Burned Bawlmer bewares NFL

September 23, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

Once again, the NFL carrot is dangling in front of our football-hungry mouths. We're high on the list of cities to which the Los Angeles Rams are considering moving. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are for sale, and our big guy, Peter Angelos, has already thrown a ton of money at them once.

We're supposed to be excited. Holding our breath. Upping our taxpayer-funded offer. Selling what's left of our soul -- and as many luxury boxes as possible.

So, why are we yawning?

Why isn't anyone talking about this? Why are we going to CFL games when we should be scheduling a giant civic pep rally to prove our undying love for foo-ball?

Why doesn't anyone seem to care that the almighty En-Ef-EL is nigh?

Simple. Because we've been there. Done that. And we've got the scars to prove it.

We've been through the disappointment of 1987-1988, when Bill Bidwill swooped around the Inner Harbor in a helicopter, proclaimed our city "lovely," hiccuped a few monosyllabic answers at a news conference and took his bumbling Cardinals to Arizona, where they're a flop.

We've been through the bitter disappointment of 1993, when we spent months measuring our toys against those of the other expansion hopefuls and put together a rich offer -- only to discover that it didn't matter what we offered because we were a Washington suburb on the NFL's map.

After all that, we'd be chumps to get excited yet again about the possibility of the NFL returning to our fair burg.

You get hit on the head once, it's tough luck. You get hit on the head twice, it's stubbornness. You get hit on the head a third time, you're just getting what your deserve.

That doesn't mean there aren't people out there sticking pins in their Paul Tagliabue dolls or doing whatever it is they usually do to help lure the NFL this way. This city would be thrilled if the Rams announced tomorrow that they were coming to Bawlmer. Georgia, what a hon!

But no one is going to care much if the Rams don't come. It's too late for that. Too much damage has been done, too many well-intentioned feelings hurt. It's just plain tough to get excited about what might happen when we've worked ourselves into hating the miserable, soul-robbing NFL. (Doesn't it feel good?)

Besides, we've got the CFL UnColts. (But have you noticed we're the only people in the world who like Canadian football? Canadians don't even like Canadian football. A good Baysox crowd isn't much smaller than your average CFL crowd in Canada. And fans in the other American cities with CFL teams aren't exactly lining up for tickets, either. Yep, we're pretty much it, folks. We're the whole part and parcel of the three-down football world.)

To get pumped up about our NFL prospects again would mean having to weigh our chances against those of the other cities in the running. And, just a hunch here, people would rather pay money to listen to Don Fehr and Dick Ravitch sing a "My Way" duet than go through that rigmarole again.

We know better now. We know that it doesn't matter how many luxury boxes or exhibition-game tickets you sell, or how many politically correct fannies you kiss. We know not to believe a word we hear. We know that having the best financial package is about as important as having the best selection of toothpaste at the supermarket.

We know that the widely held perception that it's Baltimore against St. Louis for the Rams means that Hartford is probably a lock. (That's Hartford, Conn., and yes, they're in the running, too. Just like Jacksonville was in the running, too.)

We know that the whole thing is basically a crap shoot and your best chance is to have the right friends.

There are many issues to debate as the Rams and Bucs mull their futures. Would Georgia Frontiere risk a lawsuit and go against the wishes of Tagliabue to move here? Is St. Louis the front-runner now that it has cleared up its lease problem? Does it help St. Louis that its dome is under construction and our stadium is a blueprint? If Angelos offers $200 million for the Bucs, would the keepers of Hugh Culverhouse's estate take a lower offer to keep the team in Tampa Bay? Do we have a better chance because we're dealing with teams and not the league office?

A year ago, these questions would have been fodder for talk shows and columns and office lunches. A year ago, we counted down the days until the expansion teams were awarded, endlessly debating the various pros and cons.

We learned our lesson, that's for sure.

This time, we won't bother to watch the game as it unfolds. This time, we'll just wait for the final score, thank you.

This time, twice burned, we'll govern ourselves with the first commandment of the franchise- moving game: The time to get excited is at the kickoff of the first game.

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