BALTIMORE NEVER DESERVED to lose its beloved Colts football team 11 years ago. But some of the same circumstances that led to the Colts' departure have now led to the arrival in town of Art Modell's Browns from Cleveland. For devoted football fans, this is a day for cheering.
There is no joy in Cleveland, though, where a 50-year love affair with the Browns soon will be history. While we can identify with the town's pain and anguish, we can also offer a word of advice: Build (or guarantee) a new stadium and an NFL team will surely come.
It was the lack of a modern stadium in Baltimore that led to the Colts' midnight getaway. The same thing happened in St. Louis, Los Angeles and Oakland and soon may occur in Tampa, Phoenix, Seattle, Cincinnati and Houston.
The new mathematics of the National Football League (soaring costs due to player free-agency and diminishing television revenue) means that owners are looking for alternative revenue sources, i.e., lucrative skyboxes and club seating in modern stadiums. That's what the Maryland Stadium Authority was able to guarantee Mr. Modell at Camden Yards.
Gov. Parris Glendening and MSA chairman John Moag deserve credit for crafting a hard-nosed strategy that worked. Mr. Moag, in particular, was unyielding in his quest for a Baltimore team. Only when he had a legally binding contract in hand did he go public. But the governor rightly paid credit to his predecessor, William Donald Schaefer, who had the foresight to get state funding for twin baseball/football stadiums at Camden Yards. It saved the Orioles and now has brought us the Browns.
Rest assured that NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will try to stop this move. He does not want Baltimore and its mid-sized TV market in the league again. But the commissioner is in a weak position. Courts have upheld team moves, even without NFL consent. With so many other clubs in the hunt for new cities, blocking a shift to Baltimore won't get much support. And Mr. Tagliabue's main ally, Redskins ally Jack Kent Cooke, has been co-opted by Governor Glendening.
Mr. Cooke wants to build his own stadium in Prince George's County, and the governor has offered $50 million in state funds for roads and infrastructure. If Mr. Cooke opposes Mr. Modell, he can forget about that $50 million. This is the kind of deft carom shot the governor has displayed throughout these negotiations. Now he's bagged one NFL team for Maryland, and seems intent on capturing a second NFL team for the state in the Washington suburbs.