for former Patriots owner Billy Sullivan in an antitrust suit, would be more than happy to take on the case.

After all, the NFL has made losing lawsuits a virtual cottage industry.

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