If Davis can go home, how about Bob Irsay?

June 26, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

Instead of moving vans there will be horse-drawn wagons, making use of the back roads rather than the interstate highways. It's more symbolic for the Baltimore Colts to return that way. Bob Irsay has asked forgiveness. Don't be surprised if he wants to come back to Baltimore and make peace.

Irsay has tears in his eyes. Bob is easily moved. Sentimentality has always been a characteristic. He has been known to cry in his cups after hearing a sad story -- like when he's told about the man who took the Colts out of Baltimore.

Sooner or later, he realizes you're talking about him. It's the confidential opinion of Irsay, now based in Indianapolis, that the football rape of Baltimore was one of the worst things that ever happened and he secretly wants to take it upon himself to rectify the problem. Irsay somehow believes he's going to be met at the city line by Mayor William Donald Schaefer. Of course, there's a slight problem.

Schaefer, the record shows, hasn't been in that office in over eight years after taking a sabbatical as governor and then selectively insulting the electorate that put him there, especially those on the Eastern Shore by calling their home an outhouse by another name.

"I like the little mayor," Irsay always said. No one else ever called him "the little mayor." That's because Irsay first saw Schaefer sitting behind his desk in city hall and thought the "little mayor" was born short. In turn, Schaefer, who thought of himself as "the big mayor," was always a solid Irsay supporter and blamed the press for badgering the man.

But Irsay maintained, and we heard him say it, that "Schaefer stabbed me in the back." That had to do with what Irsay interpreted as a Schaefer double-cross when he allowed the eminent domain process to be implemented after assuring the owner it wouldn't happen. But it did transpire and Irsay, for positive proof, only needs to refer to the minutes of the State Legislature in its 1984 session.

Irsay, despite the misunderstanding, still has a warm place in his heart for Schaefer, the "little mayor of Baltimore." In contemplating a Baltimore comeback, Irsay would be taking his lead from Al Davis, who defected from Oakland in 1982, headed for the bright lights of Los Angeles and tired of the scene. Now Davis wants to retrace his steps.

In 1980, the other club owners voted against the move (22 in opposition, 5 abstaining) but Davis sued the league, won and headed for Los Angeles. It's worth noting that Irsay was one of the 22 NFL owners who wanted to keep Davis from moving away from Oakland in the first place.

If Davis could reject Los Angeles and return to his old home grounds then what's to prevent Irsay from doing the same? He could if he wants but we're not entirely sure what kind of a reception Bob would receive.

What happened in Los Angeles is appalling, just as what evolved 11 years ago in Baltimore. The National Football League is demonstrating a lack of control when it can't determine where its franchises are going to play. That should be the fundamental right of any league.

Another troublesome possibility could come to pass if the

Phoenix Cardinals go to Los Angeles. You'll remember Phoenix begged to be awarded a Super Bowl and was so honored after agreeing, among other things, to mark Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday in the state of Arizona by making it a legal holiday.

Now the Phoenix Cardinals, who came from St. Louis after previously being in Chicago, are considering dancing off to Los Angeles to fill the void in the nation's second largest television market. If such a move transpires, that would mean the upcoming Super Bowl would be held in a city that no longer had a team. Imagine the embarrassment.

The NFL, therefore, will do everything possible to prevent such a humiliation. Right now, commissioner Paul Tagliabue, with the NFL ship ablaze, is resorting to damage control, trying to put out fires in one location while others ignite elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Davis is not only taking the Raiders back to Oakland, but it was his continuing presence in Los Angeles that influenced the Rams to bolt for St. Louis.

This is the first time in the 75-year history of the NFL that one owner caused two teams, his own and one other, to move away. Naturally, the city of Los Angeles is being blamed for lack of support and civic indifference toward the teams, which is a distortion of the facts. Los Angeles, once the pride of the NFL, deserved a better fate after contributing so much to the success of pro football.

But that doesn't seem to count for much of anything in the NFL of today and Los Angeles has every right to be steaming over how this all came to pass. So if Davis is going back to Oakland, then Irsay, by the same reasoning, can return to a similar hero's welcome in Baltimore any time he gets ready.

No thanks.

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