CFL: Is it crushing faulty logic?

September 09, 1994

The dramatic response to the Canadian Football League in Baltimore may be merely a product of all the disgust built up toward the National Football League, of admiration for the underdog fight to recapture the Colts' name or of boredom in the absence of baseball.

Or it could be this: The rejection of self-doubt that has nagged at this area for a decade, ever since the original Colts fled in 1984. Can Baltimore support a pro team of its own? An answer in the affirmative is becoming ever more clear.

The Baltimore-Toronto Argonauts game at Memorial Stadium last month drew 41,000 fans, pushing the average for the local CFLs past 37,000 a game. Of the top eight crowds at Canadian league games this season, five occurred in Memorial Stadium. The local team is expected to top 40,000 again for Saturday's home game versus Sacramento.

That has to be considered phenomenal because the corporate support that undergirds any successful pro sports franchise isn't there to the extent an NFL team would garner. Plus, Canadian football may have a century of play under its belt, but virtually no one here knows that history. We all know Cal Ripken Jr. drinks milk. Does CFL quarterback Tracy Ham? Who knows? This team can't yet market personality; it can only sell product -- but it has done remarkably well doing that.

When Bob Irsay fled town with his Colts drawing about 30,000 a game, Baltimore got hung with an albatross: Could the city support the big leagues? The apprehension continued through the '80s as Baltimoreans feared that Edward Bennett Williams would carry off the Orioles to D.C. Even the Brobdingnagian success of Camden Yards didn't quell suspicions: Would the stadium be a hit without all those flip-up phones and Wall Street Journals from D.C. in the stands? Why was new owner Peter Angelos so reluctant to return the name "Baltimore" to the road jerseys? Even minor league hockey eventually bolted Baltimore. In seeking to build a new stadium in Laurel, Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke dissuaded the NFL from thinking this bi-city market could sustain two franchises.

But the CFL's early eye-popping success here with one hand tied behind its back is convincing folks far beyond Maryland that Baltimore is major-league. This is not the region it was when the Colts absconded: The area has grown at a faster clip in the 10 years since they left than in the 15 years before they did. It's wealthier, too. And in a refurbished old stadium, before a no-name team of no-name players, the collective roar of fans bellowing C-O-L-T-S is blowing away some old clouds of self-doubt.


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