Don't Give Up on Getting the Ball

January 20, 1995

After being tarred by Tagliabue, rebuffed by the Rams and bamboozled by the Buccaneers, it would be easy to forget this whole National Football League mess.

But now is not the time.

Since its Inner Harbor renaissance, Baltimore has never had to endure the kind of civic insults once heaped upon it -- except in the arena of football. From John Elway declining to be drafted here to Bob Irsay slinking off with the beloved Colts, from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue's condescension that Baltimore go build a museum with its football money to one-time city suitor Malcolm Glazer sneering that he'd rather own a team in Tampa than Charm City, there has been enough abuse to crush even Rodney Dangerfield.

But for all the state has gone through, this would be the wrong time to give up. The Maryland General Assembly should resist any urge to deauthorize the stadium bond authority.

That action would not send torrents of money flowing to other needs. Of the roughly $190 million earmarked for the football stadium, $90 million would come from future bond money. Another $80 million would come from scratch-off instant lotteries, but that money is not sitting in a vault: About $18 million for football is due in June, an equal amount in each of the following three years. This funding stream was established expressly for an NFL football stadium. The remaining cash -- $20 million -- is Stadium Authority revenue from the Orioles and other sources.

Any politician doing a dance of the veils with that money is lying. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. should not undermine the Camden stadium effort as a favor for his friend, Redskins' lobbyist Gerard Evans. That would salt the wound between Baltimoreans and Washington's football team, and would likely backfire on Mr. Miller.

Some will say this chase is pointless. Yet the tie that binds the recent defeats and disappointments is the very reason to stay the course: Baltimore's attraction as a football venue is as sound as ever.

Camden Yards remains among the most appealing sites for spectator sports in America; an adjoining public football stadium would be a gold mine for an NFL owner. Baltimore instantly became the Canadian Football League's premier franchise in its first season last year, drawing 30,000 a game to watch an unfamiliar sport in an old stadium. And there are investors with deep pockets eager to bring a team to the Patapsco.

Internal politics and personality clashes have undercut this city's attempts to return to the NFL. Those conditions may change. Baltimore's great potential for a franchise won't.

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