Cooke holds rights, and Laurel proposal may not be wrong

December 06, 1993|By John Steadman

What makes it a different kind of proposal and lends exceptional credibility to the offer of Jack Kent Cooke to move the Washington Redskins to Laurel is that he promises $l personally to pay for building the stadium and will not subject the public to handling any part of construction costs.

TC He'll also drop Washington from in front of the Redskins' name and guarantee keeping the team in its new home for 50 years, even assuring in any future deal a buyer would have to guarantee keeping the franchise in its location after purchase.

Cooke's team henceforth would be known as The Redskins or Maryland Redskins. The name change game is precisely what the Washington lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams, managed to do when he eliminated Baltimore from in front of all references to the Orioles.

Hopefully, Peter Angelos, the new Orioles owner, will put Baltimore and Orioles together. If a hometown kid, Angelos, doesn't do it, there's little hope for its coming about. The difference is the Orioles play in Baltimore; the Redskins would be in Laurel.

Baltimore, clinging to its tradition, found out the hard way the crass National Football League and its commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, who should know better, care not even for their own history. The Cooke involvement in Maryland may have influenced Tagliabue from backing Baltimore for a franchise.

Tagliabue, who may want to ingratiate himself with the Redskins owner who once called him a beltway lawyer when he was being considered for commissioner, led the way for Jacksonville, Fla., to be picked over Baltimore in the expansion process. Is it time for Baltimore to make a concession and embrace the Redskins? Gov. William Donald Schaefer should be told, if he doesn't know, that Cooke holds NFL territorial rights to Baltimore.

A date for completion of a stadium to house the Redskins in Laurel, providing an agreement is signed with racetrack owner Joe De Francis, is the season of 1996. Cooke approached the Laurel possibility in September. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley has played a vital role in the subsequent discussions.

There's even the possibility Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington Bullets/Capitals, would move to Laurel and have his teams utilize an indoor sports arena that also may be built there. The site, virtually halfway between Baltimore and Washington, would then accommodate the Redskins, Bullets, Capitals and horse racing.

Remember, it was Cooke, in 1967, who built The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., which also was on property near a racetrack, ,, Hollywood Park.

NFL rules give Cooke and the other 29 team owners the right to consider home territory all the area within a distance of 75 miles. It's a part of the league's constitution and bylaws. An exception was made when Baltimore returned to the NFL in 1953 and it was written under article IV, section 10, the following special provision:

"In case the playing franchise of Baltimore is forfeited, surrendered, or the team adopts a city other than Baltimore as its home, all rights to the Baltimore territory shall thereupon immediately be revested in the Redskins, and in that case the City of Baltimore and its environs shall be reconstituted as a part of the home territory of the Redskins ..."

Bob Irsay, who took the team away, can be blamed for giving Cooke the opportunity to reclaim Baltimore. It was George Preston Marshall, the original Redskins owner, who insisted such a clause be agreed upon before he would allow any intrusion on his Baltimore/Washington landscape -- or the Colts never would have been allowed to rejoin the NFL 30 years ago.

Cooke could insist on millions of dollars in indemnification from any existing team's entering Baltimore. Whether such a demand would hold up under a lawsuit isn't known.

The decision comes down, bottom line, to whether the state wants to spend $165 million of public money on a stadium in Baltimore to be used by a team coming in from elsewhere, say Los Angeles, or allow Cooke, who owns the territory, to finance it as a personal investment. Louis Grasmick, a businessman, said, "It's time to look in a different direction. Let's stop chasing rainbows in trying to get another team. Name the facility the Schaefer Sports Complex."

From an emotional standpoint, Baltimore, if Cooke proceeds with the Laurel plan, would have to free its emotions and subjugate a long-held love affair for a team that is here no longer. The Colts, comprising 35 seasons past, would become merely a memory -- which is what the NFL, by reasons of its actions, already has told Baltimore to do.

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