Mideast Peace? End This Feud First

COMMENT

December 12, 1993|By ELISE ARMACOST

Here's a suggestion for how to settle this budding feud between Jack Kent "I'm Building My Stadium in Laurel" Cooke and Gov. William Donald "Over My Dead Body" Schaefer:

Put them in a ring and let them go at it.

Give them boxing gloves or a pit of Jell-o -- it doesn't matter. People would pay just to watch them stand there and spit at each other. After all, folks shelled out a lot more than $20 to watch Holyfield-Bowe on pay-per-view, and that wasn't 1/1,000th entertaining a slugfest between two of the most stubborn, egocentric old men on the planet would be.

If Cooke wins, he gets his roads, he gets his utilities, he gets his Maryland Meadowlands.

If Schaefer wins, he gets . . . well, he gets rid of the horrible, unthinkable, sacrilegious notion that the Washington Redskins could also become Baltimore's Redskins.

See, it's like this: Baltimore wants a football team so badly that it's still willing to prostrate itself before the National Football League even after it's clear that the NFL would rather take its act to McAdoo, Pa., than here. If one believes what people have been saying these last few months, nothing less than the mental health and self-esteem of an entire city rests on whether Baltimore gets its own NFL franchise.

Psychologists are talking about citywide depression and inferiority complexes. People are saying things like, "Without a football team, this is just a minor-league city."

Old Colts fans are nursing enough grudges and hurt feelings to fill 10 stadiums, and now they're willing to steal some other city's team because that supposedly will make everybody feel better.

They'd be overjoyed to get such thrilling competitors as the Rams or the Patriots. If the Dallas Cowboys -- the team it is most fashionable to hate -- were willing to pack their bags and head north, you can bet the governor would be wearing a 10-gallon hat before you can say, "Tom Landry."

The only team, it seems, that Baltimore doesn't want is the Redskins.

It hates the Redskins.

"We were brought up to hate the Redskins," one Baltimore salesman told The Washington Post last week. He didn't say it, but the implication was that this eternal, unconquerable enmity automatically dooms the chances of the Redskins ever becoming Baltimore's team.

I hope he's wrong. Because if Baltimore can't overcome its hatred of the Washington Redskins, we might as well give up hope on the Arabs and Israelis.

For what it's worth, I don't like then Redskins, either. When we were kids, my brother always loved them, so I automatically rooted for the other team just to make things interesting. Eventually I developed a deliciously healthy hatred. That "Hog" stage just about drove me nuts.

Still, if I'm not running to the mall for Redskins sweatshirts if and when Mr. Cooke makes his move, it's because I don't really care whether Maryland gets a football team or not, not because I hate them so much. But for the governor and all those others who feel their lives are incomplete without a home team, perhaps it's time to think about smoking the peace pipe and taking what they can get.

More important, maybe it's time to realize that the differences that once separated Baltimore and Washington and which were the basis of their rivalry are rapidly going the way of the T. Rex.

My mother is an old Colts' fan. She could care less about the economic impact of an NFL franchise; she's an emotional soul who just wants a home team to root for. So I expected her to balk at this Laurel idea. But you know what she said? "It's not as though Washington, D.C. is in China."

Sure, Baltimore still scorns Washington as a heartless, soulless wine-and-brie emporium, and Washington still looks down its nose at blue-collar Baltimore. But the fact is that the demarcation between the two cities is becoming less and less clear. Look closely the next time you fly in to Baltimore-Washington International -- it's a solid string of lights from one town to the other.

Anne Arundel and Howard counties are oriented toward Washington as much as Baltimore, and the federal government already recognizes Baltimore and Washington as a single region. This merger isn't going to stop -- whether or not Mr. Cooke builds his stadium in Laurel.

Twenty or 30 years from now, the next generation of Baltimoreans will be struggling to understand why Washington once seemed so far, just as I can barely comprehend how going to Baltimore from Carroll County used to be a three-day trip for my grandparents.

And even now, would it really be so bad, the Baltimore-Washington Redskins or the Maryland Redskins? -- providing, of course, that Squire Cooke coughs up 20,000 or 30,000 seats for Baltimore fans.

Mr. Cooke is a ruthless egomaniac, but is he really that much worse than all the other owners in the NFL? Would we rather have Georgia Frontiere?

Maybe he'd change the Redskins' name, which ought to be changed anyway. Diehard Redskins fans wouldn't like that, but if Baltimore has to adjust, so can they.

Maybe, if Mr. Cooke ends up winning this fight, Governor Schaefer will find that he got something after all -- not just a football franchise, but peace between two cities that have been too busy hating each other to see they have much more in common than the wish for a team of their own.

Elise Armacost is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

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