Go figure. Of all the possible outcomes of yesterday's National Football League meeting, that was the least expected. There will be a lot more second-guessing about the NFL's decision than about anything that happened on its playing fields in years.
Sure, Jacksonville is a growing city. From a small base, by anyone's standards. And it's in the Southeast, which NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue describes as under-represented in the league. After Charlotte's selection? Hardly.
Football is a business before it's a sport. On paper Jacksonville offered as lucrative a package to visiting teams as Baltimore. But it also offered a retreaded college stadium, a comparatively tiny TV market, a thinly populated hinterland, the smallest population of competing cities and all but the lowest per capita income.
For what consolation it's worth, Baltimore did not lose. The NFL did. It's not sour grapes nor stubborn civic pride to say even now that the Maryland bid was the best the league was offered.
Perhaps the bitterest pill for Maryland fans and local leaders who worked so hard for a new franchise was being forced through the contortions of the past month. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Herbert J. Belgrad, who spearheaded the campaign, took justifiable pride in the stability and nobility of Maryland's bid. Until, that is, they discovered they were being told one thing officially and another privately. The result was the scuttling of the two initial contenders for the franchise here and the anointing of late-comer Alfred Lerner.
Regardless of the outcome, Messrs. Schaefer and Belgrad, together with the business and community leaders who put in so much effort, deserve the region's thanks. They did the best job possible. The outcome simply demonstrates that being the best doesn't make you a winner in some leagues.
There is plenty of time to think about the future of major league football here. Even if the majority of the NFL owners didn't see Baltimore's virtues, some owners with wanderlust already have. But remember Jacksonville, which was teased and tantalized by guys named Irsay and Bidwill, among others, for years without result. They penalize for unnecessary roughness on the football field, but not in the ownership suites.