After offering NFL all it has, Baltimore can only sit and wait


ROSEMONT, Ill. -- There's nothing more Baltimore can do to get the attention of the National Football League. It has been standing on its head for more than six years while guaranteeing a new 75,000-seat stadium, selling the required season tickets and offering each visiting team a record amount of take-home revenue, over $1 million per game.

Deals don't get much better than this, even though St. Louis and Jacksonville make it sound as if they are going to surpass the Baltimore bid and run off with the coveted expansion prize.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, reacting to the one perceived Baltimore weakness, ownership, even tried to strengthen that aspect by inviting Al Lerner to lead the effort. He's among the 400 wealthiest men in America and a respected name in the world of high finance, apart from his 5 percent interest in the Cleveland Browns.

At a late hour last night he had not checked into the hotel where the NFL will decide the outcome. According to a league spokesman, Greg Aiello, it was "expected" but not certain that he would appear before the ownership body.

However, no promises have been made. Lerner has done everything to avoid conflict with the two previous Baltimore candidates, groups led by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer. He has yet to make a public statement but it's believed beyond all doubt that having Lerner carrying the flag for Baltimore, even in a quiet way, has strengthened its cause.

That doesn't mean Baltimore will come away with a team. Some observers are now placing St. Louis and Jacksonville 1-2 choices and Baltimore third. Opinions vary; rumors are rampant.

Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills, was asked to assess how the verdict will go. "I can't predict," he answered. "You know these meetings. Anything is possible."

Jack Steadman, a Kansas City Chiefs official, commented, "For a cross-state rivalry, I'd like to see St. Louis back in the league. Apart from that I'd prefer Baltimore over the other two. But I don't have a vote so it makes no difference."

There's only one vote for each of the 28 teams and Kansas City's preference will be decided by owner Lamar Hunt. Memphis and Jacksonville also are competing with St. Louis and Baltimore. The Memphis contingent has put in an appearance but its hopes have dwindled.

Jacksonville, despite having the smallest television market (54th the country) among those in the chase, is being touted as a fast-closing contestant but it will be an upset if it happens. The personality and credentials of the majority owner, Wayne Weaver, obviously made an impression, unlike Baltimore's two earlier ownership candidates.

"Jacksonville's population is increasing 25 percent in each decade," said Weaver. "We're a small market but we'd be the 'only game in town' and the league likes that.

"New Orleans is perceived as a major market but, in truth, it's a small market and, like we would be, offers the 'only game in town.' Our application also is clean."

Where the meeting is being held is a section of the Rosemont Ballroom, off the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel, which is within a wind-blown punt of O'Hare International Airport. But no band will be playing so it's doubtful if any of the owners will get up to dance.

If you sneak a peek inside, you'll see three huge video screens as a backdrop behind the head table where 11 chairs, three table-top microphones and two telephones are in place. This is where commissioner Paul Tagliabue will be seated.

Connected down each side are two long, narrow tables, creating a horseshoe appearance. Twelve chairs are positioned on the inside and the same number on the outside of the configuration, or 48 in all.

In the middle, or what would normally be an open area, is a shorter table with eight places on each side. Three stand-up microphones are available within easy access of the owners. Then along each wall are 10 more chairs -- adding to a capacity of 95.

They are obviously prepared for a crowd, but the turnout isn't expected to approach anywhere near that number of owners, general managers and the attorneys who are always present to hold their hands and offer the comfort of counseling.

The final act is at hand.

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