"Nov. 30," Paul Tagliabue said.
The patrons at Balls howled.
"Like people getting shot," Bill Grauel said.
Grauel, a part-owner of the downtown sports bar, had posted a sign -- "Football Vigil -- $1 drafts all day . . . if we get a team, free domestic draughts all night."
Alas, every beer was paid for.
And swallowed in anger.
"It's like coming down to the ninth inning of a tie game and saying, 'OK, we'll play 30 days from now,' " said Robert Shapiro, a student at the University of Maryland who was wearing a Colts helmet backward on top of his head.
By the time Tagliabue made his announcement, the tension in the bar was unbearable. "We want a team!" the crowd had chanted. "Give us the ball!"
"Nov. 30," the NFL commissioner said.
"The whole thing has just turned into a circus," said Ed Norman of Catonsville, a member of Colts Corral No. 15. Chris Ergott put it even more bluntly.
"It's a crock," she said.
Ergott, wearing her blue Colts Corral jacket and a black Baltimore Bombers T-shirt, had been in an ornery mood all night.
Her husband is Butch Ergott, president of the Council of Colt Corrals. And sitting at the next table were three accountants from the City of Tagliabue -- er, Charlotte.
Chris, a secretary for a federal judge, threatened to throw the accountants in jail.
"The marshal's lockup will be open all night," she announced. "We'll take the Charlotte people to the magistrate's jail. We'll sentence them under federal guidelines. We won't even give them parole."
Yet, for all her tough talk, Chris later excused herself to congratulate the accountants -- auditors from the North Carolina Department of Revenue, in town to harass local businessmen.
The accountants were making their second straight appearance Balls. One, Spencer Barnes, claimed to be an old Colts fan.
"We came in last night, and the guys were giving us a hard time," Barnes said. "We figured we'd come back tonight and see how it went."
Now get out of town.
It was a bizarre crowd, a fun crowd, at least until the announcement. There were two prison guards from Ocean City, three members of the Baltimore Colts' Band, four television crews and a few dozen others guzzling dollar beer.
Local T-shirt designer Dirk Sternad was there, selling Bombers T-shirts and giving away Ravens T-shirts. Both shirts depict a bull's eye on Bob Irsay's forehead, with the inscription, "Ground Zero."
Then there was Tuck Finley.
He played with a yo-yo.
"It helps keeps me calm when I'm worried," said Finley, 52, a
former Colts fan from Virginia Beach, Va., who was in town for an insurance convention.
At one point, one of the Ocean City prison guards asked a radio reporter for the scoop.
"The Berlin wall just went back up," the reporter deadpanned.
"Where the hell's that?" the guard shot back.
Yes, enlightened self-interest was the order of the night. Two members of the Colts' Band, saxophonist Jill Phillips and clarinetist Diane Bockmiller, were rooting hard for an expansion franchise.
"New uniforms," said Phillips, a maintenance worker at Camden Yards. "If you've ever seen them, you'd know why. We've been in the same uniforms since the late '70s -- bell bottoms, fringe, collars out to yonder."
Until the NFL owners ruined the party.
"This guy'll jump in the harbor if it isn't good news," Corral member Shirley Norman had said earlier, pointing to Butch Ergott.
Ergott didn't jump.
He didn't know what to do.
"There's no reason for them to put it off," he said. "We've had our act together from Day One."
Again, his wife was more blunt.
"Tagliabue wants St. Louis," she said. "We ought to go steal a team. I don't care who we get -- as long as it isn't Indianapolis."
Most everyone left shortly after the announcement, but a few remained to chant expletives and mug for the TV cameras.
"Nov. 30," Tagliabue said.
Balls will be ready.
"Exact same thing," said Grauel, the part-owner, smiling.