Existing team will be better for us, anyway

Cheer up, Baltimore.

Our quest for a National Football League franchise is by no means dead.


I'm not talking about getting a team when the NFL owners reconvene Nov. 30 to award the league's 30th franchise.

Neither am I simply echoing Mayor Schmoke's brave cry: "We haven't lost yet."


The thought of an expansion franchise has never exactly thrilled me anyway.

A brand new expansion team is apt to go 0-16. Who would want to pay $35 a ticket plus exorbitant concession and parking prices to see that?

No, something better than that is more likely to happen. Baltimore stands a good chance to become the new home of an existing franchise.

Hey, we're not going to get the Giants or the Cowboys or the Bills or any of the teams likely to wind up in the Super Bowl in Atlanta in January.

But we may well inherit a team that is not drawing well enough or not producing enough profit for its owner where it is.

After the NFL announced Tuesday night that it had approved Charlotte and would wait five more weeks to determine who will get the other expansion franchise, Baltimoreans acted understandably. They were angry. They were hurt. They were fed up with the NFL.

Who could blame them after the way the league had toyed with their emotions?

This time, the people are saying, no more nice guy. They're talking about suing the league. They're talking about stealing another city's franchise, something the leaders of our expansion effort have long said they didn't want to do after what Bob Irsay did to us.


Well, they're not saying that any more.

Now they're ready to get down and dirty -- and maybe we should have done that earlier instead of playing it straight the way we did.

"Give Baltimore the Ball" leaders aren't going to go after anyone else's team until they're told by the league that franchise No. 30 is not coming here.

It's generally believed that, by delaying the decision another month, the league was only buying time so St. Louis' new ownership group could get itself together.

The feeling is that the league wants to put a team in St. Louis so that territory will not be open for New England to move into.

The NFL does not want to vacate the six-state New England area. It's too big, too populous, too influential.


In Boston, it has one of America's great sports cities, although the Patriots are by no means as dear to New Englanders as the Sawks, Celts and Broons.

Until Nov. 30, the local expansion leaders have to hang in there.

"You can't get cynical or sour now," says expansion committee co-chairman Matt DeVito, "or you won't be able to do the work that needs to be done."

Once the ax has fallen, the race will be on to get an existing team to relocate here -- and the initiative won't have to come from this end.

What's going to happen is, we'll be approached.

The deal for an NFL owner here -- including the use of a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium with a $1-a-year lease -- is better than a lot of teams have back home.


San Diego owner Alex Spanos said that aloud after hearing the Baltimore presentation in September.

People who know Spanos doubt that he would want to move here, though. He's a Californian. He probably wouldn't want to operate a club 3,000 miles from his home.

Everyone who is following the expansion drama closely knows that Raiders owner Al Davis praised Governor Schaefer in Chicago this week and inquired about the parking situation at the proposed Camden Yards stadium.

Don't read too much into that. As one longtime NFL man said to me yesterday: "Al Davis will flirt with anybody."

There are other NFL teams that could end up here. New England, with all its uncertainties, is one. Some say the Rams could be interested in a move. It's inconceivable to me, however, that Carroll Rosenbloom's widow, Georgia Frontiere, would move her football team back to Baltimore.

The most likely of all could be Tampa Bay. The Bucs are for sale.


The "Give Baltimore the Ball" people feel sure the local package will attract owners from elsewhere.

Their only concern is that we not be used by them, the way sports owners have used the Jacksonvilles (football) and the Tampa-St. Petes (baseball) simply to get a better deal or a new stadium back home.

I think there's pro football in our future. An existing team is now where an expansion team might take five years to get.

The only negative is that with it could come an owner who already has failed in another market.