In this NFL move, we have upper hand

December 06, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

C'mon, Baltimore, you have to laugh at this one.

If this doesn't help salve your expansion wounds, nothing will.

After all that has happened through these bitter years, the departure of the Bullets to Washington, all that time spent worrying that Edward Bennett Williams might move the Orioles to Washington, the quiet concern (possibly founded, it turns out) that Jack Kent Cooke was lobbying against our expansion efforts . . .

. . . after all that, we arrive at this set of circumstances:

Jack Kent Cooke, looking for a slick new stadium for the Redskins.

Baltimore, ready to build a slick new stadium for a team.

It's a perfect fit. The Baltimore Redskins. Why, Cooke wouldn't even need the approval of the league to make the move. We're just the Washington suburbs up here in ol' Bawlmer, right, commissioner?

Is this beautiful or what?

They might be the kings of the world down in Washington -- just ask them -- but, ahem, you will notice that we seem to have what they can't get this time.

So sad for them, isn't it?

Here's the owner of the mighty Redskins, who just voted against Baltimore in the expansion derby, coming to the very person who headed that expansion bid -- our beloved guv, of course -- seeking the state's help to get a new stadium built in Laurel.

A new stadium intended primarily to increase the value of the 81-year-old Cooke's franchise, just in case he decides to sell one of these years.

C'mon, Baltimore, you have to laugh at this one. For once, we have the leverage. The guv does, at least.

"So, you want to build a new stadium?" I say if I'm the guv when Cooke comes calling. "Sure, I've got a great place for you to build your new stadium."

Silence.

"Have you heard of Baltimore?" I say, handing Cooke a full-color tourist brochure. "It's a bloody great place."

Cooke won't go for it, of course. He would never move to Baltimore. You can't wear an ascot in Baltimore.

Hopefully, he won't move to Laurel, either. Hopefully, the guv will tell him to do precisely what he told us to do with his expansion vote for Jacksonville: "Try Florida, sir. It's a fast-growing area."

Sure, Cooke could go ahead and build his Laurel stadium without state support. He certainly is free to buy the land from Joe De Francis, who desperately needs the money for his sagging racing operation. (Poor Joe. He finally gets a financial break, and it's politically incorrect.)

But if the guv doesn't support the project, then the toilets won't run and the roads won't point in the right direction. Basically, you can't build a stadium without the state.

Basically, if Cooke can't get a yea from the guv, he'll probably look elsewhere.

Try Florida, sir!

There will be temptations for the guv, certainly. He is the governor of Maryland, not just Baltimore, and a huge project in Anne Arundel County would mean jobs and revenue. And Cooke, not the taxpayers, apparently would put up the money. Not a bad deal for the state.

There's only one problem: Contrary to what the commissioner and his minions believe, there are two cities in this market. Two football-friendly cities. And if one team moves to Laurel, the other city has no shot at a team.

Yes, the Redskins' moving to Laurel basically kills any hope of the NFL ever returning to Baltimore. No owner would move to a brand-new stadium within 25 miles of another brand-new stadium. The owners may be miserable schemers, but they know a stupid business move when they see one.

Sure, after the odious expansion process, there is a sizable constituency in this town that doesn't give a whit if the NFL ever returns. But the possibility does still exist. To paraphrase the popular axiom, things happen. You will notice that the fire sale is on in New England, where James Busch Orthwein, sick of the owners' act, "can't sell [the Patriots] fast enough."

The guv knows the window is open. And, as yard-dog mad as he is about the expansion subterfuge, it would be a shock if he did anything to undermine our chances now. Bless him, he's taking this thing personally. "He is working on getting a team for Baltimore," said his spokeswoman, Page Boinest, over the weekend.

If he is approached by Cooke, he should agree to the Laurel Redskins on the following two conditions:

1. Call them the Baltimore/Washington Redskins, or change the politically incorrect nickname to Colts.

2. Allot 30,000 season tickets for Baltimore fans.

That's not asking much, is it?

If it is, what a shame.

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