City piled up just short of NFL goal line

February 06, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

In an ideal world, it all would happen quickly. NFL approval. Then Board of Public Works approval. Then the first shovel in the ground at Camden Yards.

Naturally, it won't be that easy.

It's never that easy when it comes to Baltimore's quest to return to the NFL.

State legislators are squawking, Orioles owner Peter Angelos is raising a stink and now the Seattle Seahawks are moving to Los Angeles.

"My ulcer changes by the hour," Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag said yesterday.

Moag wasn't referring to the legislators, or Angelos' rather naked attempt to feed the stadium opposition by heightening concerns about the "parity" clause in his lease.

He was referring to the NFL.

"You can't assume they're going to respond logically," Moag said. "You've got to prepare for any curveball they throw at you."

Expansion?

"I don't think so."

Then what?

"Who knows?" Moag said. "I don't see any deal yet with Cleveland. I don't know how the commissioner is reacting to Seattle and Los Angeles.

"They just came along and kicked sand in his face. He may go off in some weird direction, for all I know."

Another week, another relocation. Only this one is indeed a direct slap at commissioner Paul Tagliabue. No team was supposed to move to Los Angeles until he said so.

The NFL passed a resolution last year giving the league the power to control any relocation to L.A. But the Seahawks aren't asking permission from Tagliabue. They're just going.

How does this affect Baltimore?

As Moag said, who knows?

Browns owner Art Modell says he has been promised a vote at this week's owners' meeting. He will join the state in its $36 million antitrust lawsuit against the NFL if there is no vote, or if the league rejects his move.

Still, the Seahawks' announcement might prove enough of a distraction to force another delay on the Browns. And if no settlement is reached, Cleveland is scheduled to open its lawsuit against the Browns on Monday.

Well, at least things are quiet on the home front, right?

Uh, not exactly.

The legislature authorized funding for the twin-stadium complex at Camden Yards in 1987, but you'd never know it, the way some lawmakers are reacting.

It's certainly fair to question the logic of building a publicly funded stadium in harsh economic times -- and even fairer to question a $273 million contribution to two stadiums that would have little use other than for football.

Still, the stadium authority acted within its rights to secure the Browns' agreement, even if it eventually will require more funding. The Washington Redskins' deal, meanwhile, is the brainchild of the governor, a trade-off to ensure support for Baltimore.

Something for Prince George's, something for Baltimore, something for everyone. It might be good politics, but it's bad government. Yes, Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke is paying for his own facility, with the state committing $73 million for infrastructure and road improvements. But two stadiums are insane, and everyone knows it.

Ah, but that's politics.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening wants the team William Donald Schaefer couldn't get, and a showpiece for the folks back home in Prince George's County, even if some Prince George's legislators oppose Cooke's plan.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, another Prince George's Democrat, is driven by similar motives. House Speaker Casper R. Taylor, a Cumberland Democrat, wants the Redskins to continue training in Frostburg, so he, too supports both deals.

Isn't self-interest wonderful?

The Baltimore-area legislators want Prince George's County to kick in some money for the Redskins' stadium. The Prince George's legislators want Modell to use some of his permanent seat license money to defray the cost of construction.

And so on, and so on.

Into the middle of all this stepped Angelos, who has a clause in his lease entitling him to terms comparable to the Browns'. Why bring this up now, instead of waiting for the deal to become official? Because Angelos wanted to own the NFL team in Baltimore. And he's angry that he was shut out.

In a statement last week, Angelos said that his position is "totally unrelated to efforts to secure a professional football team for Baltimore. No one has worked harder than I have over the years to bring the NFL back to Baltimore."

Both comments were questionable, to say the least. Angelos knew the timing of his outburst would fuel stadium opposition. And Schaefer is the man who has worked hardest to bring the NFL back to Baltimore.

Angelos, man of the people?

Champion of the city?

Only when it serves him.

Yet, for all the noise coming out of Annapolis, everything would fall into place if the NFL just would approve the move. The legislators wouldn't jump in front of a moving train. They'd get a few changes here, a few changes there, and claim victory like they always do.

The problem is NFL approval.

Never easy for Baltimore.

Never easy.

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