Grown men fuss, fume, finagle in cause of sport

February 15, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In Annapolis today, the governor of Maryland will try to buy some time in his frantic grasp for a National Football League team. At City Hall, the mayor of Baltimore will prepare to consummate a relationship with the Canadian Football League after months of flirtation. In Washington, Jack Kent Cooke will fume in private the way only a billionaire can fume when he discovers, against all odds, that money might not be able to buy everything.

"We're trying to keep everyone calm," Speaker of the House Casper R. Taylor was saying yesterday. "We want to keep all our options on the table and make decisions one step at a time. We're talking about long-range quality of life for the state."

If Taylor seems to be speaking with all of the careful diplomacy of a U.N. delegate or a pro football coach, there's a reason. More than ballgames are on the line here. Egos and money are all over the place, some threatening to go elsewhere and some glancing seductively toward Baltimore.

This afternoon, Governor Schaefer's scheduled to brief his legislative leaders on his talks with various pro football people. Though yesterday was the original cutoff date to fish or cut bait on state money originally set aside for football in Baltimore, Schaefer now says he wants to keep the money on the table for the remainder of the year, or at least a few more months.

To do this, he's got to make a case that no one in Los Angeles or Tampa Bay is playing us for suckers. We've been down that road before, and Schaefer, for all the enthusiasm he'll try to impart today, knows the dangers of being used as somebody else's financial wedge.

"How serious are the governor's conversations?" Taylor said yesterday. "Well, we're talking intuitive feelings but, yes, it seems to be serious. There are legitimate people, making legitimate proposals, to bring the NFL back to Baltimore. This is plural. On both sides of the bargaining."

Such talk is making Jack Kent Cooke unhappy. His argument is based on surface logic and in-depth greed. The surface logic is: He'll put up the money to build his own ballpark in Laurel, so why doesn't everybody love him? The greed is: In return for this money (which he will quickly earn back, in multiples) he gets a monopoly on NFL football, and all the TV rights, for the entire state.

But, while Cooke has made it clear he believes he's entitled to such rights, he hasn't convinced everyone. The state's economic game plan has been to reinvigorate Baltimore as a professional sports town. Cooke's move to Laurel might doom that, save for this business of the Canadian Football League, about which nobody's quite certain how to feel.

At City Hall this afternoon, Mayor Schmoke is scheduled to sign a deal to bring Canadian football to Memorial Stadium, a move that prompted Taylor to say yesterday, "I wish the mayor would hold off on that for at least a while."

The mayor's in an awkward position. The CFL's been patient, and the mayor doesn't want to walk away from all these sports negotiations with absolutely nobody committed to Baltimore.

"The mayor gave the CFL his word on this signing date," Press Secretary Clint Coleman said yesterday. "He made it clear last week that he'd sign unless there was a deal pending for an NFL team. And he wanted to be told personally, by the governor or by one of the teams involved. The mayor has spoken with the governor, but nothing the governor told him made him optimistic that any move is imminent. That's why he's planning to sign with the CFL."

So now Schaefer has to convince state legislators what he's apparently been unable to make Schmoke see: that there is legitimate hope. Against this, he's got various county legislators, FTC in an election year, wanting to divvy up the stadium money for home projects. He's got Cooke hinting he might look to Virginia if he can't get into Laurel.

And, momentarily on the sidelines, there's Abe Pollin, unhappy in Largo, looking for a new place for his Bullets and his Capitals, and wondering why he isn't getting the kind of attention given to football.

Schaefer's got to worry about him, too. Might Pollin move back to Baltimore? Might he leave the state if he feels slighted?

Such questions haunt Annapolis every day. Money and egos cover the landscape. It's why the governor's trying to buy time today, and Casper Taylor's talking like a U.N. delegate.

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