Enough being nice, let's steal a team


ROSEMONT, Ill. -- This is what I think about the NFL and its decision to wait another five weeks to name a second expansion team:

The hell with them.

The hell with their maze of rules and their cruel indecision and their stupid hoops we keep jumping through for no reason.

The hell with waiting around to see if the owners and their smirky egos are going to deign to anoint us.

The hell with waiting for other people to decide whether we're major league.

It's not right and it's not fair and there's only one thing to do. Let's go get someone else's team.

It's not a wild idea. There are owners out there who are interested in us. Owners who are privately hoping we don't get an expansion team because they wouldn't mind considering a move to a new stadium in Baltimore.

True story.

Let's go get one of those suckers and show them what we've got, which is better than anything Charlotte ever had, and let's give them our ball.

Enough of the high road. Enough of playing by the owners' silly rules. Enough of being the one with class, the one that is steady and honest and forthright. Yes, it's the right way to go, the way we'd all want to go. But it isn't working.

And it isn't going to work.

Can't you see where this thing is going? St. Louis has a larger TV market than we do, a dome already under construction. All they needed was time to get their ownership act together.

"Is the extra five weeks an advantage for St. Louis?" someone asked Boogie Weinglass last night.

"Certainly," Boogie said.

So, why should we play the fool until the bitter end? Enough of the high road. Let's play ball the way the owners do. Let's get down and dirty.

There are cities out there that don't do half as much for their teams as we would. The Patriots, Bucs, Chargers and Raiders go bug-eyed at our financial terms. It's a much better deal than any of theirs.

Remember what Chargers owner Alex Spanos said after the Baltimore presentation at the September owners meeting?

"I'd take that deal right now," he said.

OK, Alex, let's talk.

Does it mean we'd be committing the cardinal sin, the sin we said we'd never commit, by going after another city's team? Well, what of it? How long do we have to pray to that old, tired saw? It's nothing personal. It's just business. You want your big-league team, be a big-league town.

Besides, we don't have to go begging. We just have to put the word out: Baltimore is ready. The phone will ring.

The Patriots would call. If St. Louis gets an expansion team, owner James Busch Orthwein can't move his troubled Pats there. He mumbled something about keeping the team in Boston yesterday, but who is he kidding? He won't find a better deal than Baltimore's.

Would the people of New England cry if the Pats left? Shoot. They're the fourth team in town, with little emotional pull. No, the league wouldn't want one of the nation's largest cities without a team. But the hell with what the league thinks. The hell with their rules.

The league just lost a huge lawsuit to the former owner of the Pats, Billy Sullivan, who was forced to sell the franchise when the league prevented him from selling stock to raise capital. Basically, it means the league can't tell the franchises how to run their businesses. Or where.

So, let's do it. That was the mantra that kept coming back to me last night while watching Paul "King At Last" Tagliabue beaming as he held up a Carolina Panthers jersey: Let's do it. Let's make his stomach hurt, just like he's made ours hurt.

This expansion stuff is just a game to him, a propped-up drama to help the league get some pub -- and maybe take everyone's mind off the fact that two-thirds of the NFL's games are so dull and poorly played that they're impossible to watch. Expansion is a charade, a joke. Tag has held up five deserving cities, and he's gonna put the screws to three. Terrific.

We have to see this expansion thing through, of course. We've come this far, what else are we going to do? But if the news is bad in the end, the course to take is obvious. Why not get started now?

Herb Belgrad has always hoped he wouldn't have to do this, of course. It's just one of the reasons to admire the first-class job he has done. That it's not going to work out isn't his fault. It's just bad politics. Belgrad has put together a bid for which other owners would trade.

So, go ahead, Herb. Let's play the game a new way. Let's play hardball. Let's get the team we deserve.

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