Cooke's Cotton Candy

December 07, 1993

Just because a football game has a beginning, a middle and an end, one should not assume that the same finite limitations apply to the tortured process of trying to bring a National Football League franchise to Baltimore. The drama goes on and on and on before an audience both frustrated and hopelessly ensnared.

The day after the NFL chose Jacksonville as its next venue, the wait was on for dissatisfied team owners elsewhere to make overtures to move to Baltimore, where a lucrative franchise package dangled enticingly. As if this were not enough to hold this city transfixed during the long dark winter, a mystery element surfaced just a few days ago.

Jack Kent Cooke, the Washington Redskins owner who has been toying for years with northern Virginia and the District of Columbia about building himself a new stadium, suddenly developed an interest in a site next to the Laurel horse race track. His unscrupulously timed bid was unveiled to NFL owners just before they committed themselves to Jacksonville, and it was the final nail in Baltimore's hopes for an expansion team next to Camden Yards.

Mr. Cooke's ploy also acts as an impediment to faraway team owners thinking about coming to Baltimore. Though it is probably just a gimmick to put pressure on Virginia and D.C., it is a complication that arises at just the wrong moment so far as this city's chances for a transferred franchise are concerned.

So how to respond to the much unloved Mr. Cooke? If Joe De Francis, embattled owner of the Laurel racetrack, had his way, it would be cash in the bank to buy off his feuding partners and get out of financial difficulties. He's all for it. If Rep. Helen Delich Bentley had her way, the move would benefit one of her key political boosters, Mr. De Francis -- though at possible great cost to her gubernatorial campaign. A few business and economic growth enthusiasts in the Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Howard County triangle might also be mesmerized, but in the end the General Assembly would have to appropriate the millions needed for roads and utilities for Mr. Cooke's "free" stadium.

Luckily, the decision lies not in their hands. Gov. William Donald Schaefer is rightly rebuffing the meddlesome development. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke feels likewise. They have no desire to undercut Washington Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly as she tries to keep the Redskins in their traditional home. They have a real appreciation of the dangers of dealing with someone as widely distrusted as Jack Kent Cooke. And so the answer to this latest episode in the NFL drama must be no, nyet, nein.

At least not yet! As was stated above, this drama is of indefinite duration. It ain't over till it's over. Perhaps Jack Kent Cooke is serious. Perhaps a stadium will arise between our two cities. Perhaps the moon is made of green cheese. Perhaps the clouds above are cotton candy. Keep watching (as if there's any other alternative).

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