Baltimore fans justly paranoid about Redskins Anti-city actions didn't start with NFL expansion

they go back half-century

October 26, 1997|By Jon Morgan

He's said it so often that many have come to dismiss it as the old chief executive's paranoid rambling.

It was the Redskins' fault, says former Gov. William Donald Schaefer. The Redskins and their owner, Jack Kent Cooke, delivered him one of his most stinging rebukes. Cooke and National Football league Commissioner Paul Tagliabue conspired against Baltimore and cost us the expansion franchise that rightfully should have been ours.

As daffy as it sounds, Schaefer might be right. The state's expansion strategy had its flaws. But the Redskins unquestionably worked against Baltimore, and contributed to its failure in 1993.

Furthermore, it wasn't the first time. The Washington franchise, which plays the Ravens today in the first Baltimore-Washington NFL game since 1981, has been thwarting Baltimore's football aspirations for nearly 50 years.

The first signs of it cropped up when the All-American Football Conference fell into its death throes in the late 1940s. The conference, born in 1946 of the post-World War II sports boom, survived for four seasons and managed a handful of success stories, the Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns among them.

But the league couldn't compete for players or fans with the more entrenched NFL. Peace talks aimed at a merger sputtered over the issue of which AAFC franchises would be admitted to the combined league. The Redskins opposed a Baltimore franchise.

Those concerns were eventually allayed when the Colts promised to pay the Redskins $150,000 over three years for infringing" on the territorial rights of the Redskins (a franchise that had moved to the capital from Boston in 1937). In 1950, the two leagues merged, with just three AAFC teams joining the NFL: Cleveland, Baltimore and the San Francisco 49ers.

Redskins owner George Preston Marshall predicted the Colts wouldn't survive.

He was right. After two difficult seasons, led off by a 38-14 loss to the Redskins in the Colts NFL debut, the Baltimore franchise crawled back to the league asking for help, perhaps a special player draft, to keep them afloat and pay their Redskins dowry.

The other team owners, warned in advance by Marshall, nixed the idea and the Colts went out of business. A gleeful Marshall waived the final two payments of the $150,000, and the league paid the Colts $50,000 for the players. The Green Bay Packers bought the Colts helmets, and the team's landlord auctioned off other equipment to pay back rent.

Marshall declared the Baltimore football experience a disaster and vowed never to allow his territory to be invaded again. He then set out to convert Baltimore fans to his team, pledging to play a few home games in the city each season. He even suspended plans to sell the team, deciding to instead exploit the new marketing opportunity. More than 40 percent of his ticket buyers came from Maryland, he noted.

"They'll be known in the future as the Washington-Baltimore Redskins, and you can't buy the club for a million," Marshall told ++ The Sun. "We want the Redskins to be as much a part of Baltimore as they are Washington."

The city seethed at the duplicity. Baltimore City Councilmen William J. Muth and William D. Schofield drafted an ordinance to ban the Redskins from Baltimore's Memorial Stadium - but invite any other NFL team to play there.

"Let the Redskins play at Girls Latin I or at the hockey field at Mount St. Agnes," Muth said. "Those places can easily handle the kind of crowd the Redskins would draw here now."

The ordinance went nowhere, but a local attorney, William D. Macmillan, was hired by the Colts stockholders. He filed a suit alleging various improprieties concerning the dissolution of the team and the Redskins' role in the conspiracy. The league, worried about antitrust challenges, backed down and conveyed the moribund Dallas Texans franchise to Baltimore. Colts III began play in 1953.

Marshall agreed grudgingly to the settlement, but had a clause inserted into the NFL bylaws giving the Baltimore market to the Redskins "in the event the Baltimore franchise is forfeited, or is transferred to a city other than Baltimore."

In 1984, the Colts moved to Indianapolis. But the league five years earlier had deleted the Redskins clause from its bylaws when court challenges threatened the NFL's antitrust status. League lawyers thought the clause a bit too obvious an attempt to shield a franchise from competition, something that is illegal under antitrust laws.

The lawyers were right to be worried. The Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders won their blockbuster antitrust lawsuit against the league in 1982 on just these grounds. Sports leagues can reject a relocation of one of their franchises, the appellate judge ruled, but must do so for legitimate business reasons. Protecting one team's turf from another - specifically the Los Angeles Rams from the Raiders - is not legitimate, he ruled.

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