Is Baltimore big enough for two?

November 20, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

REGINA, Saskatchewan -- Stallions wide receiver Robert Clark greeted offensive tackle Shar Pourdanesh in the cramped, jubilant, champagne-soaked locker room of the Grey Cup champions.

"Same bat time next year!" Clark cried. "Same bat channel!"

Which bat city will be home?

Pourdanesh smiled.

"Any bat city that wants us!"

And so comes the latest bizarre twist in Baltimore's professional football saga:

A team that may go winless the rest of the NFL season is coming, but a team that just won the CFL title could be departing.

Steal a team, evict a champion.

The Stallions won't actually get kicked out; they'll probably leave by choice. But Gov. Glendening may want to consider making a deal with owner Jim Speros in the wake of last night's 37-20 Grey Cup victory over Calgary.

"It makes us very marketable," punter Josh Miller said. "Does anybody want a champion?"

Does Baltimore?

Heck, even the New Jersey Devils got to stay put after winning the Stanley Cup. Give Speros a little money. Make it contingent on a season-ticket drive. And force him to sign a gag order so he stops putting his foot in his mouth.

The Browns' Art Modell will benefit from the state's largess, and so might the Washington Redskins' Jack Kent Cooke. The NFL believed Baltimore couldn't support one team. Why not stick it to Paul Tagliabue and try to support two?

The Stallions are Baltimore. The Stallions are fighters.

Unlike a certain NFL team, they didn't crumble when threatened with relocation. And last night they played through freezing temperatures and 50-mph winds, stuffed the magic Doug Flutie, silenced the pro-Calgary crowd.

They ended their season with 13 straight wins, and they've made Baltimore the revenge capital of North America. First, we caused Cleveland to suffer a nervous breakdown. Now, we've done the same thing to poor Canada.

A country that already suffers from an inferiority complex is going to require nationwide psychiatric assistance now that a U.S. team -- a potentially homeless U.S. team -- has won the Grey Cup for the first time.

"Ain't nobody from Canada going to want to party with us!" wide receiver Chris Armstrong cried in the locker room, drinking from the Grey Cup, then stroking it and hugging it.

The Stallions accepted the Cup on a stage at one corner of frigid Taylor Field, protected by Regina police wearing fur caps. Many disgruntled Canadians booed, but many others cheered.

"Let's go steal the Cup," one fan said.

"They'll never clear customs," another grumbled.

It was all rather good-natured. The Canadians respect the Stallions' excellence, and admire them as the only successful U.S. franchise.

They reserved special boos for CFL commissioner Larry Smith, the architect of U.S. expansion. But they're genetically incapable of American-style obnoxiousness.

A large group behind the Stallions bench gave the team a standing ovation as the final gun approached, while a small pocket of Baltimore fans chanted, "CFL! CFL!"

Now comes the uncomfortable part.

Where do we hold the parade?

Houston? Columbus, Ohio? BWI airport?

Here's an even better question:

Who gets the Grey Cup?

"I don't care where we put it," rush end Elfrid Payton said. 'It's going to be in the states."

Rush end Grant Carter had a better idea.

"We should take it home and put it on display in the library or something so the people of Baltimore can enjoy it," he said.

The people -- the 20,000 or so Stallions diehards -- deserve a chance to support an affordable NFL alternative.

Face it, we would miss the nutty CFL.

The opening of the gates was delayed an hour because of high winds. In the confusion, Stallions coaches thought the game also would be delayed an hour. Think the 49ers had that concern before last year's Super Bowl?

It wasn't a football game, it was the Wizard of Oz. With 40-mph winds gusting to 55, there was even talk of closing the temporary stands in both end zones, for fear of fans falling out.

But all was well by kickoff.

"The only thing the weather center is watching at this time is a storm center south of Regina with winds of up to 90 kilometers [60 miles] per hour," the press box announcer said.

But the storm never came, and the weather wasn't a factor. The Stallions rallied from a 13-7 deficit by scoring 17 straight points. And after Flutie led a 75-yard touchdown drive to pull Calgary to within 24-20, Stallions quarterback Tracy Ham responded with a 92-yard scoring drive of his own, and the outcome was never in doubt after that.

Today, the Stallions return to Baltimore. Tomorrow, Speros meets with Glendening. The moment Speros starts making demands, the governor should kick him out, but at the very least Glendening should make Speros an offer so he can't complain the state ran him out of town.

The Stallions could help keep the Browns honest. We could even stage the Baltimore Bowl each pre-season, using three downs and 12 players one half, four downs and 11 players the next. And, of course, rouges for all.

It will be difficult, perhaps impossible, for Speros to survive, even with state help. His season-ticket base will dwindle. His corporate sponsors will shift their dollars to the Browns.

Still, the Stallions are champions.

Once upon a time, that meant something.

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