Baltimore sidelines on edge as waiting game goes OT City group faces month of uncertainty BALTIMORE GETS THE STALL


ROSEMONT, Ill. -- It was like the old days, before men were allowed in the delivery room. A group of men sat in one room yesterday, nervously waiting for an announcement about the possible birth of a professional football team in Baltimore.

"There is no pressure about speaking to 28 NFL owners," said Bruce Hoffman, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority. "The pressure comes from knowing that you speak for an entire city."

Hoffman was in the suite along with Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad and several other members of the delegation waiting to see whether Baltimore was one of two cities from five candidates to be awarded an NFL expansion franchise.

And the wait goes on for Baltimore and three other cities after last night's announcement that Charlotte, N.C., was in and the second city would be named Nov. 30.

Emotions ran the gamut -- nervousness, confidence, even silliness and nervousness again. Ten years of preparation were bottled up in a 14-by-24-foot room.

"I've been through many big games in my life," said Ernie Accorsi, a member of the delegation and the former general manager of the Baltimore Colts and Cleveland Browns. "But you knew if those games began at 1 p.m., they ended around 4:30. With this, you don't know how it's going to end."

Schaefer seemed uncomfortable with the waiting game, even though he tried to downplay it. Dressed in a dark blue suit, he sat in an overstuffed chair with his feet propped on a coffee table.

He talked about the rest of the contingent, how Belgrad kept talking about football all morning and how Accorsi was going to collapse from pacing.

"See those guys over there? They have put a lot of time and effort into this," Schaefer said. "If I talk to Herb about the weather, he talks about football. If I talk about Chicago, he talks about football. If I talk about the world collapsing, he says not before we get a football team.

"For the most part, they have remained calm, but I guess they have had their anxious moments," Schaefer said.

And Schaefer?

He said he was calm. He had an omelet, fried potatoes, a bagel and two cups of coffee for breakfast. He chatted with Dave Thomas, who owns Wendy's. He walked along the waterfront and rode through the Chicago business community.

He ate a cheese sandwich, complete with tomato, for lunch.

No sweat, right?

Then why was Schaefer repeatedly seen pacing through the hotel and rehearsing his presentation? Why did his fingers constantly tap on the chair? Why did he occasionally stare out the window, his face showing the strain of a man not quite at peace with himself -- not yet, anyway?

"I don't think he is used to sitting around like this," Belgrad said. "He's tried to walk it off by going outside or in the corridor."

Belgrad was surprisingly calm. He was awakened by a Baltimore radio talk show host 5:30 yesterday morning. He stayed in the hotel suite from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. to answer any questions from the NFL about the city's package.

None came.

"I'm really satisfied with what we have done, and there is nothing else we can do," Belgrad said. "People in this room have invested a lot of time personally, and we have isolated ourselves from the rumor mills.

"We've gotten a lot of phone calls in support of what we have done. I have argued a lot of appellate cases, so maybe the nervous feeling hasn't hit me yet," Belgrad said. "But today in this room we have talked about everything except Somalia."

There were discussions about Wall Street, the media (always using the negative angle), friends and family. At one point, Hoffman started swinging an imaginary golf club while Mathias J. DeVito, Rouse Co. chairman and a member of the delegation, started shadowboxing.

Film director Barry Levinson, one of the partners in the Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass ownership group, occasionally entered the room to break the sometimes intense mood. He talked about an old acting career and Dustin Hoffman. He talked about winning Academy Awards.

But the conversation always got back to Baltimore's expansion bid.

That topic of conversation was inevitable. Television camera operators filmed shuttle buses when they arrived at the hotel. Any man in a suit coming off an elevator was subject to having reporters and bright lights crammed into his face because he might be an NFL owner.

"You try not to go in the lobby because you have so many rumors," Accorsi said. "You try not to react emotionally to every one you hear, but you do because everybody knows what is at stake."

The phone rings. Everybody jumps. It's only Weinglass.

"If I had my way," Accorsi said, "I'd like to be in the woods by myself, and just have the mailman drive up with an envelope."



Chronology of yesterday's NFL meetings (all times Eastern):

9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: The finance committee held an unscheduled meeting to "discuss business," but not expansion business, said league spokesman Joe Browne. The discussion included the judgment of $114 million awarded to former New England Patriots owner William Sullivan, who said the NFL illegally blocked him from selling public stock.

a.m. to 3 p.m.: The expansion and finance committees met in joint session and heard presentations from two potential ownership groups in St. Louis -- Stan Kroenke, a developer from Columbia, Mo., and Fran Murray, who was involved in St. Louis' original investment group.

p.m. to 6 p.m.: The five expansion finalists made their presentations to the full body of NFL owners, a process that ran longer than expected. Baltimore made the fourth of five presentations.

6:15 p.m. to 8 p.m: Browne addressed the media and raised a number of possibilities, among them that the expansion committee could make a recommendation of just one city when its intent was to recommend two. He also called "slim" the possibility that more than two cities could be awarded franchises. At about the same time, the expansion and finance committees met again to work toward a recommendation.

p.m.: The full membership went back into meeting.

p.m.: Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced that the Carolina Panthers had been unanimously selected as the league's 29th franchise, and that the decision on the second expansion city would be made Nov. 30.

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