Speros has fitting match in Montreal

January 26, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

Montreal? Finally, an idea that almost makes sense for Roamin' Jim Speros.

Houston? Decaf football was never going to fly in Texas.

Richmond? Speros wanted them more than they wanted him.

Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania? Why not Hagerstown?

The NFL? Speros was the only person who didn't find his Stallions-to-the-NFL idea gut-busting hilarious.

No, none of those options ever made sense as a place for Speros to take his CFL franchise, which is getting blown out of Baltimore like a hot dog wrapper in the breeze by the Browns' pending arrival.

Montreal isn't a stroke of genius, either. But it's a better fit than anywhere in the United States, which doesn't even know the CFL exists.

And it's Einsteinism compared to the idea of the Stallions joining the NFL.

The sports world wouldn't be able to rest until that first Aikman-Ham showdown.

Better yet, how about Jerry Jones and Speros on the field before the game?

In matching spiffy overcoats.

Speros to Jones: "Good luck today."

Jones: "I want my cut of the gate now, pal. In cash."

The truth is there are no decent options for Speros. The unusual circumstances that gave him a hot product in Baltimore won't be duplicated elsewhere. And cities aren't exactly lining up for CFL teams. The Stallions are the CFL's only successful new team since 1953. Canadians don't even like CFL ball anymore. They're NFL freaks up there.

(And let's be careful about labeling the Stallions "successful." Yes, they built a constituency and won the Grey Cup, but a lot of people in town are waiting for Speros to pay his bills.)

Speros was never dealing from a strong position when he toured the country looking for a new home in the wake of the Browns' move. He racked up a lot of frequent flyer miles and held a lot of news conferences, but basically he was just looking for someone, anyone, who was stupid enough to give him money.

He had a fish on the line in Houston, but now comes the news that the CFL might finally abort its ridiculous U.S. experiment, so Montreal looks like the winner in the Speros Derby. They're turning cartwheels, no doubt.

The CFL would be smart -- there's a rare statement -- if it gives up altogether on the United States. Except in Baltimore, Americans have laughed at the three-down game. Or not laughed so much as pretended it didn't exist. Franchises in Sacramento, Las Vegas, Birmingham, Memphis and Shreveport have gone down. San Antonio is on the way.

You could put together a nice minor-league hockey circuit with those towns, but not a Canadian football division.

The CFL failed in Montreal once before, of course, when the Alouettes folded in 1988 due to profound public lack of interest. It doesn't take many hands to count the fans who have missed them.

Going back there is a gamble. But putting a CFL team anywhere is a gamble. And there are upsides to Montreal. Speros can run up his debt at an 80 percent rate. The restaurants are better than Houston's. And even though people in Montreal talk funny, people in Houston talk even funnier.

Besides, they know the three-down game in Montreal. They're familiar with the CFL's rootin' tootin' history.

But you want to know the truth? Speros would probably be better off staying here and competing with the Browns than taking a shot in Montreal. He said he'd sold more than 12,000 season tickets here. That means he could have sold anywhere from 5,000 to 16,000, but either way, he won't sell as many in Montreal.

It would have been fun to have him around barking at Art Modell and maybe trying to trade his punter to the Browns for cash. There was a niche of sorts for him with all the anti-NFL sentiment floating around town for so long.

At the very least, he would have been good theater.

But it's not going to happen for a million reasons, which is more or less the size of his debt, he claims.

As much as he is bringing a championship team to Montreal, he is also bringing a reputation as, well, somewhat of a slow pay.

One thing for certain: Right away he'll have to learn to say this: "Ne t'inquiete pas, le cheque a ete envoye."

That's the French translation of an important sentence in Sperospeak: "Don't worry, the check is in the mail."

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