Continuing the football fight

January 23, 1995

Two Januarys ago, Maryland football fans rejoiced because they had impressed the National Football League brass by camping out overnight to buy all the tickets to an exhibition game seven months hence.

In hindsight, it was a naive assumption. Even sports investor/novelist Tom Clancy could not have dreamed up the twists and turns this story would take. Baltimore was unsuccessful in its bid for an expansion team -- twice -- and Orioles owner Peter Angelos was unable to buy two existing NFL franchises on the block.

A few years ago, when a young Orioles baseball team made an unlikely bid for the pennant, sports fans in this town shouted, "Why not?" Now, as regards the football cavort, some may be asking "Why bother?"

This is why: Because Camden Yards remains a major strength in one of the state's biggest economic stimulators, tourism.

Because Baltimoreans proved this town still has a voracious appetite for sports when it made the infant CFLs the most successful team in the Canadian Football League, even while playing in rundown Memorial Stadium and fielding a team of castoffs and unknowns.

Because Mr. Angelos, and other deep-pockets investors, are willing to plunk down ridiculous sums of money to gain an NFL franchise.

Because professional sports, silly as they often seem, help to forge a civic spirit, a communal identity, a corporate climate.

Because the obsession to replace the fabled Colts has gone on for a decade -- and it's getting stronger, not weaker.

It is the intangibles, mostly personality rifts, that seem to stand in Baltimore's way.

If the General Assembly ends this quest by deauthorizing the stadium bond money, the state gains nothing. There are a few million dollars set aside for a stadium, but most of the $190 million needed for the stadium has yet to be raised through the bond market or through instant lottery games.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. once used a barnyard epithet to describe Baltimore -- a flub that foreclosed his political ambitions for higher office. He might find his political fortunes declining even further if he tries to subvert the stadium bond authorization for the benefit of his new friend, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke, whose own plan to build a stadium at an undesirable site in Laurel has failed to win local backing.

If we have learned anything about the sports world it's to predict the unpredictable. What remains predictable is Baltimore's enormous potential as a site for an NFL football team.

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