Showdown Time at the NFL


Come what may next week, Marylanders have every reason to be proud of their campaign to win back major league football. When the National Football League owners sit down in Chicago Tuesday to make the final decision, the group representing Baltimore will have done everything anyone could have asked to advance this metropolitan area's cause. Judged on cold, hard facts, the Baltimore case is extremely strong. And its advocates have made the best possible use of those facts. Now it is up to the unpredictable minds of the 28 owners who will award new franchises to two cities.

Despite all the handicapping of the past few months, no one really knows what is going to sway the owners. One thing is for sure: Money will count a lot. And there the Baltimore case is as strong as anyone's, stronger than some. After that it's guesswork. Will the two cities that lost teams, Baltimore and St. Louis, suffer or benefit from that fact? Should Jacksonville's long quest be rewarded at last? Has St. Louis ruined its chances by uncertainty about ownership? Should the league stake out new territory, like Charlotte? Is NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue really working behind the scenes for Charlotte? Will NationsBank chief Hugh L. McColl Jr., now the dominant banker in Maryland, forsake his new love for his old, Charlotte? How will the league's internal intrigues, personal likes and dislikes, influence the voting? How, in fact, will the owners vote -- on a package of two, individually by city, on a committee recommendation?

Whatever the answers, Baltimore has been presented in the best possible light. Not many causes have united so many disparate elements of the metropolitan area as the NFL campaign. It has crossed many lines that ordinarily divide elements of this community -- economic, social, racial and political. Volunteers from all walks of life have devoted many hours to selling sky boxes and club seats, organizing community support, preparing sophisticated marketing pitches and putting the region's best foot forward.

It is seldom fair in a community effort like this to single out one person for special praise. This time it is, for Herbert J. Belgrad has been the selfless heart and brains of the local effort. As chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority he could have been little more than a cheerleader. Instead he was that and much more, devoting as much or more time to the NFL campaign as to his law practice. A soft-spoken, patient negotiator and self-effacing organizer in an activity that usually attracts egotists, Herb Belgrad deserves much of the credit for Baltimore's superior effort.


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