CFL franchise in Baltimore? It's borderline Canadian league touted if city's NFL bid fails


If Baltimore fails to win an NFL expansion team in October, a restaurateur from Northern Virginia is ready to serve up an alternative.

It's called the Canadian Football League.

That's the league from across the border with three downs, 30 more yards of playing field, 12 men to a side and the one-point rouge.

Whether the idea would be palatable in a city whose heritage features John Unitas' two-minute mastery is uncertain.

But Jim Speros, a native of Potomac, Md., likes it enough that he has filed a non-refundable, $50,000 deposit with the CFL to put a team in Memorial Stadium next season.

His claim on Baltimore is contingent on the city being passed over in the NFL's two-team expansion in October, although he says he wants to see Baltimore get an NFL team. Not only that, but he said he wants to be part of the ownership group if it does.

"I'd love to be involved in an NFL team there," said Speros, 34, who owns three Champions sports bar restaurants, including one in Herndon, Va., and is president of the Champions Development Corp.

"In no way do I want to hurt Baltimore's chances for an NFL team. Herb [Belgrad, co-chairman of Baltimore's NFL expansion committee] has worked so many years and he's done an excellent job. I think we can be an asset. We do not want to be a distraction."

What's more, Speros said that if he secured a CFL franchise in Baltimore, he would not stand in the way of the city getting an NFL franchise at a later time.

"If we were there three years and Baltimore was going to get another NFL team, Jim Speros would pick up the team and move it," he said.

Speros would be the majority investor of a CFL expansion franchise, which would cost $3 million. He said his management groupwould include Peter Bennett "Stretch" Williams, son of late Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams; Irv Cross, former NFL cornerback and broadcaster; and Len Elmore, a one-time Maryland and NBA star. Elmore, president of his own sports consulting firm, said he would not be an investor in the group, but would work with Speros. He said the idea of a CFL team in Baltimore is not as far-fetched as it might sound.

"I think Baltimore would embrace a family-oriented and affordable entertainment opportunity," Elmore said. "In a situation where it may not totally reconcile the tradition of the Baltimore Colts, this might be something the fans could call their own."

Belgrad refuses to consider a CFL future for Baltimore at this point. He declined to meet with Speros' group when asked recently.

"I sent the message back that our expansion committee was formed for the purpose of pursuing an NFL team, and an NFL team only," Belgrad said. "We're not interested in talking about any contingency plan. I assume we'll be successful in the NFL effort. But even if we are not, we've been told there are existing franchises awaiting the outcome of expansion that may want to talk with us. We can't be diverted."

Speros has a football pedigree to go with his business acumen. He played football at St. John's High in Washington and then on the same Clemson team as Mark Richardson, whose father, Jerry Richardson, is seeking an NFL team for Charlotte,N.C.

Speros has a brother, Pete, who played at Penn State and in the U.S. Football League.

After playing one season as an outside linebacker with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL, Jim Speros spent five years in the PTC NFL -- three with the Washington Redskins as assistant coach and personnel man, and two with the Buffalo Bills.

From there, he went into the real estate business, founding the James Speros Companies, a commercial real estate investment

company that specializes in land development. He also started the Champions Development Corporation, which operates three Champions restaurants in the Washington area.

He acquired the rights to a World League team in Washington in 1992, but the league folded before he could field a team.

For the past three years, he said he has been exploring the purchase of a CFL team. Although his $50,000 deposit is for a Baltimore franchise, he could apply it toward another city if Baltimore is awarded an NFL team. Speros said he has talked with representatives in St. Louis, Memphis, Tenn., and Jacksonville, Fla., as possible CFL sites.

The CFL moved into the United States for the first time this season with a team in Sacramento, Calif., and has named Las Vegas as one of three American cities to be added in 1994. League spokesman Mike Murray said cities under consideration are Nashville, Tenn., Orlando, Fla., Honolulu, Portland, Ore., Memphis, Jacksonville and Baltimore. The league plans

ultimately to expand to an 18-team format with nine teams in Canada and nine in the United States.

Speros lives in the Great Falls, Va., area, but maintains residences in Potomac and Delaware.

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