A grim-faced Gov. William Donald Schaefer and his NFL franchise-bidding team returned to Baltimore early today without the ball, but insisting that the game is not over.
"We didn't bring back bad news," Mr. Schaefer said. "It's not over. . . . we've still got a franchise left to go. I'm not downbeat."
The group arrived moments before 1 a.m. at Martin State Airport, their eight-passenger Hawker 80 British Aerospace jet -- provided by Crown Central Petroleum Corp. -- landing in drizzle after the 90-minute flight from Chicago.
Insistence that Baltimore was still in the game began with the first passenger to disembark -- Herbert J. Belgrad, head of the Maryland Stadium Authority.
"We've got a 30-day delay and we're just as strong as we ever were," he said. "There's four left in the race and just one franchise, but we're just as confident."
To an audience largely consisting of TV news reporters and camera crews, Mr. Belgrad made a point of formally introducing Mr. Schaefer and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- once seeming opponents but now comrades in arms, if not football helmets.
And when Mr. Schmoke gave his optimistic view -- that "we had hoped for a Thanksgiving present" but "maybe we'll get a Christmas present" -- the governor stepped over and gave him a pat on the back.
"We feel good. You should, too," said Mathias J. DeVito, the Rouse Co. chief who is co-chairman with Mr. Belgrad of the Baltimore expansion committee. But Mr. Schaefer didn't look as if he felt good.
Asked about a television reporter's description of him having a tear in his eye, Mr. Schaefer said softly, "Maybe something flew by and got my eye."
Becoming a little more emotional, the governor said, "When you get a kick in the belly at someone else getting a franchise, you don't say, 'Hooray, hoorah!'
"I was hurt, hurt real bad."
What was he thinking as NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced the Charlotte Panthers as the night's only winner, as Jerry Richardson -- a former Baltimore Colts wide receiver who was catching the ball as owner of the new team -- held up a jersey with the number 95, and Governor Schaefer was caught by a TV camera, sitting on the sidelines and shaking his head back and forth.
"The thought was, 'I wish it were Baltimore,' " he said.