Browns' move vindicates Schaefer, finally Ex-governor's joy tempered by memories of Colts' departure

November 07, 1995|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer John W. Frece contributed to this article.

He didn't get a chance on the stage. Never was asked to speak. But when his name was called, some of the day's loudest cheers went up.

It was the moment of vindication for a certain former mayor and governor.

Eleven years after the Colts left on his watch, the pain could begin to go away.

It would have been appropriate for the fans to lift him to their shoulders and carry him off the parking lot at Camden Yards.

William Donald Schaefer beamed. He waved. He shook hands.

But he wouldn't complain about being neglected yesterday. His joy seemed tempered by a recollection of the Colts debacle, the moment he often describes as his worst as an elected leader.

"I feel great," he told well-wishers. "When you win it's great. When you lose, well, it's not so great."

Mr. Schaefer, 74, was asked before the big announcement how the Browns moving to Baltimore was any different from the Colts moving to Indianapolis.

"It isn't," he replied without hesitation.

But he also said that Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman John A. Moag Jr. had done the right thing in going after Cleveland's team since "they were going to move anyway."

"I feel sorry for the mayor of Cleveland," he said later. "I had the same thing. It's like being kicked in the belly."

As Baltimore's mayor, Mr. Schaefer was unable to prevent Robert Irsay from abandoning his city. When he was elected governor, bringing a National Football League team back to Baltimore became a personal crusade.

It was Governor Schaefer who in 1987 pushed the legislature for the money to build a publicly-financed football stadium at Camden Yards. In the first year of his first term and at the peak of his political powers, he won a tough fight.

From that moment on, Mr. Schaefer always seemed to be in the center of talks about bringing back football.

He often represented Maryland in NFL talks and personally lobbied owners.

He fought to keep the money for the new stadium in the budget each year.

Mr. Schaefer was even there in Chicago when Baltimore was turned down for an expansion team, and it brought tears to his eyes.

But it was Redskins fan Parris N. Glendening of Prince George's County who made the announcement yesterday, boasting that reporters could even have found out in advance if they had asked him the right question.

Mr. Schaefer was invited to the event -- to a seat in the front row.

In his speech, Mr. Glendening paid a three-sentence tribute to Mr. Schaefer, noting that he had "laid the groundwork" for bringing a team.

"Don, we appreciate it," he said.

The General Assembly's top leaders said yesterday that Mr. Schaefer deserved to be recognized for returning the NFL to Baltimore.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, credited the former governor's "tenacity."

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, said the stadium should be dedicated to Mr. Schaefer, "whose vision kept this NFL package alive long enough to make this happen."

"He's the one who made it happen," said Raymond A. "Chip" Mason, chairman of Legg Mason. "There's no way another governor can give that away politically, but it's the legislation he created that made it possible."

Mr. Schaefer said it was a "one in 400 million-billion" chance that the stadium would ever bear his name. He said he didn't need that anyway.

"You were the quarterback," Randy Pleasant, 33, a Glen Burnie carpenter, yelled at Mr. Schaefer from across the parking lot.

"They came in the fourth quarter."

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