CFLs are dreaming in shades of Grey

October 31, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

And there was the staccato chant: "Grey Cup . . . . Grey Cup . . . . Grey Cup." On Saturday, it continued to grow in intensity during Baltimore's 57-10 victory over Winnipeg, as if it were an orchestrated beat, from a crowd of 39,417 in Memorial Stadium that eight months ago wouldn't have known the Grey Cup from a gray hat.

But Baltimore's franchise is reveling in the glow that comes with the possibility of qualifying for the Canadian Football League championship, scheduled Nov. 26 in Vancouver. Yes, the Grey Cup.

For the uninitiated, the Grey Cup is symbolic of a special kind of supremacy. In this instance it will denote unprecedented achievement. The hope for Baltimore is it will be able to persevere that far against the ongoing threat of losing and being eliminated.

What it will take is four more victories for Baltimore to become the first American team to record a history-making scenario: to rule a Canadian professional football league that has been in business for 101 years.

Such an attainment would bring an unchallenged distinction to Baltimore, a city that has been kicked around more than a dog-eared football which is showing its bladder.

The Baltimore Colts deserted under the cover of darkness for a place called Indianapolis. And then the National Football League, with a chance to rectify the damage, rejected the application for an expansion club.

So Jim Speros, a rookie owner, and Mayor Kurt Schmoke accepted the only alternative: the Canadian Football League.

Meanwhile, the monarch of the Baltimore Orioles, one Peter Angelos, was designated by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to shop for a disenchanted NFL outfit that might want to move. That's still under way and Schaefer, according to informed sources, told the Rams the only Baltimore group they should deal with is the one headed by Angelos.

Angelos' presence is mighty. It continues to cast an ominous shadow over the Baltimore CFLers. He even intimidated a concessionaire, ARA, and told its officials not to offer food services at Memorial Stadium for fans attending CFL games.

The executive order handed down from Angelos deprived ARA employees of 10 nights of work, but the company surrendered to his wishes. Speros and the CFL took the beating Angelos handed them. He's the top dog, and when he barks grown men howl in pain.

The CFL and Speros, with no alternative, had to find another caterer willing to serve them. Concession stands opened in time for the first exhibition and nine league games that followed. Speros sold billboards for money and made trade-offs for advertising, such as bartering with the Bruning Co. for enough paint to dress up the 40-year-old Memorial Stadium.

From this modest beginning, an upstart team, stripped of its chance to use the Colt name by the bullying tactics of the NFL, has gone on to reach astonishing heights -- the first expansion team in any football circuit to make the playoffs in its initial year.

There's a chance, too, for Baltimore, if things break right, to become the first metropolis on any planet to be able to proclaim a trilogy of momentous football achievement. The record would then show Baltimore as the only city to have recorded a National Football League title (1958, 1959, 1968); a Super Bowl crown (1971); and the Grey Cup, emblematic of the best in the CFL. Championships in two different countries.

However, the part about Canada is by no means a foregone conclusion. The possibility is alive but remains problematical, considering Baltimore must reach its maximum in performance for its season-ending regularly scheduled game in Sacramento on Saturday. This is not exactly an automatic win.

Baltimore's CFLers just can't throw their helmets on the field and expect to have the division handed to them. Sacramento is intent on derailing the Baltimore express.

The road ahead is marked with difficulties before it's time for the grand finale on Thanksgiving weekend in Vancouver.

The Grey Cup decides a special kind of supremacy. It is the Canadian version of the Super Bowl, but has been contested for 82 years, which means it has about three times as much seniority as the NFL's showcase event.

The hope for Baltimore is that it gets that far, meaning it needs four more victories.

Baltimore is far from a lock. Too much can be read into the ridiculous ease it had in rolling over Winnipeg.

Coach Don Matthews is saying his team has reached an "emotional high," and because of hitting such a peak it can never go back because it set a new standard for itself. If wishing would make it so, then OK. But that's open to serious debate.

It is, of course, what he hopes will happen, but it doesn't come with a guarantee.

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