Don't give up on Baltimore

January 13, 1994

Take it from one who knows: Baltimore is very much in the running for a National Football League team. Ignore the naysayers. Listen to Norman Braman, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, who has spoken with two NFL owners "who are seriously considering moving their clubs to this city."

With all the carefully staged hoopla and media publicity surrounding Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke's plans for a stadium in Laurel, it is easy to dismiss Baltimore's chances of landing a team -- until you examine the facts.

Fact No. 1. The financial package awaiting a team moving from Los Angeles, New England or Tampa would be highly lucrative. Overnight, the Baltimore club would be among the NFL's most profitable. The L.A. Rams, for instance, would see a 10-fold increase in the club's bottom line.

Fact No. 2. At least three NFL teams are, indeed, intent on making a major change of scenery. Baltimore is a prime target in each case.

Fact No. 3. The National Football League and Jack Kent Cooke are legally in a corner. They cannot stop a club from moving to Baltimore without risking a very expensive court suit. Past court rulings have gone against the NFL to the tune of $156 million in damages.

Fact No. 4. Mr. Cooke's stadium plans in Laurel are not cost-free to the state. Building roads and infrastructure could chew up between $40 million and $150 million of taxpayer money to support a privately owned football coliseum.

This last fact is noteworthy given the orchestrated attempt by Mr. Cooke's allies to shine a favorable light on his proposal in Annapolis today.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has arranged for a "special briefing" so Mr. Cooke can paint a glowing portrait of his proposal -- and also put the knife in Baltimore. All the facts and figures, though, are suspect: They come from Mr. Cooke's camp, not an impartial source. It is a publicity stunt by Mr. Miller designed to aid Mr. Cooke's cause, upstage Gov. William Donald Schaefer's State of the State speech and put the House of Delegates in a subservient role on this issue.

Given Mr. Braman's insider information, legislators would be foolhardy to rush to judgment. They should take no action until they see what state officials bring them in mid-February -- a deadline agreed upon by the governor and Assembly leaders. Also, Mayor Kurt Schmoke should delay a decision on letting a Canadian Football League team use Memorial Stadium this summer until the mid-February deadline. Now is not the time to undercut the state's NFL drive. By next month we could have a definitive answer on Baltimore's efforts to grab the ball.

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