'Baltimore Will Have an NFL Club'

January 13, 1994

That statement is not just idle speculation but the words of an individual with first-hand knowledge of what other National Football League clubs intend to do. Norman Braman, who owns the Philadelphia Eagles, said he has had conversations with two owners "who are seriously considering moving their clubs to this city." And it's no bluff: "Both are sincerely interested in coming to this city," he said here Tuesday night.

These prospective Camden Yards tenants had better move quickly. The window of opportunity closes in another month. By mid-February, legislators and the governor want a yes-or-no answer from Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert Belgrad on bringing an NFL club to Baltimore. At the moment, there are positive signals from four clubs -- two in Los Angeles, one in Tampa and one in New England. But Mr. Belgrad must produce a certified tenant next month. The clock is ticking.

Mr. Braman's comments indicate the search for a football team is far more encouraging than many had suspected. Baltimore is a leading candidate to grab a club. So are St. Louis and Memphis.

Now is not the time to undercut that effort. Yet members of the state Senate, led by President Thomas V. Mike Miller, are trying to cut off Baltimore's chances of ever again playing host to an NFL team. Today, Mr. Miller is orchestrating a cheerleading effort for Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke before a Senate JTC committee. The goal is to stampede the Senate into rallying behind Mr. Cooke's dreams of a Redskins stadium in Laurel while trampling Baltimore's stadium hopes forever. It would be a dreadfully shortsighted step.

Instead of maneuvering behind the scenes to subvert Mr. Belgrad's efforts, Mr. Miller & Co. should play by the rules agreed upon when legislative leaders convinced Gov. William Donald Schaefer to set a mid-February deadline for finding an NFL team for Baltimore. If nothing surfaces by then, state leaders can evaluate the options. Until that time, the stadium issue should be placed in suspended animation by lawmakers.

There still would be plenty of time to craft a joint gubernatorial-legislative package to ensure that Maryland is home to at least one NFL team. The issue of a new sports arena could also be addressed. But from now till mid-February, all action ought to be held in abeyance.

The same rules hold for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in his talks with the Canadian Football League. Until he hears what Mr. Belgrad can deliver, the mayor should delay a CFL decision. He ought not take any step that might hurt the NFL effort.

We are encouraged by Mr. Braman's remarks. Baltimore is still very much in the ballgame. Yet the game won't be over for another month. We urge Mr. Miller and other senators to give Baltimore a fair shake and wait till the mid-February deadline before pursuing their own agendas.

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