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Time for a stadium sellout


If Baltimore's football fans are serious about obtaining a National Football League expansion franchise, they had better start lining up at Memorial Stadium early Saturday morning to buy tickets for a late-August exhibition game between the Miami Dolphins and the New Orleans Saints. NFL owners will be watching carefully to determine the depth of this city's devotion to the football league that left here under cover of darkness eight years ago.

This is Baltimore's chance to impress pro football's moguls. At $25 a ticket, it will take $1.5 million in sales to sell out the 61,000 stadium seats for the Aug. 28 or Aug. 29 games (the date depends on whether network television plans to make the game a nationwide event). The faster tickets are purchased, the better this city will look in the eyes of the NFL's expansion committee. A one-day sellout is the goal -- and it can be achieved.

"Once you lose a team, it's hard to get one back," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said. He should know. He's been trying to do just that since that infamous night in 1984 when the NFL let Robert Irsay creep out of town with the city's precious Colts for greener monetary pastures in Indianapolis. The road back to the NFL could begin with a prompt sellout of the Saints-Dolphins matchup.

It happened once before. Baltimore got its first NFL team in 1947 due in large measure to the interest it had demonstrated at exhibition games staged here. A huge outpouring of fans makes the kind of statement an NFL owner understands.

When the Dolphins-Saints exhibition was first announced, with little fanfare, it generated 30,000 mail-order requests for tickets. And no wonder: Both teams are well coached by men with Baltimore connections. Don Shula was a poplar player and head coach for the Colts for 11 years before moving south to Miami; Jim Mora won two United States Football Leagues championships masterminding the old Baltimore Stars.

On Saturday, local football fans will have three ways to obtain their own tickets. They can line up at the stadium ticket windows, where the Colts marching band will perform, highlight films will be shown and Colt stars of the past will sign autographs. Or they can buy seats at Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 410-481-SEAT. The important thing is to show that this town is determined to make a successful comeback. Baltimore belongs in the National Football League. This Saturday, we can put on a display of fan-power that makes pro football owners sit up and take notice.

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