Schaefer keeps city's NFL hopes alive

February 16, 1994|By John W. Frece | John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writers Jon Morgan and Frank Langfitt contributed to this article.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Peter G. Angelos double-teamed the state legislature yesterday -- with the governor saying there is a "serious effort" to bring an unidentified NFL team to Baltimore and the Orioles owner declaring that he is personally negotiating with three teams.

"I think the likelihood of our being successful is very, very great," TTC Mr. Angelos said after he and the governor briefed more than two dozen lawmakers on their efforts during a private, 90-minute meeting in Mr. Schaefer's State House office.

The governor, determined to prove that Baltimore is still in serious contention for a National Football League franchise, declared he accomplished that goal.

"There was a date of February 14th that went by in which we had to show we had a lease or letter of intent or something substantial [from an NFL team interested in Baltimore] to report to the legislature," the governor said. "I think we were able to do that."

Asked what made him so optimistic that a team is sincerely interested, the governor offered no specific proof. Rather, he said: "I've been around long enough to know when someone is pulling my chain, and when somebody is making a serious effort. And this is a serious effort."

Mr. Angelos told those at the meeting that he is negotiating with three teams, one of them -- apparently the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- seriously. He did not disclose details of his negotiations, or name any of the teams.

"We can't be specific. It would be counterproductive," he said.

Although Tampa Bay officials deny that the Buccaneers are for sale, Mr. Angelos has been in contact with the team recently, and State House sources familiar with those talks say the team's sale price could exceed $200 million.

Although Mr. Angelos is trying to buy an NFL franchise, he said it is not his intention to own a football team. If successful, he presumably would resell the team to another ownership group in Baltimore.

"No, I just want to see to it that the Camden Yards sports complex is completed as originally planned so that it makes it the finest athletic complex in the United States. We'd like to see it finished," he said.

For Mr. Schaefer, the ploy of bringing Mr. Angelos to Annapolis seemed to work, at least for now.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, emerged from the meeting to say the General Assembly would not tamper with authorized financing for a football stadium in Baltimore's Camden Yards for at least another two weeks.

The governor has asked lawmakers not to touch the money this legislative session, a decision that would keep the financing in place for the remainder of Mr. Schaefer's final year in office.

Election year pressure is building in the legislature to cancel the financing and use the money for other purposes, such as building schools or prisons.

By March 1, a consulting firm is expected to complete a report on the cost of building roads or other improvements around a proposed stadium site in Laurel, where Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke wants to move his team.

"Before we agree to any franchise, it is important we know what the cost is going to be to the taxpayers, so we agreed to put matters on hold until March 1," Mr. Miller said.

A powerful ally of Mr. Cooke's, Mr. Miller has been pushing the governor to abandon his attempts to bring a team to Baltimore, saying that might scare off the Redskins and Maryland could end up without any NFL team.

Virginia officials -- including Gov. George Allen, son of the late Redskins coach -- say they remain interested in having the stadium, although there is little indication that is being seriously considered.

Last week, a group of landowners in Loudoun County -- home of the team's training center -- met with Mr. Cooke's son, John Kent Cooke, to suggest that the team consider land near Dulles Airport.

"We were just presenting it for informational purposes to show the organization that there was thinking going on here," said John Nicholas, a businessman who helped arrange the meeting but did not attend.

"The response was basically that Loudoun is an interesting fall-back position," Mr. Nicholas said. "I think they are going to play out whatever happens in Laurel."

Reached by phone yesterday, the elder Mr. Cooke said: "I get regular calls from all and sundry to please locate in Loudoun County. I am not unmindful of their warm interest."

Mr. Schaefer seems unperturbed. "We were there first," he said, of his decade-long quest for a team to replace the Colts in Baltimore -- a search that started long before Mr. Cooke decided to leave Washington, tried to move the Redskins to Virginia, then turned his attention to Laurel.

The governor wants Mr. Cooke to give assurances he will not oppose efforts to bring a team to Baltimore.

Mr. Cooke says the Baltimore-Washington area cannot support two teams and that he does not want to compete against a team 15 miles away with a taxpayer-subsidized stadium. But Mr. Schaefer says Mr. Cooke just wants the Redskins to have a monopoly on the region's television and fan market.

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