Cooke passionately states case for NFL in Laurel, not Baltimore

February 23, 1994|By Jon Morgan and John W. Frece | Jon Morgan and John W. Frece,Sun Staff Writers

Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, frustrated with Gov. William Donald Schaefer's relentless efforts to obtain an NFL franchise to replace the Colts, said yesterday that he would probably abandon plans to build a stadium in Laurel if an NFL team moves to Baltimore.

Calling his own plan a huge private investment in the state, he said he should not be asked to compete against a team playing 14 miles away in a publicly subsidized stadium. He said he could not understand why his offer had not been more broadly embraced.

"I'm putting $450 million into the state and I'm ravished, I'm refused, I'm rejected -- I'm a second-class citizen. It doesn't make any sense," he said, referring to the value of the team, the stadium and the land he would build it on.

He said the only impediment to his plans is Mr. Schaefer.

During an interview with reporters and editors at The Sun, Mr. Cooke -- sometimes passionately, sometimes angrily -- spent two hours defending his choice of Laurel, stressing the economic benefits of his project and the logic of locating a franchise between the region's two major cities.

But he said that if another NFL team did move to a proposed stadium at Camden Yards, he did not think he would continue his plans for a $160 million, 78,600-seat facility at Laurel.

"In our United States of America there are 28 [pre-expansion] football teams, and in only one area do two football teams co-exist, and that is in New York City, which has roughly 18 million population. And even there . . . one of the two teams [the Jets] doesn't sell out all the time," he said.

"So, you tell me: How can two teams exist in this comparatively small population area of 6 or 7 million within 14 miles of each other?" he asked. "The nub of it is, it can't be done."

He called Baltimore and Washington "simply appendages to what is the true growth of this area, namely the area I'm talking about building this stadium in."

Mr. Cooke said the state's offer to build a $165 million stadium atCamden Yards amounts to "a form of socialism," in contrast to his private enterprise approach.

He said Baltimore's successful attempt to recruit a Canadian Football League team to play in Memorial Stadium would not be a factor in his ultimate decision on Laurel because the CFL plays a different schedule. The CFL plays from July through November, while the NFL plays from September through January.

As part of his campaign, Mr. Cooke plans to tour Frostburg State University Saturday, hinting that he might move the Redskins' summer training camp there from Dickenson College in Carlisle, Pa.

It is a move designed to impress House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, who will accompany Mr. Cooke on the tour and in whose district Frostburg is located.

Mr. Cooke said he now views Mr. Schaefer as the only impediment to his moving the Redskins to Laurel. Mr. Schaefer has withheld his support for the Laurel project until he can secure Mr. Cooke's support for a team in Baltimore.

The 81-year-old team owner said he thought Mr. Schaefer had agreed -- in two meetings last month -- to support a Redskins stadium in Laurel if the governor was unable to land an NFL team by Feb. 15.

"I believe that he did [agree]. He denies that he did," Mr. Cooke said.

"I believe that he told me twice: his quote was, 'Let me run out the string to Feb. 15 and then I will join you, and help you.'. . . He now denies that he said that. My hearing is not quite impaired, or as acute as it used to be, but I believe that he said that to me.

"It was my understanding that if the governor had not obtained a franchise . . . in the form of a document, a legal contract, a letter of intent, that he would steal away quietly in the night," he said.

Asked for comment yesterday, Mr. Schaefer, though

TC spokeswoman, said he had told Mr. Cooke "that I would run out the string and the string hasn't been run out on Mr. Angelos yet."

He referred to Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who in recent weeks has been talking with several NFL teams interested in moving.

Mr. Angelos has said he would either buy one of the teams or assemble a group that would.

"Mr. Cooke wants a 75-year monopoly in a market that can sustain two teams. Baltimore-area fans would end up being the losers," Mr. Schaefer said.

Mr. Cooke once again said he would not build a stadium in Washington but noted that Virginia officials have invited him there. He wouldn't say when he might re-examine sites outside Maryland.

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