Solid team effort has Baltimore within whisker of NFL goal line


Only something disastrous, such as a fumble at the goal line, can defeat Baltimore's chances of rejoining the National Football League. All is in readiness.

The game plan was first defined, then polished and now refined. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mayor Kurt Schmoke and the co-chairmen of the Baltimore expansion effort, Matt DeVito and Herb Belgrad, are prepared to carry the ball into the end zone for Baltimore.

Every possibility in this high-priority expansion exploration has been addressed. To have proceeded this far -- within inches of the achievement -- in the almost 10 years Baltimore has been pursuing the return of a franchise has been the most positive undertaking since the creation of the Bay Bridge and Harborplace.

Considerable recognition must go to Henry "Hank" Butta, who steered the early study for the location of the new Camden Yards baseball park and proposed football stadium. Butta said only one reporter agreed with him that the facility should be downtown rather than at a suburban spot near the Baltimore Beltway.

A study that Butta and another tireless worker, Chip Mason, initiated by an outside agency -- and paid for by solicitations from Baltimore businesses -- determined it was more feasible to position the park and stadium where it now is, rather than utilizing property near Lansdowne.

This enabled Baltimore and the Maryland Stadium Authority, led by Belgrad, to create the sports complex. DeVito, with a respect that extends worldwide in the corporate sphere, led the charge of support from industry that has been so profoundly helpful to the cause.

Baltimore has two ownership applicants, namely Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer. They did not exactly sweep the NFL's expansion/financial committees off their feet in earlier interviews, which the stadium authority came to realize before it was hardly out of Chicago following a meeting last month.

But, again, there are other possible investors, men of stature and international reputations, with an interest in Baltimore if there's a short- circuit at the league expansion gathering on Tuesday in Chicago. Belgrad has virtually admitted this, so yes, Baltimore has what might be termed a comfortable insurance policy.

Conventional wisdom has not always been acceptable to NFL owners. Indeed, what looks to be the logical way to a solution isn't always adopted.

But Baltimore and Charlotte have made the best runs. They lead the race. Their presentations and what they have to offer surpasses St. Louis, Memphis and Jacksonville. The two owners of the New York Giants, namely Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, are in solid support of Baltimore.

Mara, long a Baltimore cheerleader, along with Ed McCaskey of the Chicago Bears, and Tim Robbie of the Miami Dolphins, have previously expressed themselves in positive fashion regarding Baltimore. This was before the NFL office told all owners not to go public with their sentiments.

Mara, in fact, earlier told a close friend, "As far as I'm concerned, expansion is Baltimore -- period."

The other four cities in the hunt for the two expansion awards, if you talk with their representatives, voice nothing but confidence.

They all truly believe they hold the winning tickets, but that's impossible. It's Baltimore and Charlotte. St. Louis has regressed and only yesterday all but lost its latest investment angel, Robert McNair.

It has been reported McNair was in Baltimore within the last month. We can't confirm that but he was here three years ago and met with Sig Hyman, Lou Grasmick and others at about the same time Bart Starr, the Hall of Fame Green Bay Packer, was endeavoring to get an expansion franchise.

McNair made a good impression on his audience of Baltimore businessmen but, other than that, never became a factor. He was in and out of St. Louis in time to have only a quick beer and be on his way to Houston.

The expansion hour grows late. One city applying is so desperate it's sending gift boxes of peanuts and popcorn to team offices. It won't influence any votes but the secretaries are enjoying the confections.

Baltimore, in every aspect of pre-expansion evaluation, never looked better than right now.

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