CFL in Las Vegas is latest gamble for veteran owner Mileti

August 06, 1994|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

After spending more than three years touring a dozen North American cities in search of an attractive location for a Canadian Football League expansion team, sportsman Nick Mileti finally settled on Las Vegas.

"I felt like Brigham Young discovering the Promised Land," he said.

It will hardly look that promising to the Baltimore CFLs (2-2) tonight when they play the Las Vegas Posse before a predicted crowd of 15,000 at 32,000-seat Sam Boyd Stadium.

In its previous two home games, the Posse (2-2) drew the league's two smallest crowds this season -- 12,310 for Saskatchewan and 10,740 the next week for Sacramento.

"I have zero concern about our crowds to date," said Mileti, who previously owned the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers and Cleveland Crusaders of the World Hockey Association.

"That's only a temporary glitch. Ultimately, we're planning on having a domed stadium in a few years. Right now, we represent the only major-league franchise in town. We don't have the rich football heritage of Baltimore, but this is the fastest growing population area in America."

Mileti likened the challenge of building the Posse from scratch to his $3.7 million investment to purchase the expansion NBA Cavaliers in 1973.

"All I had at the start was this giant hole in the ground in Richfield [Ohio] to build an arena," he said. "But we made a go of it. And look where the NBA is today. I envision the same growth for the CFL on a lesser scale.

"But for me, this is like the third act of a long-running play. I spent a number of years living the good life in Rome, but I found I needed to get back in the action. I've got to be a big deal in Las Vegas. I'm 62, and this is my last hurrah."

His first major decision was to hire veteran head coach Ron Meyer, who alienated his players in New England and Indianapolis but always finished with a winning record.

Mileti made an unsuccessful bid to sign Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward, the Florida State quarterback whose scrambling style seemed perfectly suited to the CFL.

Instead, the Posse began its inaugural season with a relatively faceless roster. The most recognizable names are linebacker Greg Battle, an eight-year CFL veteran who starred for Winnipeg, quarterback Darian Hagan, who led the University of Colorado to the national title in 1990, and rookie wide receiver Tamarick Vanover, a member of Florida State's 1993 championship team.

"We're probably the youngest team in the league," said Meyer. "We've got 27 rookies on our active squad."

After a three-way way fight for quarterback in training camp, Meyer gave the starting job to rookie Anthony Calvillo of Utah State.

Calvillo (37-for-77, five touchdowns) injured his ankle on the first play of last week's 39-20 loss in Toronto. Len Williams, a rookie from Northwestern, will start against Baltimore with Hagan in reserve.

"We've been competitive in every game, except the first half last week against Toronto," said Meyer. The Posse trailed the Argonauts 32-3 before staging a futile rally.

Baltimore (2-2) can be expected to put constant pressure on the lightly tested Williams.

Last week, Don Matthews' four-man front was unsuccessful in rushing Winnipeg's Matt Dunigan, who stood behind a seven-man line and blistered Baltimore for 29 second-half points in the Bombers' 39-25 victory.

"They kept us from applying any heat on Dunigan," said Matthews. "I can't put any blame on my secondary. Give a guy like Dunigan that much time to throw, and he'll tear any defense apart."

Matthews said he plans to play more of a nickel defense this week, using another defensive back in lieu of outside linebacker Alvin Walton, the former Washington Redskin.

Offensively, Baltimore wasted a number of scoring chances against Winnipeg last week.

"The biggest thing is that we have to make the plays when we're inside the 20-yard line," said quarterback Tracy Ham, who has passed for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns. "Our defense has been giving us good field position. We've got to take advantage of it."

The only significant lineup change is Ricky Andrews making his first start at middle linebacker in place of Earnest Fields.

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