Blue Jays' Gillick says CFL will fly in Baltimore

May 09, 1994|By John Steadman

From an unexpected and respected source, since he's one of baseball's most successful builders of teams, comes a loud and clear endorsement for the Canadian Football League and Baltimore's inclusion. That's Pat Gillick, general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, stepping forth to forecast the belief that the addition is going to take the sport to a new level of acceptance.

Gillick, who grew up watching and cheering the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League, says Canadian style football is a "refreshing change" when contrasted with the stereotyped version of what the NFL, beset with poor leadership, has been offering.

"If I was involved with the NFL," says Gillick, "I'd seriously consider adopting some of the rules used in Canada. I've heard, unofficially, of course, some NFL club owners have talked about adding a feature or two. The NFL went for the two-point conversion. Professional sport is entertainment and the CFL, I believe, is ahead of the NFL in that regard."

Gillick, a graduate of the University of Southern California before pitching in the Baltimore Orioles' farm system, grew up watching major college football and the Rams in a spectacular era when they featured such future Hall of Fame players as Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch, Bob Waterfield and Norm Van Brocklin.

He was to spend five years with minor-league affiliates of the Orioles, where his intellect and knowledge of such diverse topics as the weather in Des Moines or ship arrivals in New Orleans brought him the nickname of "Yellow Pages." Gillick had an IQ approaching genius but never dealt in self-aggrandizement.

Others may proclaim the Blue Jays executive as an absolute authority on almost as many subjects as you can find in an encyclopedia, but the enjoyable aspect of being around him is he's never a bore. It's that way when he's asked his reaction to pro football, augmented by the near two decades he has spent watching the CFL after the World Series is over. He has come to understand the technicalities of a sport different in concept with the NFL.

He also is in position to measure what Baltimore will mean to the CFL. "Having Baltimore is an important breakthrough," he remarked. "But the CFL isn't a Johnny-come-lately kind of league. It has been around 102 years. Especially in Canada, tradition and heritage carry important meaning. That's what Baltimore brings to the CFL."

Obviously those qualities, quite unfortunately, don't mean much to the NFL or else Baltimore would have had a franchise instead of Jacksonville or Charlotte. It's obvious commissioner Paul Tagliabue cares not for Baltimore's past contributions or is indifferent toward the historical aspects of the league he heads.

What, in Gillick's opinion, makes the CFL an attractive option for Baltimore and other cities? "It's a fun-filled experience. The extra width and length of the field gives receivers more room to get open. Running has a place but isn't that important. The game is fast-moving. No dead spots. The players don't stand around. The ball is almost always in play."

Reflecting on seasons past, in the NFL and CFL, he points to the 1989 Grey Cup (the Canadian championship) as the best he ever witnessed. It was the Saskatchewan Roughriders 43, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 40, played in the Toronto SkyDome.

If there's a problem, Gillick says the only negative is "not enough people know what the CFL is all about. Again, I'm not knocking the NFL, but the CFL is excellent entertainment. Players are in motion all over the field, spreading out and going deep, coming back, and the quarterbacks have to be able to throw on the run.

"I agree with Dave Archer [quarterback of the Sacramento Gold Miners], who said if a fan gets out of his seat to buy a hot dog, he may miss two scores. This is going to be an important year in the CFL. If Baltimore is receptive to the CFL it may never want the NFL and I'm judging that after being a follower of both leagues that I like in different ways."

Final question: Will Baltimore, in his opinion, accept the CFL? "Yes. I think it'll be highly successful. The CFL Colts won't be playing games when the Orioles are at home. That'll help them. It would be suicide to challenge the Orioles and they won't. I'm glad for the CFL and Baltimore. A great league and a great city deserve each other."

The Gillick testimonial makes an impressive billboard. It comes unrehearsed and gets attention since a highly respected American in Canada is talking so positive about what Baltimore is going to be a part of for the first time.

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