Cooke 'unstoppable as glacier,' but city won't thaw, either

December 09, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Brash. Assertive. Megalomaniacal.

These are adjectives Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Jim Murray uses in his new biography to describe Jack Kent Cooke, the Washington Redskins owner who says he plans to move his NFL team to Laurel.

But Murray, who got to know Cooke well during his days as a sports owner in Los Angeles, even having Cooke as a guest in his home, also says this of him: "He was as unstoppable as a glacier."

It's good to keep all that in mind as we try to figure out Cooke's plan to abandon the District of Columbia and move his Redskins to Anne Arundel County.

Murray, America's foremost sports columnist, also calls Cooke "dapper, vain and egotistical. He was a ruthless businessman but preferred to think of himself as an intellectual."

We can see all those traits in the arrogant way the 81-year-old Cooke trained his sights on Maryland as soon as Baltimore was voted down in the NFL's expansion process, and he did it without even consulting our own Governor Schaefer.

Big mistake.

Schaefer quarterbacked a nine-year campaign to bring the NFL back to Baltimore. Then Cooke popped up with this Laurel stuff, which would effectively kill Baltimore's chances of getting a franchise, maybe ever.

Don Schaefer has been in public life for a long, long time. One thing we all know about him by now is that if you cross him, you're not likely to be forgiven -- and Jack Kent Cooke has crossed him big time.

"The state will not assist or cooperate with such a move as long as I am governor," Schaefer said of the Redskins-to-Laurel plan.

You can be sure he means that, but 11 months from now Maryland will have a new governor-elect.

Will Cooke and the Redskins wind up in Laurel?

There is a widespread belief that, for Cooke, Laurel is merely a ploy to speed approval for his new stadium in D.C.

That's the puzzling thing about this man. This is the third time he has changed his mind about a site for the 78,600-seat, $160 million stadium he wants to build with his own money.

L Don't ever sell Cooke short, though. Don't take him lightly.

He's too rich, too smart and too powerful for us to blow him off. People have underestimated him for too long, as Jim Murray tells us.

People laughed when Cooke paid $5,175,000 for the NBA Lakers in 1965. They didn't laugh in 1979 when he sold the Lakers, the Kings and the building -- The Forum -- for $68 million plus 13,000 acres of ranchland.

Civic leaders in L.A. did not take seriously Cooke's threat to build his own arena when the city fathers refused to give him what he wanted at the muncipally-owned Sports Arena.

So Cooke built the Fabulous Forum and the Sports Arena, as Murray puts it, "languished."

Remember, this is a man who's "unstoppable as a glacier."

You can see why an 81-year-old man would tire of fighting red tape for five years to get a stadium in D.C., as Cooke has.

But why would he prefer a stadium in Maryland -- where the governor is already hostile -- to one in Virginia, where Governor-elect George Allen Jr., son of the late Redskins coach, hopes to lure the team?

The answer to that one is the answer to so much that goes on in the NFL these days: sky suites.

The reason NFL owners are sky suite-mad is that they get to keep all the income from their sales. Gate receipts and TV revenue they have to share with the other clubs.

It's said Cooke wants 300 sky suites in his new stadium. He saw 100 of them sold within six weeks in Baltimore at a cost ranging from $45,000 to $105,000 each -- per year. At RFK Stadium, where the Redskins have played for 33 years, there are no sky suites.

Laurel would be a good deal for Cooke, and a good one for Laurel Race Course. Says the race track's co-owner, Joe De Francis: "The value of having 80,000 people next door for cross-promotions is tremendous."

But Baltimoreans are never going to feel warm toward a Redskins franchise based in Laurel. The people here want their own team. They won't be able to buy Redskin tickets anyway.

It's becoming evident that the NFL views Baltimore-Washington as one market, though it really is not. As pro basketball's Bob Ferry said after serving with the Bullets in both places: "There might as well be a wall between these two cities."

It's too bad Paul Tagliabue and Co. don't understand that.

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