Cooke says Redskins can be area's team

January 07, 1994|By John W. Frece, Jon Morgan and Sandy Banisky | John W. Frece, Jon Morgan and Sandy Banisky,Staff Writers

ASHBURN, Va. -- Jack Kent Cooke said yesterday he wants his Redskins to be the team of the entire Baltimore-Washington corridor, an expansive market he says can no longer support two National Football League franchises.

"Don't you see, really, we are an indivisible group of people," the 81-year-old millionaire team owner said during a 90-minute interview with The Sun at his team's new practice headquarters here.

Mr. Cooke, relaxed and cordial throughout the interview, also:

* Suggested that he has the authority under NFL rules to block another team from moving to Baltimore but declined to say if he would try to exercise it.

* Said he was not particularly interested in moving the Redskins to Baltimore's Camden Yards because parking limitations would curtail Redskins fans' tailgate parties.

* Said he has his heart set on building a $160-million, 78,600-seat stadium in Laurel, possibly as part of a multisports mecca that he said could include the Washington Bullets and Capitals and ** become "the most important sports complex in America."

He said he would hope to attract other top-draw sporting events there, possibly including the annual Army-Navy and Navy-Notre Dame football games.

A new stadium centrally located between Washington and Baltimore, he asserted, could unite two cities that for years boasted their own successful franchises and which have traditionally viewed one another with disdain. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other state leaders have been trying for years to lure an NFL franchise to Baltimore to replace the Colts, who left in 1984.

State officials are talking with at least two existing franchises about moving into a publicly built stadium next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Mr. Cooke noted that the Baltimore-Washington region is the nation's fourth-largest metropolitan area but said that no other "megalopolis" except for much larger New York can adequately support two teams any longer.

He contended that league rules grant a franchise control over a 75-mile radius -- a point disputed by some legal experts -- but would not say if he would invoke such a territorial claim should a team try to come to Baltimore.

"I don't know what I'd do in the future," he said.

Page W. Boinest, Mr. Schaefer's press secretary, said later yesterday that the governor did not wish to respond to Mr. Cooke's comments.

Mr. Cooke repeatedly suggested that other NFL owners are unlikely to approve a move by an existing team. The Los Angeles Rams have indicated that they will consider a move to Baltimore, and a local group has made a bid for the New England Patriots.

"They'd have to prove a hardship financially, lack of attendance. They'd have to prove all these things" listed in NFL bylaws, Mr. Cooke said.

Pressed to say whether he would continue with his plans to build in Laurel if another team announced a move to Baltimore, he said: "I'd have to think about that and make a decision."

Throughout the interview, Mr. Cooke exuded confidence that he will succeed in opening his Laurel stadium in 1996.

He said he was not particularly interested in moving the Redskins to Baltimore's Camden Yards, as Mr. Schaefer has suggested, in part because a new football stadium there would eliminate 2,000 of the existing 5,000 parking spaces and would rob his loyal Redskins fans of room to hold marathon tailgate parties before or after games.

"It's a problem with parking," he said. "A good deal of the fun of going to a football game is tailgating." Mr. Cooke has already bought land near Laurel that he intends to use for a 23,000-car parking lot.

The decision to move his team from Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium to Laurel was made only six weeks ago, he said. That was after five years of negotiations with the District of Columbia and federal governments to build a new stadium in Washington collapsed, and a subsequent plan to build the stadium in Alexandria, Va., died in the face of heated local opposition.

Mr. Cooke emphasized again yesterday that he has no intention of reopening negotiations with District of Columbia officials, but left open the possibility of considering another Virginia site should the Laurel plans fall through.

"The place," he said, referring to Laurel, "is really the ideal location."

"My heart is set on building the Redskins stadium in Anne Arundel County. . . . It will draw the people together," he said.

He said he believes the team already has the support of many Marylanders. "I think Maryland is awfully well-represented at Redskins games," Mr. Cooke said, noting that 52 percent of current season ticket holders are Marylanders. He added that the team's TV ratings in Baltimore have been good.

"So, there must be -- despite those carping critics that [say] nobody likes the Redskins in Baltimore -- there must be some kind of underlying attachment to the team. There simply must be," he said.

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