In the battle for survival, the Las Vegas Posse reached the point of no return this week.
When a crowd announced at 7,438 showed up for Sunday night's Canadian Football League game against the Calgary Stampeders and showcase quarterback Doug Flutie, the Posse's fate was sealed. And at least 1,000 of those fans jetted in from Calgary.
The question in Las Vegas is not "if" but "when."
Even Ron Meyer, the team's coach, seemed resigned to that end yesterday as he prepared for Friday night's visit to Baltimore to play the CFLs.
"Every indication I have been given is that we're going to finish the season here in Las Vegas," Meyer said. "Don't call me a liar [if they don't]."
Even as Meyer spoke, league officials held a conference call to discuss the Las Vegas situation amid speculation the team will play its final two home games in a test market.
Participating in the conference call, among others, were commissioner Larry Smith and Calgary owner Larry Ryckman. On Saturday, Ryckman met with Glenn Golenberg, chairman of the board of Las Vegas Major League Sports Inc., which owns the Posse. Ryckman did not return calls to his office yesterday. On Sunday, he told the Las Vegas Sun he could not guarantee the team would finish the season there.
"I wasn't party to that meeting," Meyer said, "and I haven't talked to Glenn since then. Everything is so speculative."
Nevertheless, Meyer has heard the tremors. And he is opposed to a floating franchise for reasons of convenience and competitiveness.
"As coaches, we still think we have an outside chance at the playoffs," he said. "The players and coaches are working desperately hard to keep that flicker of hope alive."
At 5-8, the Posse is a playoff long shot at best. But with the worst attendance, lowest payroll and youngest team in the league, it has enhanced its salability.
Last week the Posse traded linebacker Greg Battle and his $80,000 salary to Ottawa for future considerations. At the same time, Meyer moved wide receiver Tamarick Vanover -- with a guaranteed $125,000 yearly salary -- off the active roster, then suspended him when Vanover temporarily left the team. Meyer was to meet with Vanover yesterday to address the suspension.
That left injured nose tackle Roy Hart as the team's only player with a salary of more than $30,000.
Still, the Posse has remained competitive. It trailed Calgary by only four points (30-26) with less than five minutes to play Sunday night. Then the Stampeders struck for an 11-yard Flutie touchdown pass, a 75-yard single and a 50-yard punt return by Brian Wiggins.
Appointed general manager in the recent power shift from deposed Nick Mileti to Golenberg, Meyer said he was never "disillusioned" about the CFL's chances of success in the United States.
"I think the jury is really out," he said. "Three years ago, they were on the verge of bankruptcy in their own country. . . . It's a tough call for a lot of teams. Even Ryckman himself is in a day-to-day battle [for fiscal stability]."
NOTES: Baltimore coach Don Matthews said linebacker Alvin Walton won't play Friday because of a torn hamstring. . . . Fans who arrive at Memorial Stadium for Friday's 5 p.m. After Work Party will be able to participate in a pre-game filming session for NBC's award-winning police drama "Homicide," co-produced by Baltimore's Barry Levinson. . . . At halftime Friday, the CFLs will induct Orioles Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson into their Stadium Ring of Honor.