Speros gives city back its Colts, in CFL kind of way

March 02, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

At 3 a.m. Monday, as a bleary-eyed Jim Speros wrestled with the future of his Canadian Football League franchise, he found the answer to his identity crisis in the league's maple-leaf logo.

The Baltimore "CFL" Colts.

That's "CFL" inside a maple leaf, inside a helmet, between Baltimore and Colts.

Was there ever any doubt? Well, yes, quite a bit.

The answer came hours after Speros spent the afternoon at a bull roast in Glen Burnie listening to the collective plea of 500 members of the Colts Corral to restore the name. It came two days after he had been nearly persuaded by NFL Properties to abandon Colts and take a stab at a fresh start. And it came after

countless sessions talking legal strategy with his Washington attorneys.

Clunky moniker or not, Speros, owner of Baltimore's expansion team in the CFL, gave the fans what they wanted most -- their heritage. Call it a triumph of heart over head.

"If there's a price to be paid, I'm willing to pay it andour organization is willing to pay it," Speros said at a news conference yesterday. "I did this today for the fans of Baltimore after going out in the community and talking to people. Whether it was media or fans, women or children, everybody seemed to want to come up with the same name over and over again."

If there's a price to be paid for using the Colts name, it will have to come in Baltimore. Speros said his attorneys filed paperwork yesterday to ensure that any lawsuit over potential trademark infringement will be tried in Baltimore federal court.

"It takes time to position yourself legally," he said. "I needed the extra two weeks [after the awarding of the franchise]. I listened to what the fans told me they wanted. The CFL emblem between the name will clarify any misconception about who we are. We're not the Baltimore Colts of the NFL. We're the Baltimore CFL Colts."

John Flood, president of NFL Properties, has threatened Speros with a lawsuit over trademark rights to Colts. Yesterday, Flood was unavailable for comment.

But the league issued a statement through spokesman Greg Aiello: "We will review it and see where we go from here. NFL Properties had discussions with Jim Speros, and more were anticipated, so it was a little surprising they made the announcement."

Speros talked with Flood on Friday. It was during thatconversation that Flood, according to Speros, offered him use of Stallions, Rhinos, Bombers and Claws.

Speros hedged . . . until Sunday's bull roast.

"I felt he would go through with it," said Butch Ergott, president of the council of Colts Corrals, who attended the bull roast. "He had the whole city behind him. Besides, the NFL can't do much more to us."

Whether Speros went far enough to avoid a legal quagmire remains unclear.

Local attorney Ned Himmelrich, chairman of the Maryland Bar Association Intellectual Committee, which deals with trademarks, said he believes Speros still has less than a 50-50 chance of winning should the case go to trial.

"I think he's a little better off," Himmelrich said, "but I don't think he's out of the woods. You're still dealing with the likelihood of confusion. What if you called it Jim's McDonald's? Would people think he's not associated with the conglomerate of the same name?

"Why did he pick the name? Because people wanted it. I don't think that's something that can be used as evidence in a trademark infringement case. The fact that somebody wants you to call your restaurant McDonald's doesn't mean you can."

Another local attorney thinks Speros has sufficiently addressed the issue of confusion about which league his team plays in.

"It seems to me by putting 'CFL' between Baltimore and Colts eliminates the likelihood of confusion," said John Baum, an attorney for the firm of Shapiro and Olander, which has offered free legal services to Speros if the NFL sues. "I'd much rather be on our side than their side."

From Ruston, La., former Colts quarterback Bert Jones endorsed the new Colts.

"I find Colts synonymous with Baltimore," he said. "I don't see where [the NFL] has any jurisdictional rights over calling it the BaltimoreColts, unless the league is planning to move in."

Closer to home, former Colts running back Tom Matte, a minor investor in the team, echoed Jones' sentiments. "I really feel Baltimore Colts is synonymous with football," he said. "It's synonymous with the team that's always been here. We want to continue the legend."

Speros, meanwhile, was relieved to have found a solution to his identity crisis.

"I'm as happy today as I was two weeks ago when we got the franchise," he said. "I never had complete satisfaction of having the team until we chose the name. To me, this completes the process."

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