Local fans plead not guilty to charge of stealing Bucs

January 10, 1995|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

It is as much a part of Baltimore's collective consciousness as hard crabs, clipper ships and, well, Johnny U.

The moving vans. The snowy night. The Beloved Team sneaking out of town, without even a phone call to the mayor. The image of Baltimore-as-victim of the NFL is familiar nationwide, and is synonymous with the view of a heartless sports industry at odds with its common-man roots.

But if local fans are feeling any guilt pangs over the possible plunder of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you wouldn't know it to talk to them.

"Unquestionably no. I do not have any misgivings," said Jerrold L. Brotman, a lawyer and insurance specialist whose father was a longtime dentist for the Baltimore Colts before they moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

He views the move of the Colts as legal but "morally wrong," and acknowledges the similarity if the Bucs move to Baltimore. Orioles owner Peter Angelos is negotiating to buy the Bucs and move them to Baltimore, arguing that the team has been unsupported at home.

"A precedent has been set," said Brotman, whose experience with Baltimore football goes back to the 1947 Baltimore Colts of the All-America Football Conference. "Also, we were badly treated in the [expansion] franchise quest. If you want a team badly enough, it's time to play hardball."

Other fans note that St. Petersburg, Fla., has tried for years to rob other cities of their baseball teams and that Tampa leaders tried to persuade the Colts to move there in the 1970s.

"All's fair in love and war," said Baltimore Colts' Band leader John Ziemann, a passionate guardian of the Baltimore Colts' heritage.

"We have been fair and aboveboard all along. We played softball and now it's time to play hardball," said Ziemann, whose band continues to play for both NFL and Canadian Football League teams.

Nevertheless, Norman Anderson, corresponding secretary of the Council of Colts Corrals, a still-active Baltimore Colts fan group, acknowledged the ethical quandary. He remembers waking up that March morning 11 years ago and listening in disbelief to reports that the Colts were on the interstate.

"I wouldn't want to steal another city's team, because it was done to us," he said.

But he finds several distinctions between the Colts of 1984 and the Bucs of 1995. The Bucs have had low attendance for years -- and finished last in the NFL in attendance this season -- unlike the Colts, who once had 51 consecutive sellouts at Memorial Stadium.

Also, this transaction is being executed by the rules and in public, unlike the decision of the Colts, he said.

Although there were protracted negotiations to save the Colts, and team owner Robert Irsay publicly shopped the team around for years, the final decision to move was made suddenly and, according to team officials, in response to threats in Annapolis to seize the team through eminent domain, the legal process by which governments can take private property for public use.

"I think with what's going on around the country, why shouldn't we? If we didn't do it, someone else would," Anderson said, citing efforts by St. Louis and other cities to lure the Bucs.

Former Baltimorean Matthew P. Gasper, who moved to St. Petersburg a few years after the Colts left, said: "Despite what you may be hearing, the fans want them to stay."

In a letter to The Sun, Gasper appealed for fair play and said he does not want to again feel the pain of losing a franchise.

"The Tampa Bay Bucs don't have the championship seasons and the Super Bowl rings, but they are still our Bucs," he wrote.

But Baltimore retiree Bob Loomis, who held coveted Colts season tickets for years, said he has vacationed in Tampa and is underwhelmed by Tampa Stadium. The old facility is one of the chief reasons Angelos can outbid Florida rivals and still earn a profit in the lucrative stadium Maryland is offering to build.

"It seems to me that they have had a good chance to keep the team and they haven't," Loomis said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who grew up when the Colts were regularly sold out and who was a quarterback for City College High School, said, "Let the record be clear that Baltimore is not engaged in an effort to steal an NFL team.

"But Mr. Angelos is a citizen in whom we are extremely proud. His effort is consistent with the NFL rules. He's not doing anything underhanded," Schmoke said.

Tampa should be given every opportunity to save its team, Schmoke said, but as long as Angelos follows the rules, "I would not have any reservations about his moving the team to Baltimore."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who becomes emotional recalling the night as mayor when he learned from a radio report that the Colts had fled, agrees that the Tampa situation is different, according to spokesman Welford McLellan.

"Nobody announced the sale of the Colts," McLellan said. "They left in the middle of the night. We're not stealing a team."

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