Baltimore prepared to embrace CFL

February 15, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

Jim Speros' dogged pursuit of a Canadian Football League team for Baltimore could finally reach pay dirt today at City Hall.

Barring an unlikely last-minute commitment from an NFL team to move here, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was to sign a lease that allows Mr. Speros' CFL expansion team to play at Memorial Stadium this July.

The lease, to cover a period of five years, must be approved by the city's Board of Estimates and the CFL's Board of Governors tomorrow. Mr. Speros, a Virginia businessman and native of Potomac, in Montgomery County, is to formally introduce the franchise in a ceremony Thursday in the Constellation Room of the Hyatt Regency in Baltimore.

The biggest block could come from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who was expected to make an announcement today regarding his negotiations to bring an National Football League franchise to play in a new stadium at Camden Yards.

Mr. Schaefer postponed an 11 a.m. press conference until later in the day -- after a meeting with top legislative leaders about the NFL outlook, his spokesman, Paige Boinest, said.

Mr. Schmoke's spokesman, Clint Coleman, said the mayor is optimistic about the CFL.

"It's pretty much a certainty," Mr. Coleman said about today's lease signing. Canadian-style football would arrive in town 10 years after the Colts abandoned Baltimore in a March snow squall. That means new rules, a larger field and unfamiliar heroes. For Mr. Speros, it means the culmination of a project that began a year ago and turned serious last summer when he submitted a nonrefundable deposit of $50,000 for an expansion team in Baltimore. The franchise will cost $3 million.

After missing a Jan. 15 CFL deadline on the stadium lease, Mr. Speros was granted a 30-day extension that coincided with the city's bid for an existing NFL team.

Last week, Mr. Schmoke talked of the CFL vision he sees for Baltimore.

"I kind of feel, with respect to the CFL, the way I did with the old Baltimore Colts before Mr. [Robert] Irsay," Mr. Schmoke said. "This is a family-oriented-type sport, the pricing of the tickets is going to be such that families are going to be able to go without putting a second mortgage on their home. And so I think we ought to reach out to them and embrace them. It's a changing climate for professional sports and football, and we ought to adapt to these changes."

Tickets will range from $9 to $28 (the most expensive are some 3,000 club seats on the mezzanine level at Memorial Stadium), and Mr. Speros says he has 25,000 season-ticket reservations. The team has a coach, Don Matthews, and most of Matthews' assistants with the Saskatch ewan Roughriders will join him. What it doesn't have is a nickname.

Mr. Speros said yesterday that no decision has been made on using the name Colts. The NFL urged CFL Commissioner Larry hTC Smith last week not to use Colts, saying it would pursue legal action if the team were named after Baltimore's former club.

CFL spokeswoman Diane Mihalek said yesterday that the league's recommendation to Mr. Speros is to get another nickname, and to stay away from Silver Colts and Fighting Colts as well. Mr. Smith was unavailable for comment.

Mr. Matthews' staff, meanwhile, apparently is complete. Steve Buratto, an offensive line coach in Saskatchewan last year and head coach of the Calgary Stampeders in 1984-85, said yesterday that he has agreed to come to Baltimore.

"If it [the team] goes through, I go," Mr. Buratto said from his home in Boise, Idaho.

Along with Mr. Buratto, other Matthews' assistants who've left Saskatchewan since the end of the season are Daryl Edralin, linebacker and special teams coach, and James Parker, defensive line coach. Bob Price, defensive coordinator with the Roughriders, and Jim Popp, the team's chief scout, also are expected to join Matthews. Mr. Popp likely will become personnel director.

CFL TICKETS

You can put your name on a list for Canadian Football League tickets by calling 321-1983. This is a message center that will take your reservation for season tickets that range from $9 to $25 per game. Ten home games are planned.

A spokesman said information will be mailed.

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