Schmoke, who can play the game, makes right move

February 16, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

This was Mayor Kurt Schmoke at his best . . . articulate and analytical (something his predecessor wasn't). He welcomed a Canadian Football League team to Baltimore yesterday and said he was happy Memorial Stadium would be flying the flags of two countries.

It was just the perfect thing to say on a memorable and, hopefully, what may become a historic occasion.

Schmoke gives Baltimore an edge when talking sports. He played football and understands what the game is all about, as opposed to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who is out to lunch when it comes to comprehending what it takes to organize a franchise.

We're told a member of the governor's staff attempted to short-circuit the Schmoke endorsement of the CFL and tried to pressure him by saying the mayor would be held responsible for keeping the NFL out of Baltimore. What hogwash.

Schmoke, to his credit, would not be intimidated. He stepped forth and made the announcement that Baltimore and the CFL had a five-year lease.

There were two questions this reporter asked the mayor:

What impressed him about Jim Speros, owner of the team that's coming to Baltimore, and what does he think of Canadian football?

"I have been meeting with Speros for 7 1/2 months," he answered. "I was impressed with his commitment to the fans. He's also a guy I can talk football with. He gave me reason to believe he's interested in keeping ticket prices in reach of the average person.

"As for the Canadian league, it plays my kind of football. I'm familiar with it. The quarterback throws a lot of passes and runs sprint-outs. Doug Flutie, Warren Moon and Joe Theisman had success there."

Schmoke called their names with an awareness of football knowledge that most public officials in Maryland don't have. It's obvious he knows the game as a former player. There's much to be said for a leader when he fully understands the subject he's dealing with.

The news conference in the mayor's office was unusual, even astonishing when media members in the room twice applauded his statements, such as the ovation he received after remarking, "We're ready to fight for the name Colts."

He explained the decision was up to Speros but added, significantly, "a number of law firms have stepped forward" to volunteer to handle the case if the NFL contests the issue. Schmoke mentioned Ron Shapiro, of the Shapiro and Olander law firm, had offered his services.

A Las Vegas contact also supposedly would like to pay the bills if any expense is incurred in a legal battle.

Fans in Baltimore have called to suggest they will bankroll any court proceedings that are undertaken. This should not be necessary. Speros must show what he's made of and not back away.

The Colts name is important to Baltimore; this is where it belongs. The NFL is trying to bluff Baltimore out of using the name. "The community is ready to embrace this team," the mayor predicted. "I've been briefed about possibilities of Tampa [the NFL] coming to Baltimore, but my energies are focused on the CFL."

City Councilman Joe DiBlasi, who heads the Professional and Municipal Sports Committee for Schmoke, said he and his group had nothing to do with the CFL move. "The credit goes to the mayor. It's a positive result in every way. The city and the Memorial Stadium neighborhood are helped. And it's smart for the CFL to come to the U.S. I believe Baltimore could be the catalyst in the CFL doing some great things."

Speros was accompanied by his wife and two minority partners, Irv Cross, former Philadelphia Eagle, and Tom Matte, former Baltimore Colt. In talking about the CFL and Baltimore, the enthusiastic Cross commented, "The mayor has been an absolute class act. He told us back in August, when we first met, not to interfere with the NFL. We followed his lead. CFL play is wide-open, upbeat. You'll never see a 9-3 score. Baltimore will love it."

The mayor handed Speros the keys to Memorial Stadium and he, in turn, gave Schmoke a Spalding football, the model used in the Canadian league.

Schmoke handled it like the City College quarterback he used to be before going to Yale and being converted to a defensive halfback.

The mayor's size and ability would have made him ideal for the throwing/scrambling the CFL epitomizes. He could certainly have played there -- except he was the recipient of a Rhodes scholarship.

Subsequently, he became mayor of his native city, which applauds him for quarterbacking the effort to put pro football back in Baltimore.

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