Gov. William Donald Schaefer, in a confidential memo this week to his chief negotiator trying to get Baltimore a National Football League franchise, said he will embrace Canadian football and maybe even the Redskins' move to Laurel if no NFL team has made a commitment to move here by next month.
Reaffirming a deadline he negotiated last month with legislative leaders, Mr. Schaefer told Herbert J. Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, in a letter dated Monday that "a finality date must be established." A copy of the letter was obtained yesterday by The Sun.
Aides to the governor declined to discuss its contents. "The letter was a confidential one and not intended for distribution to the free world," said Page W. Boinest, Mr. Schaefer's press secretary.
But some sources close to the football talks said the letter is a sign that Mr. Schaefer is beginning to reposition himself so that he eventually can endorse the Redskins' plan to move to Laurel even though, until now, he has stubbornly resisted giving up on NFL football for Baltimore.
What Mr. Schaefer wants most to avoid, a source said, is delaying so long that Maryland ends up without any football -- no CFL team in Baltimore and the Redskins in Virginia. He also wants to have a role, another source said, if the Redskins follow through on plans to build a 78,600-seat stadium in Laurel.
The letter also serves notice to teams considering moving to Baltimore that time is running short for them to decide on Baltimore's lucrative offer of a publicly financed stadium that would be built adjacent to Oriole Park.
"I think the fact that the governor has committed his thoughts to writing is notice to the entire world what is happening in Maryland," said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's. "There are a lot of big bucks riding on these transactions," he said, and the people involved are entitled to "some degree of finality."
Alan Rifkin, who represents the Redskins, declined to comment, saying he had not seen the letter. "The letter speaks for itself," he said.
Last month, the governor and legislative leaders agreed to give Baltimore 60 more days to try to procure an NFL team before they considered assisting the Redskins' proposed move to Laurel, 15 miles south of Baltimore. That 60-day period ends Feb. 14.
At the request of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the Canadian Football League agreed to wait until that date before insisting on a lease at Memorial Stadium.
"We must have a contract, letter of intent, etc., by that date [Feb. 14]. If we do not, I will 'release' my efforts [so as] to allow a CFL team to locate in Baltimore and may withdraw my opposition to the Redskins attempt to locate in Laurel," Mr. Schaefer wrote in the letter.
Sources familiar with the football debate said that the governor, in writing to Mr. Belgrad, was stressing that he sees Feb. 14 is a deadline for securing a team for Baltimore, not as a date that can be extended deeper into the legislative session.
"This makes it final. The governor is defining his terms," another source said. "Both the governor and the mayor are looking for finality so they can make final judgments on the CFL and Laurel. Now, it's in a state of limbo."
The letter also could give Mr. Belgrad leverage as he talks with teams flirting with a move to Baltimore. "The state's effectively saying in that letter, 'Don't use Baltimore as a point of leverage in your current lease negotiations. If you're serious, be serious. Put something in writing,' " the source said.
Mr. Belgrad said he saw nothing new in the deadline. "We've made the teams we're dealing with aware that we're under a severe time constraint," he said.
He declined to name the teams that the Stadium Authority has talked with, but sources familiar with the effort said that representatives of the state or local investors have communicated with the Los Angeles Raiders, the Los Angeles )) Rams, the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Rams have declared a desire to explore moving from Anaheim Stadium, which suffered an estimated $4 million in damage during Monday's earthquake.
Rams officials say they are in no hurry to decide on a move. "We'll probably have nothing to announce for several months," John Shaw, the team's executive vice president, told the Orange County Register this week.
The Raiders said they were waiting until their playoff hopes ended, which happened last weekend.
The Buccaneers have told potential buyers that the team won't be for sale while the owner, who suffers from cancer, is alive.
The Patriots are believed to be within days of announcing their next owner. A group of Baltimore-based investors has filed a bid, as has a group led by Maryland-based novelist Tom Clancy, who wants to put the team in Hartford, Conn.
"We certainly are optimistic," said Robert B. Schulman, an attorney working on behalf of the Baltimore bidders. He said the Feb. 14 deadline adds to the pressure but predicted that a team will move to Baltimore. His group has had discussions with all four teams interested in moving.
"Discussions are going on on more than one front," Mr. Belgrad said. "We should know within the next week to 10 days whether these discussions will result in the next 30 days in what we're hoping for.
EXCERPT FROM SCHAEFER'S LETTER
"...It is my intention to abide by the 60 day rule (February 14, 1994) set by you and the legislature. We must have a contract, letter of intent, etc. by that date. If we do not, I will 'realese' my efforts (so as) to allow a CFL team to locate in Baltimore and may withdraw my opposition to the Redskins attempt to locate in Laurel."