CFLs should know blaming refs is the cry of losers

November 29, 1994|By JOHN STEADMAN

Never again will Baltimore be afforded a chance to fulfill what has never been done before . . . a prideful act of ringing historical achievement.

In all of professional sports, there has been the remindful refrain that a first-year team has never gone all the way. Just too much to ask.

Baltimore came the closest but a once-in-a-franchise opportunity escaped it when the CFLs lost on the final play of the Canadian Football League championship game. It's gone . . . over and done.

When a challenger gets this close, it has to find a way to win, or so the oft-quoted truism goes. The B.C. Lions beat the CFLs at the wire, 26-23, as time ran out in Sunday's Grey Cup showdown at Vancouver, British Columbia.

The new rallying call, the mission for next year, is still significant enough to provide impetus. Ideally, Baltimore would like to achieve the goal of now becoming the first American representative to earn the Grey Cup and bring it home to the States.

Getting there this season, when the CFLs were in position, was an upset in itself. Waging the good fight and coming up short doesn't mean they'll duplicate the same threat in 1995. The vagaries of sport don't necessarily play out that way.

On the plus side, for Baltimore's immediate future, is the fact the full list of roster players will return. They are signed to two-year contracts, according to personnel director Jim Popp.

But coach Don Matthews is going to have to decide what direction he desires to go. Some players may not be invited back. It's the option of the club, not the player.

Owner Jim Speros, Matthews and Popp wanted to glory in a capture of the Grey Cup as a first-year expansion club. They had chances to beat B.C. but simply didn't get the job done.

It's embarrassing to hear the criticism of the officiating crew instead of the team blaming itself. Maybe the CFLs don't realize it but that kind of reaction is the sound of losers.

There were pivotal moments when Baltimore could have taken out the Lions but didn't show much more than gestures, after having them on the ropes and not turning out the lights.

For 1995, several scenarios could evolve. Speros may lose one, two or even three of his associate owners. Dr. Michael Gelfand reportedly is considering buying the Las Vegas Posse and moving to Birmingham. If not Gelfand, then another financial backer, Marv Stursa.

Both are limited partners with president/majority owner Speros. They just might like to take on new challenges within the CFL.

The league's asking price for an expansion club has doubled from the $3 million Speros and his supporters paid only 10 months ago. A CFL team, in case you haven't been paying attention, is the best buy in sports today, thus the increased interest to get in on the action.

Tom Matte, the former Colt who helped Speros come out of the gate and opened numerous corporate doors, has been mentioned as a potential Birmingham general manager. And if Columbus, Ohio, investors continue to pursue a CFL team, Matte, an "old dog" hero of Ohio State football, could be the GM there.

Asked to discuss either of those possibilities coming to fruition, Matte, for absolutely the first time in his life, said, "No comment."

The Baltimore CFLs, while taking inventory, have put the toughest task behind them -- starting a team from empty air and coming this far in record time.

Speros, Matthews and Popp have to continue to exhibit the same drive and cooperation. They made a tremendous run at the Grey Cup and were the beneficiary of an inordinate number of breaks. Good fortune fell their way.

It's going to be much tougher, not by any means easier, the second time around.

They'll have to keep players happy, increase the sale of season tickets and gain more commercial sponsorships. Hopefully, Speros and Matthews will subjugate egos and stay the course for another stirring championship challenge.

It can't work any other way. Second place is temporarily pleasing but not satisfying.

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