Frostburg Woos, Wins Football Fan

March 06, 1994|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer John W. Frece contributed to this article.

FROSTBURG -- He kissed the women. He joked with the men. He raved about Western Maryland and tossed compliments all around. And by the time Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke finished lunch yesterday, the assembled business and political leaders of Allegany County were giving him a standing ovation.

Mr. Cooke, who received a far more enthusiastic reception here than he does in the governor's office, promised he would shift the Redskins' summer training camp to Frostburg State University from Carlisle, Pa., if he moves his team to a new stadium in Laurel.

"I love Carlisle," Mr. Cooke said. "But I think I could love this place a little bit more."

Yesterday, there was love all around Mr. Cooke, who wants to build a $160 million stadium in Anne Arundel County -- despite the resistance of Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

In his tour of Frostburg State, Mr. Cooke inspected dorm rooms that would accommodate players during summer training.

He posed for photographs with five women students. "Darling girls," he cooed, taking each one's face in his hands for a smooch.

"There's a lot of kissing going on in there," he declared to %J Frostburg State President Catherine R. Gira. "And I think I'll stay here."

He took a quick spin through the physical education building, riding in a golf cart driven by House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., the Allegany County Democrat who arranged yesterday's visit to his county.

Loyal K. Park, Frostburg State's director of athletics, pointed out the 3,000-seat stadium and practice fields that the Redskins could use. "Plus, the [Pittsburgh] Steelers are over the hill, an hour and 15 minutes away," Mr. Park said.

Then Mr. Cooke's university hosts drove him along Main Street, where the theater marquee, a banner across the road, even the McDonald's sign hailed the Redskins and Mr. Cooke.

"It's important to the whole region," Dr. Gira said of the chance to win the Redskins. "We know Redskins fans are very enthusiastic. When they're here, they'll stay in our hotels and eat in our restaurants and shop in our shops."

At lunch, on the Frostburg campus, Joseph Freno, of the Cumberland City Council, presented Mr. Cooke with a City of Cumberland lapel pin. Mr. Freno also wants the Redskins in the county. "It's a great big plus," he said. "It would put us on the map."

Mr. Cooke told the lunch audience he loved what he saw -- though he'd never even heard of the place a few months back.

"When I first met Cas . . . I think the next breath was, 'You better come to Frostburg.' And, so help me God, I thought, 'What the hell is Frostburg?' " Mr. Cooke said.

"And it was not said in a derogatory way. It was just a matter of amazement: Is there a place called Frostburg?

"And on the way up I saw a place called Flintstone. So I think anything is possible."

Would Frostburg State have to make any improvements to accommodate the Redskins?

"How the hell can you improve on perfection?" Mr. Cooke asked.

Despite Mr. Cooke's lavish praise and Allegany County's fondest wishes, the deal is far from done.

Mr. Schaefer, who never has given Mr. Cooke a standing ovation, says he still is pursuing a football franchise for Baltimore. Mr. Cooke says the region is not big enough for teams in both Camden Yards and Laurel.

Yesterday, Mr. Cooke said that, to overcome Mr. Schaefer's objections to a stadium in Laurel, the Redskins are relying on Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George's County Democrat, and Mr. Taylor.

In front of the House speaker's hometown audience, Mr. Cooke put responsibility for the Redskins' happiness on Mr. Taylor. "Cas has promised to move heaven and earth," Mr. Cooke said.

In Mr. Miller and Mr. Taylor, he said, "I've had the stoutest possible support in trying to combat the indifference of the governor of this state. 'Indifference' is a mild word for what I've been facing."

But Mr. Cooke apparently was in too good a mood to dwell on the governor's state of mind. "That's as far as I'm going to go," he said, beaming at his audience.

"We ought to be opening a stadium in that town of Laurel in 1996," he said. "If we do and when we do, we're going to be up here for spring training." The 200 in the audience stood and applauded.

With the Frostburg visit behind him, Mr. Cooke's efforts will focus anew on Annapolis, where a long-awaited report on what new roads may be needed at the Laurel site is due to be released this week.

For the past 10 days, the jockeying over the governor's and Mr. Cooke's competing stadium proposals has focused on that report -- which is to detail how much any new roads will cost and who will pay.

The fight over what the study will say has been played out in series of private meetings that have included: the governor; Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, whom Mr. Schaefer has enlisted to buy an NFL team for Baltimore; Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall and his assistants; lawyers for Mr. Cooke and the manager for his stadium project; Mr. Miller; Mr. Taylor; Sen. John A. Pica Jr., chairman of Baltimore's Senate delegation, and Economic and Employment Development Secretary Mark L. Wasserman, a close adviser to the governor.

Since Mr. Schaefer's initial reaction to the proposed Redskins move to Laurel was to declare that he would do everything in his power to stop it, Redskins representatives have been fearful about what the infrastructure report would say.

The report is expected to offer three separate levels of possible improvements.

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