Baltimore's reception means a touchdown pass for CFL

February 18, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

Although under the guise of a news conference, the introduction of the Canadian Football League to Baltimore took on the aura of a momentous pep rally. The occasion was memorable for its animation, enthusiasm and the gusto exuded by an impressive lineup of participants.

The Canadian and American flags were front and center, with nine colorful team banners representing the cities already holding franchises serving as an appropriate backdrop. Such attention-getting names as the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Edmonton Eskimos, Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders were included in the pennant display.

It can be said with a degree of pleasure that the addition of Baltimore manifests itself as another significant link between the United States and our friendly Canadian neighbors to the north. LarrySmith, the boyish looking 42-year-old commissioner, well-spoken and extremely knowledgeable, impressed the gathering with his presence and intellect.

What does it mean, he was asked, to the CFL to have Baltimore? "Our Canadian citizens are elated," he said. "It's a huge U.S. story as well as in Canada. Having Baltimore brings tradition and an identity to such heroes of mine as Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore and Tom Matte."

Smith, who played 10 years in the CFL, earlier mentioned he couldn't understand how the National Football League ignored its Baltimore history, meaning the tradition of the Colts and the galaxy of heroes the team produced. For that to happen, he playfully suggested the NFL "had to be playing without a helmet not to want to come to Baltimore."

CFL expansion, as designed by Smith, calls for eight teams in Canada and the same number in the United States, even with the likelihood of extending the number to 18 or 20 by 1997. He talks about a future that might include San Antonio, Nashville and Honolulu but going to Hawaii would call for the franchise located there to subsidize air fare for visiting teams from the West Coast.

Nashville especially interests him because of its growth and importance to the field of entertainment. "The way Baltimore greeted us is beyond our fondest expectations," Smith said. "Your mayor, Kurt Schmoke, and Jim Speros, the club owner, made it happen. Baltimore is an exciting place. You can tell how much love the public has for football."

Henry Rosenberg, chairman of Crown Central Petroleum Corp., who may participate with Speros in the ownership alignment, offered the CFL a welcome from the business community and said his organization would be sponsoring a WJZ television show next Friday that would tell the Canadian football story and Baltimore's new involvement.

The Canadian embassy's administrator of information, L. Ian MacDonald, talked about the rivalry in baseball between Baltimore and Toronto. He also wondered out loud what player would be assigned jersey No. 19 -- but that

may be sacrosanct because of the regard held for Unitas.

Two standout Canadian quarterbacks were present, Doug Flutie and Dave Archer. "The pace of the CFL is constant, we throw the ball 45 times a game and after I see the NFL I get bored," said Flutie.

Then Archer, a NFL signal-caller for eight years, said, "Let me warn you. If you get up to get a hot dog, you'll miss two scores. TV ratings and money are important to the other league. What's lost to the NFL is the game."

That has been said before and it brings to mind a poignant quote from Bert Bell Jr., son of the late NFL commissioner, who $H quipped, "One of these days some NFL teams will forget to kick off." It was hisway of saying all other things are important except the game.

There were numerous football personalities in the room, past and present, including master of ceremonies Irv Cross and Tom Matte, two limited partners of Speros.

A brilliant Maryland quarterback of yesteryear, Bernie Faloney, who had 13 seasons in the CFL, including winning the Grey Cup, was present with his son. They head a Canadian corporation, Fascan International, which has an office in Baltimore and Bernie visits here frequently.

"Baltimore will react well to the sport," Faloney observed. "It's a more challenging game because you only have three downs. The play is much faster. Interest will increase because of the U.S. being included."

Sean Landeta, who has been an All-Pro with the New York Giants and spent part of last year with the Los Angeles Rams, added, "There's nothing but action in the CFL. Punters can score points. I think the fans will like it. I know I do."

Another Baltimore native, Kirk Maggio, an All-America punter at UCLA, after graduating from Calvert Hall, is acquainted with the CFL since he worked out a year ago with the Sacramento Gold Miners. He agrees with Landeta. "The kicking game is much more interesting," he said. "We punters play a prominent part. Players in the CFL are quicker overall than the NFL. The league has some fantastic people."

Speros thanked Baltimore for being so helpful, mentioning the mayor, whom he said, "lived up to his word," CFL commissioner Smith, business leaders John Paterakis and Chip Mason and then brought his new coach, Don Matthews, to the microphone. The CFL is proud of its longevity, counting 102 years of existence, which makes it 27 years older than the NFL.

Gaining Baltimore is a coupe for the CFL. According to Smith, eight representatives from other cities called to inquire about the process of acquiring a franchise after it was announced Baltimore had joined. Speros said he'll battle to call the team the Baltimore Colts, taking on the NFL if need be. The declaration brought booming applause.

New adventures are always exciting. This one has a chance. It would be a turn of poetic justice if Baltimore, stomped on by the NFL, brought an imposing identity to the CFL that lifted it to a level of acceptance it never knew before.

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