CFL and Baltimore make a good team, especially with top-notch Speros at helm

December 22, 1993|By John Steadman

Why the Canadian Football League wants to include Baltimore is obvious. It knows a great city when it sees one. This is not some upstart organization trying to take advantage of an emotional situation. Stop to consider the CFL has been around ** for more than a century. By contrast, the National Football League is a mere 74 years old.

The CFL wants Baltimore and the idea merits favorable consideration. First and foremost, the man who would own the team is Jim Speros, whose knowledge of football makes him especially attractive since he's from a family that has been profoundly involved in the game.

Speros' father, Leo, played at Maryland; brother Pete captained Penn State; brother George was at Temple; and Jim was on Clemson's national championship team. Jim also was staff assistant two years with the Washington Redskins (he wears a Super Bowl ring) and had two seasons with the Buffalo Bills.

In 1988, he was the "Realtor of the year" in the District of Columbia with sales totaling $61 million. With Speros as its CFL club owner, Baltimore would have a leader with a resume that shows achievements in both business and football.

Speros is only 34 years old and has been courting a CFL franchise for Baltimore since last summer. "This is a $7 million deal," he admitted. "It's affordable. I could have raised $50 million in Baltimore, but it's not needed. I don't say that in an arrogant way; merely offering the facts."

Speros sounds almost too good to be true. He's of Greek parentage and the family, for 35 years, owned Normandy Farms, a restaurant in the Maryland suburbs of Washington that seated 500 patrons. Residing in Potomac, the boys went to St. John's Military High School, where they played football and earned college scholarships.

In 1980, it was unprecedented when three brothers played in bowl games for their respective teams: Pete in the Liberty, George in the Garden State and Jim in the Peach.

"I have to tell you I'm highly impressed with Jim," commented Ernie Accorsi, former general manager of the Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns. "He has to be one of the most successful young men in the country. And he has extensive knowledge of football."

Bill Polian, former general manager of the Bills, now an executive in NFL headquarters, is the man who hired Speros in Buffalo. Asked for a scouting report, Polian replied, "He's as good as you can find." That's high praise from a former boss.

Speros has met with Mayor Kurt Schmoke regarding the leasing of Memorial Stadium, but as yet no contract is signed. The Maryland Stadium Authority has no control over whether Speros is approved as a tenant but it could deter his entry if it suggests his arrival might hamper efforts to draw an NFL team to Baltimore. That shouldn't happen.

"It's getting to be 'game time' for us," added the CFL hopeful. "This is a win-win situation for the city. Mayor Schmoke has seen the 91-page business plan for the franchise. There are no bankruptcies in my past. We are not asking for exclusivity if an NFL club locates here. If the Washington Redskins are in Laurel, our season would be compatible with theirs. You ask about my funding? I don't want to sound boastful, but my credibility is established."

Speros is elated over the CFL commissioner, 44-year-old Larry Smith, who holds a law degree from McGill University, played 10 years in the CFL, joined John Labatt Ltd., and became president of the frozen bakery division of Ogilvie Mills Ltd. It's Smith's goal to add two teams to the eight already in Canada, restoring a club to Montreal and bringing in Halifax.

The U.S. expansion would include 10 teams in the next decade. Sacramento is in place this year, Las Vegas next year and Smith now wants Baltimore.

ESPN has a five-year contract for a "TV game of the week," and CBS, since it got the boot from the NFL, may want some participation, according to Speros.

He has hired employees for the Baltimore entry and on Jan. 3 will open an office in one of the city's most striking new buildings, 250 W. Pratt Street.

All CFL teams operate under a $2 million salary cap and have 37 players -- which is the way it used to be in the NFL before it raised the limit to 47 and packed the rosters with too many stiffs.

There's a growing Baltimore interest in the CFL. Especially if Speros goes ahead with a plan to call the team the Colts and the future league expansion is more precisely defined. How well he presents the idea is important. It could be the start of something that's not only new but immensely exciting, too.

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