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Three steps to win an NFL club: whine, beg, grovel


When I read about the powerful emotions resulting from the National League's expansion decision -- the joy in Denver and Miami, the disappointment in Washington and St. Petersburg -- I get weary.

Because we're next. Because now it is the NFL's turn to expand, and that means us. That means it is our turn to get down on our knees and beg. To grovel. To whine about deserving a team before anyone else.

It is not a dignified process, this expansion business. There is no way to put yourself above it. You must sell yourself with the sweat, blood and conviction of a television preacher. The NF-ay-ul beloooongs here. Puh-leeeze bless us.

Meanwhile, some of the owners deciding your fate run their franchises with all the skill of, of, of, well, let's just say that Bill Bidwill has a vote in this thing. This is a man who alienated the poor fans of Phoenix before the Cardinals ever played a game there. He gets to decide if we're good enough.

As I said, this is not a dignified process. (This is what we'll tell him before the expansion vote: "Good to see ya, Bill, boy, it's always great to see good guys like you.")

But we'll do it. We want a team. We need a team. (A conclusion reached listening to the talk shows go on and on about Mickey Tettleton last November.) And we deserve a team. Is there any doubt?

The only reason we lost the Colts was that we didn't support them after Bob Irsay mismanaged them into a laughingstock. Dumb? More like common sense. And that's the only debit on the ledger we will present to the NFL expansionmeisters.

We have the funding in place for a new stadium. We have a ticket-buying population, as the Orioles' attendance demonstrates. We have an aligned business community, as our offer to Bidwill demonstrated. We have a terrific history of supporting NFL football.

Charlotte, Jacksonville, Memphis -- they can't come close to matching such a big-league ledger. St. Louis? Baseball town.

If these are the choices, we deserve a team. We would be a no-risk choice.

But it doesn't matter.

That's why I get weary watching the fallout from baseball's expansion decision.

The cities that lined up for the new National League teams invested years of work and worry, consoled themselves with market research and weather reports and attendance projections, and in the end, none of it mattered.

What mattered was money.

Miami's bid was fronted by a guy who has so much he can pay cash for his team. Denver got a $30 million boost from Coors.

And that was that.

Washington still had ownership questions in April. St. Pete's ownership group was worth more than a billion, but insisted on financing 40 percent of the purchase price.

And that was that.

All those years of work and worry didn't really matter. Television markets, stadium analyses, thin air -- didn't matter.

Fat pockets mattered.

The people in Washington thought they had a case, but they didn't have the fat pockets, and that was that.

What will matter when the NFL, courts willing, decides to expand? Who knows? That's the scary part. That's why I get weary. We'll get our hopes up, but in the end, we have no idea what the determining factors will be. It isn't up to us.

Fat pockets? The NFL claims it will choose the cities before the owners. Let's see. Something tells me ownership will be important. And we're short a rich guy right now. We need a very rich football fan to move to Baltimore.

Then again, maybe it won't matter. The NFL is so popular it could go anywhere and succeed. Any choice is a no-risk choice. Even in Phoenix, where the Cardinals have some miserable crowds, Bidwill makes a fortune because of TV revenue. And if his team did somehow become a contender, the fans would show up. Fans support winners.

So while we may have the best argument among the expansion contenders, the owners may decide we're too close to Washington. Or that they prefer the weather in Jacksonville. They may fall in love with a big-money guy fronting another city's bid. (My advice? A team in Toronto would boom.)

Anyway, it is out of our hands. All we can do is sit around and hope for the best. And console ourselves with the Colts' history and the Orioles' attendance.

And grovel.

Remember when the National League expansion committee toured the finalist cities? The cities fixed up their stadiums, threw parties and cried puh-leeeze bless us. The committee members stood around nodding and pointing out what they liked and didn't like.

Arrogance? The head of the committee was Pirates chairman Doug Danforth. His team had empty seats at playoff games last year, and he's qualified to make judgments about what makes a great baseball town?

That's what we have to look forward to: someone from Tampa telling us why we are -- and aren't -- a good football town. As if we never sold out 150 straight games, a feat they might approach in Tampa by the year 2050.

But we want a team. So we'll put up with it.

We'll put on our smiles and shake all the right hands. We'll drag out our history. We'll hope it matters. We'll hope they like us.


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