Speros asks NFL: Can I play? Admit Stallions, owner tells Tagliabue

January 24, 1996|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Maybe they'll stay. Maybe they'll go. Or maybe they'll just change leagues.

After weeks of saying he might move out of town if the Browns moved in, the owner of Baltimore's Canadian Football League franchise has asked to join the NFL.

"The Baltimore Stallions are the best current prospective franchise for the Baltimore market," wrote Stallions owner Jim Speros, in a classic "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" letter delivered to NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue yesterday.

Speros' proposal was received with mirth at the Maryland Stadium Authority, where chairman John Moag is coordinating the Cleveland Browns' move to Baltimore.

"You've got to be kidding," Moag said. "The Cleveland Stallions sounds kind of good."

There was no immediate comment last night from either the NFL or the CFL on Speros' request, which could create some awkwardness.

The NFL has eclipsed the CFL in popularity even in Canada. And a much-heralded CFL expansion to the United States has faltered badly, leading some prognosticators to suggest the three-down football league may be running out of plays.

Now the CFL champions -- who were stripped of their original name by the NFL in a bitter court fight -- want to jump ship. (Perhaps in deference to his losing fight over the rights to the name Colts, Speros added the trademark designation "tm" to the Stallions name in his letter to Tagliabue.)

Speros said he wants to position himself as a fallback for the NFL in case the Browns deal collapses. He views the NFL application as one of several options he has, along with relocating to Houston, Richmond, Va., or the Lehigh Valley, Pa., area.

If he chooses to relocate, Speros has said Houston would be his first choice. News of Speros' letter to Tagliabue came as a surprise to Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane Jr., the owner tTC of Astrodome USA, the company that manages the Astrodome.

"Everyone has big ideas, but I think there's little chance of that developing into reality," said McLane, who said he will meet again with Speros this week in an attempt to negotiate a lease.

Said Speros: "Stranger things have happened in sports. . . . If the Browns don't show up here, then I think this city deserves a team."

In the letter, Speros argues that designating his team the NFL's franchise in Baltimore would solve many problems, including the national uproar over the proposed move of the Browns. And, despite his claims of financial duress, which have resulted in a number of lawsuits from creditors, including Baltimore -- the club owes about $800,000 apiece to the city and stadium vendors -- Speros says that he would be able to round up more investors to acquire NFL franchise rights.

Speros said his team is preparing a proposal to build a privately funded stadium, as opposed to the Browns, who are to move into a new, $200 million state-funded stadium. A Stallions stadium would still require the state to provide the land and site improvements, but it could save the state more than $100 million, he said.

Furthermore, he says, the team is active in the community and has "a core of all-star players, many with NFL experience."

CFL commissioner Larry Smith expressed no opposition to the idea, Speros said. He sent copies of his two-page fax to Moag and Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

Speros asked Tagliabue to place him on the agenda for the NFL team owners' next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 8. The meeting is being called to vote on the Browns' relocation request, and several owners predict it will be approved. The Browns on Oct. 27 signed a binding agreement to move to Baltimore this year.

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