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Maryland's sports matchmaker


He's not a big guy, doesn't know diddly about sports (by his own admission) and you wouldn't recognize him if he sat down in the next booth to have coffee. Yet, he's one of the biggest sports heroes in this town at the moment.

He's Herb Belgrad. As chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, he has worked tirelessly for the last several years to get Oriole Park at Camden Yards built and to try to convince the National Football League to return a franchise to Baltimore. He's now this city's behind-the-scenes matchmaker, attempting to get the Baltimore-NFL marriage all arranged.

When the city's relationship seemed rocky with the Orioles a few years back, Mr. Belgrad was brought in by then-Gov. Harry Hughes and retained by Gov. William Donald Schaefer to arrange for a new love nest. Sure enough, the union is stronger than ever, thanks to the stunning new ball yard Mr. Belgrad helped build.

Now he's arranged a hot date between the city and the NFL tomorrow night, a sold-out exhibition game between the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints at Memorial Stadium. The nationally televised practice game that doesn't count for a thing, except to impress the current NFL team owners of the vigor of this market. Having been abandoned eight years ago after a long-term relationship with professional football, Baltimore's ready and eager to try love again.

The days preceding the exhibition have included such activities as today's pep rally at the Inner Harbor; a golf tournament yesterday featuring past Colts stars to raise money for paralysis research and a rolling billboard signed by residents urging the NFL to "Give Baltimore the Ball."

Whether all this courtship will result in a wedding proposal, we'll know come fall when the league is to settle on two cities for expansion. Whatever the outcome, this region owes a lot to Mr. Belgrad. No wide receiver, nor matchmaker, could have tried harder to make this catch.

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