Jackson-what? leaves hollow ring in fans' ears

THE BALTIMORE SUN

About 4:15 yesterday afternoon, a strange wail arose from all around the Baltimore area. It sounded something like this:

JACKSONVILLE?

After weeks of demonizing St. Louis, the city everyone assumed the NFL was sweet on, Baltimore had to adjust quickly to being forsaken for a city it never took seriously.

We didn't lose out to Sylvester Stallone. We lost to Pee-wee Herman.

"It's disgusting," said Charles Lawrence Sr. of Columbia. "We all knew it was going to be St. Louis. I could have gone with St. Louis, maybe Memphis. But Jacksonville? The lowest-rated television market? I guess that says something about the powers-that-be."

Exactly what it says wasn't clear. "I just can't believe it," said David Zinman, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. "It's ridiculous. Maybe owners of franchises want the warmweather. Maybe elderly people go to games. I don't know. It's nothing we did here."

With the decision yesterday, Baltimore immediately became inhospitable ground for anyone connected with the NFL.

"I think it shows the owners didn't want Baltimore from the word go," said Ellicott City restaurateur Pat Patterson, a Redskins season ticket holder for more than 30 years. "Somebody's got it in for them. Baltimore's been led along all the way. It's absolutely a crime."

The anger was evident at the Balls sports bar downtown on Pratt Street.

"It's a bummer," said Jennie Eder, 60, a deli worker from Parkville and former Colts press box waitress at Memorial Stadium. "Not a Bomber -- a bummer."

"It was a farce," said Rob Willis, a 29-year-old restaurant waiter, who thought that Governor Schaefer and his bidding team hurt the cause in their 11th-hour backing of millionaire Alfred Lerner as a prospective team owner.

On a nearby street corner, Terrie Brooks of Middle River said "Schaefer screwed it up" in abandoning wanna-be owners Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer for "someone who has a little more clout."

Just north of the city line, at the Golden Arm Restaurant formerly owned by Colts quarterback John Unitas, regulars -- for the most part men in their 60s -- saw no "up side" to the NFL snub of Baltimore. And there were some fighting words.

"NFL owners are a bunch of cowards," said Stuart Arminger. "They were caught between St. Louis and Baltimore and picked the easy way out by choosing Jacksonville."

What to do next? "If the prospective Baltimore owners are as big as they say they are, they can go buy a team."

Indeed, others said -- the gloves are off.

"I guess we'll just have to play hardball now with the rest of them," said Steve LaPlanche, who attended every Colts game after the age of 5 and is now a captain in the Anne Arundel County sheriff's office. "There are no more rules now in the NFL."

"I personally think they ought to forget about it," said Colts Hall of Famer Artie Donovan. "I don't know where the money came from or where it went, and it's a shame. . . .

The [NFL] owners are 28 guys standing up there 'holier than thou,' but they're millionaires and I'd like to know how'd they get their money."

Former Colts lineman Joe Ehrmann, who runs "The Door" ministry in East Baltimore, said: "I hope we can use the same kind of team effort between the people, the corporate community and city and state government to focus on some of the problems in the city. This city desperately needs to keep people coming into the city."

Mike Curtis, former linebacker with the Colts, disdained the idea of luring the Rams to Baltimore. "I wouldn't waste my time with them," said Curtis, who now lives in Potomac and works in commercial real estate. "I'd wait till the next time [the NFL expands]. Baltimore would do better to start its own tradition."

Marc Lombardi, president of the Severna Park Colts Corral, whose planned party with about 25 fellow members at Balls went down the tubes, readily suggested a look northward to the Canadian Football League. "I would go for the CFL team, because sooner or later the NFL is going to go into Canada. So why not bring the CFL down here?"

Others had different ideas. Peter Angelos, owner of the Orioles, said he believed that in choosing a clearly lesser city, the NFL is only creating pressure on itself for another expansion. "St. Louis and Baltimore cannot be left without franchises," he said. "Substituting Jacksonville for Baltimore and St. Louis doesn't make sense in the long pull."

In South Baltimore, at Sisson's on Cross Street, bartender Bruce Troupe, 37, said Baltimore ought to write off the NFL.

"Why should we give the NFL the time of day? Don't watch 'em. Boycott their products. We're a big enough market that we can make a dent. It's just a great big boys club. They strung us along just to get as much money as possible. They have no sense of what loyalty from a community is. They lost what sports is supposed to be all about."

For some, the choice of Jacksonville -- which lured the CSX Transportation Inc. headquarters from Baltimore in 1991 -- was another blow to the region's collective self-esteem.

CSX Vice President J. Randall Evans, a former state developmentsecretary and Schaefer protege, said last night from Jacksonville: "We've gotten phone calls from some of our Maryland friends: 'Give us our football back.' "

He said he has ordered a crate of oranges for Maryland's governor.

"It's just not the same city without a football team," said Vicki Cox, a Columbia resident who used to cover the Colts on WCBM radio in the early 1980s. "Some people have gotten used to it, I never will. I think Baltimore has really suffered. Without a football team, we are just a minor-league city."

While widespread, the mourning was not universal. "It just doesn't interest me in the least," said Brian Hannon, a real estate agent who lives in Ednor Gardens, in the shadow of Memorial Stadium. "Personally, I hate football. And I don't like football fans."

Similarly, Lisa Simeone, who, as a disc jockey on WJHU enjoys nearly cult status in Baltimore, remained in ebullient spirits. "I'm torn between two things," she said. "No. 1 is I couldn't care less. No. 2 is that I'm glad we didn't get the team because it means we don't have to spend more money on a new stadium or have the unruly football fans tromping through my neighborhood on their way to Memorial Stadium [where an expansion team would have played until a new football stadium was built]."

Others were revolted by the expansion process -- not only the NFL's actions, but also the lengths to which Baltimore went to secure a team.

"I'll tell you the truth," said Baltimore City Councilman Wilbur E. Cunningham. "I'm just disgusted by the whole process. The city has really demeaned itself with this whole thing, and I don't think football is all that important."

Many others agree that the NFL's decision isn't worth worrying about anymore.

"We are certainly a more important city than Jacksonville, Fla.," Zinman said. "And we definitely have a better orchestra."

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