Maryland can just say 'no' to Cooke, Redskins

PRO FOOTBALL

December 12, 1993|By VITO STELLINO

Ask not what the NFL can do for you. Ask what you can do for the NFL.

With apologies to President Kennedy, that seems to be the NFL's message to Baltimore and Maryland these days.

A week after the NFL refused to give Baltimore an expansion franchise and commissioner Paul Tagliabue suggested the city could spend its money on a museum, the Washington Redskins came up with another way for Maryland to spend its money.

Owner Jack Kent Cooke suggested the state spend millions of dollars in infrastructure so he can build a new stadium in Laurel. That probably would help keep Baltimore from luring an existing team.

P. T. Barnum would have loved it, asking Maryland taxpayers to spend money to help deny Baltimore a team.

It's not surprising that Gov. William Donald Schaefer found that an offer he could refuse.

What was overlooked in the furor is the fact that it's not a good deal for Maryland even if it didn't hurt Baltimore's chances of getting a team.

Virginia turned the deal down a year ago -- even though Gov. L. Douglas Wilder backed it.

The Laurel project isn't a good idea because suburban stadiums are an idea whose time has come and gone.

Suburban stadiums don't create any economic development around them. Just take a look at the lack of development around stadiums in Orchard Park, N.Y., Foxboro, Mass., Pontiac, Mich., and even the Meadowlands complex in East Rutherford, N.J.

On top of that, they don't have any public transportation and create huge traffic jams. The Laurel stadium would turn Interstate 95 into a parking lot on game days.

As Camden Yards has shown, downtown stadiums are the wave of the future.

The Laurel stadium also does little for Maryland. The team will remain in Virginia -- and the players would pay taxes there -- because that's where the training complex is. There probably will be no tickets available for Baltimore fans -- unless they want to buy a luxury box or a club seat. The Redskins have 48,000 people on their waiting list.

Cooke apparently has his eye on those 100 luxury suites and 7,500 club seats Baltimore sold. He forgets Baltimore companies aren't likely to buy a suite or a club seat in a stadium for a Washington team.

Cooke's also trying to sell the fiction that Baltimore and Washington are one market. If he believed that, he would move to Camden Yards. But he knows if he did that, some other team would move to Washington in a second. This area is more than big enough to support two teams.

For once, an area can afford to say no to an NFL team because Cooke won't go more than 20 miles from Washington.

After the way Maryland has been treated by the NFL, it's only poetic justice that it can say no. This time, Maryland has the upper hand.

There just aren't enough benefits for Maryland to justify the cost.

If Cooke wants this stadium, let him pay the infrastructure costs.

Since Virginia turned down Cooke, it's difficult to believe it's a good deal for Maryland.

Renovation

If the NFL can give a franchise to Jacksonville, Fla., for a renovated stadium, why does Cooke need a new stadium in Washington? Why can't he renovate RFK Stadium? But the NFL has different standards when it goes to Tagliabue's favorite part of the country -- the Southeast.

Look at the fine print

Cooke seems convinced he can outlast Schaefer and get a governor elected who's more to his liking.

But even if that happens, there's no guarantee that Cooke will ever be able to close a deal to put a stadium in Laurel.

Negotiating with Cooke is no easy task. His idea of negotiations is that he gets everything his way.

He likes to trumpet the fact that he's going to build the stadium, but once you look at the fine print, it's likely to be a good deal only for Cooke after he puts all his demands on the table.

Even his negotiations once the players got free agency showed that Cooke doesn't like to make deals when the other side has leverage.

In previous years when players didn't have other options, he would pay well by the standards of the day, but he didn't throw money away. When the Redskins won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season, he didn't have a single player among the highest-paid 25 players in the league.

Last year, Mark Rypien, Jim Lachey, Darrell Green and Desmond Howard engaged in holdouts that helped wreck the season.

This year, the players just walked when they had free agency. Cooke was outbid by Bill Bidwill of the Phoenix Cardinals for Gary Clark. He traded Wilber Marshall to the Houston Oilers. He dropped out of the bidding for Reggie White. He wouldn't enter the bidding for Emmitt Smith.

The excuse was that the league was going to implement a salary cap -- but it won't start until 1994.

As Ross Perot likes to say, the devil is in the details. Cooke has yet to reveal the details of this deal.

On the move

Speculation is increasing that the New England Patriots will move to St. Louis if Boston doesn't get a new downtown megaplex approved.

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