Stadium fund bucks don't need to stop, too

January 18, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

The Brief Temptation of Bill Bidwill was strike one.

The Great Expansion Fix was strike two.

The Bucs Stop There was strike three.

But we're not out.

We'll never be out in our bid for an NFL franchise as long as the state-supported funding mechanism for a new football stadium at Camden Yards continues to exist.

There'll always be franchises that are dissatisfied or for sale, and we'll always be a viable contender for their favor, a legitimate alternative, as long as we can offer a new stadium.

In the wake of the Bucs' sale to those Grinnin' Glazer boys, a transaction in which Peter Angelos was plainly used as leverage to drive the price up, it is tempting to appeal to the state government to dismantle the funding mechanism as kind of a mercy killing. Because it is clear that we'll always be used as leverage, why not just take us out of our misery now and prevent any future grief?

Simple.

Because you never know what will happen.

Because maybe one time the leverage we provide won't stimulate a response from the other side for some reason, and, glory be, we'll wind up with a team.

Sure, that's strictly a dreamland proposition right now. With Paul Tagliabue running the NFL and Jack Kent Cooke owning the Redskins, we'll always be a long shot. The Rams zeroed in on St. Louis largely because there would be no hassles from the league if they moved there, as opposed to here. Georgia Frontiere chose not to pick the fight.

But Tagliabue won't be the commissioner forever, and Cooke i 82. Who knows what the circumstances will be in five years?

Besides, as disappointing as the Bucs' deal is right now -- not surprising, but disappointing nonetheless -- it doesn't begin to mean that all windows of opportunity are closed. The Bengals have an escape clause in their lease that enables them to leave if they don't get a new stadium by 1999. The Browns want a new stadium, but it won't be easy for them now that the Indians have one. And Browns owner Art Modell likes Baltimore.

You can be sure that those and a number of other teams will be joining the hunt for a new stadium now that they see the deal the Rams got in St. Louis, where they'll make $20 million in a bad year.

Baltimore can offer the same kind of deal.

The phone will be ringing.

And one of these days the voice on the other end just might belong to an owner who finds that kind of a profit too alluring to turn down, regardless of what Tagliabue wants or what the league's slimy politics suggest.

To take away the stadium funding and kill our chances now, when the atmosphere is so unsettled, would be a mistake.

Of course, support for repealing the funding legislation could well arise again this year in the General Assembly, where such a move was briefly hot last year, but finally died. There is $20 million already set aside for the project, and another $19 million a year in lottery revenues are so designated. Even though that's no more than a drop in the budget bucket, defending the project could become harder now that no team is being actively courted.

But Baltimore is the largest city in this state, and an NFL franchise would enhance it immeasurably in many ways, so the General Assembly needs to take the long view. Franchises don't move easily, or often. But Baltimore will always be a serious player as long as it can offer a stadium. The new governor kind of owes us one anyway, wouldn't you say?

No doubt, there are plenty of frustrated fans out there who don't agree, who are ready to call the whole thing off, kill the funding and settle for being a CFL town. The sentiment is understood.

Bidwill used us. The NFL abused us during the expansion process, taking our major-league lead and using it to teach minor-league towns such as Jacksonville and Charlotte how to bid. Now, Angelos gets played by the Culverhouse trustees, who, let's face it, did a terrific job of maximizing the sale price.

Yes, it does become degrading after a while to keep lusting so publicly and continually get jilted.

But it won't have been degrading at all if we end up getting a team one day.

And you just can't say that we don't have a chance.

Keeping the stadium funding in place guarantees that we'll always take our best shot when these chances come along. And they will come along.

Besides, we already have gotten something good out of having the funding mechanism in place. If it wasn't there, Angelos never would have bid for the Bucs and the price never would have climbed to the ridiculous peak it did. In other words, thanks to our stadium offer, Malcolm Glazer wound up paying $50 million more than the Bucs are worth. Isn't that too bad?

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