Football Back on 33rd Street

February 17, 1994

For the folks who live in Waverly, for the legions who love Memorial Stadium, for the multitudes who have grown sick and tired of NFL affronts to their city, this is the day that a Canadian Football League franchise officially comes to Baltimore.

Will it foul up Gov. William Donald Schaefer's valiant efforts to bring the Buccaneers of Tampa Bay or the Raiders/Rams of Los Angeles to a brand new stadium at Camden Yards? Not for a minute. The National Football League is big time -- just ask its mighty moguls. They consider the CFL a flyspeck to be ignored if they should deign to reap a fortune in this sports-mad city.

For Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the opportunity to grab a CFL franchise while an NFL franchise is still the stuff of dreams was something the chief executive of a beleaguered metropolis could not pass up. City Council President Mary Pat Clarke's objections are strictly politics.

Mr. Schmoke knows Memorial Stadium, unused, is blighting and endangering its neighborhood. Its life has been prolonged by the hTC ten-year quest for a successor to the departed Colts. Now the 40-year-old coliseum is at a point where it could be refurbished if the CFL comes to stay or it will have to be demolished within a reasonable time.

True enough, there could be complications if by some miracle the Raiders, now saddled with an earthquake-damaged ball park, elect to come here for the 1994-95 season. They would have to share Memorial Stadium with a CFL team that plays on a bigger field. But this embarrassment of riches is remote enough for the mayor to put it aside.

Governor Schaefer, who likes to do things his way, may not be happy Mr. Schmoke has moved ahead. But who can doubt Mr. Schaefer, in his previous incarnation at City Hall, would have done the same? The incumbent mayor, at the governor's behest, delayed signing up the CFL franchise until a supposed Valentine's Day deadline had passed. He could wait no longer. He could not take the chance of ending up with nothing but a vacant, decaying giant horseshoe on 33rd Street.

Instead, CFL franchise owner Jim Speros gives Memorial Stadium a new lease on life and offers to Baltimoreans a new diversion: Canadian-style football that is faster, more offense-oriented and perhaps as entertaining as the NFL brand. With 25,000 reservations for tickets already in, it could be part of a new sports miracle. Or, then again, it could die after just a season or two if Baltimore gets an NFL team.

For Mr. Speros it all is a brave gamble. For Mayor Schmoke it is a nothing-to-lose situation. And for Governor Schaefer, it is a mere annoyance that won't stop his pursuit of the big leagues.

So here's a big welcome to the CFL's Baltimore Whatstheirnames.

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