The gloating was nothing to cheer about

November 07, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

And so, there was one final hardship for us to endure yesterday before we could celebrate the return of the NFL to our city.

There was the part where the politicians congratulated themselves and took all the credit.

The part where an owner turning his back on 70,000 fans a game was cheered like a rock star.

The part where we rubbed it right in Cleveland's face on national television. Just what no one here wanted to do.

Congratulations if you made it through yesterday's announcement ceremony without becoming nauseated.

Having a team again is great, but this was brutal. You want poor taste on display, this was it.

There was too much cheering, too much gloating, too much hogging of the credit.

Most people in this town feel terrible about taking a team from Cleveland, but you couldn't tell yesterday, thanks mostly to Gov. Parris Glendening, who, not being from Baltimore, had no idea that it was a bittersweet day here.

It's not enough that the Cleveland fans have to endure us stealing their team; yesterday, they had to endure the sight of our governor gleefully holding up a Browns mug that some fan had given him.

"This was fun!" he shouted.

And it was official: There is no decency left in the world.

The ceremony, falsely billed as a "press conference" in a Camden Yards parking lot, began with Browns owner Art Modell emerging from a limousine to a resounding cheer from several hundred fans who came downtown to watch. It was Irsay arriving in Indianapolis all over again, only in Baltimore now, of all places. You could smell the hypocrisy in the chilly air.

Maryland Stadium Authority head John Moag, speaking first, somberly suggested that this was a moment for "pensive reflection" considering Cleveland's pain. Then he introduced Glendening, who, pensively reflecting, did everything but grab Modell and dance the rumba across the podium.

The governor talked. And talked. And talked.

He talked about how tough it had been for him to pull off this improbable deal. He talked about the "Kissinger-style shuttle diplomacy" that was required.

He talked about the Browns' great tradition, which madeveryone here feel that much worse for heisting it. Better not to mention the tradition at all on this day.

The governor talked for so long that he made Peter Angelosspeech on the night of 2,131 seem like a sound bite.

It wasn't because he was going live across the country on ESPN, of course. That didn't have anything to do with it. Nor was it because he has an 18 percent approval rating and needed to paint this triumph in his colors. Of course not.

But he wasn't trying to take all the credit. In fact, he thanked everyone who ever typed up a memo for the cause, or so it seemed. And only at the very end did he give brief thanks to the person who made the whole deal possible, former Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

It was Schaefer who put together the package that delivered the Browns, the package that had so many other teams using us as leverage over the years, the package that would have brought an expansion team here (and kept the Browns in Cleveland) if the league had acted in good faith during the expansion process.

cd,0 The package was an open invitation to get rich, a brilliant lure. Glendening and Moag succeeded in getting someone to vTC take it, which Schaefer couldn't. But Schaefer's fingerprints were all over that signed lease that Glendening waved in the air yesterday.

Schaefer should have been on the podium. Should have gotten to speak. Deserved much, much more of the credit than the passing reference he got from his successor.

Oh, well. Then Modell, who had the decency to look like he would rather be anywhere else in the world but where he was, spoke briefly. "I leave a good piece of my heart and soul there [in Cleveland]," he said. It sounded good, not that the people in Cleveland cared.

Mayor Kurt Schmoke followed with a tasteful speech that struck the proper tone, mentioning that Cleveland and Baltimore "share the emotional legacy" of having lost teams and that there was a "difference between joy and unrestrained joy."

Schmoke understood that his city was bathed in mixed emotions. Glendening just gloated.

The best part came at the end, when Glendening waved Modell up to the microphone and asked for questions. This was, after all, supposedly a news conference. Modell approached the mike as though he were approaching a firing squad. Sure enough, the questions came hard, fast and tough. Are you changing the name of the team? Did you lose money in Cleveland? Why didn't you wait until the end of the season to do this?

"Thanks for coming!" Glendening interrupted, pulling the plug almost immediately.

The Baltimore Browns were a reality. It was time for us to cheer. We had made it through the hardest moment. The gloating while Cleveland wept.

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