Proximity to D.C., loss of Colts appear to have doomed bid For Baltimore, a bitter loss

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- All Baltimore got from the NFL owners yesterday was sympathy.

"I know what kind of commitment it takes [to try to get an NFL franchise]," said Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, after the league awarded its 30th franchise to Jacksonville, Fla. "It's a tremendous disappointment, and I accept that."

Disappointment is putting it mildly. "Bitter" is the word that Gov. William Donald Schaefer used to describe his emotions.

Baltimore spent years and hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to impress the NFL. It sold out an exhibition game in a few hours. It put $8 million in the bank on the deposits for 7,500 club seats and 100 luxury suites.

It even dumped two prospective owners -- the hometown favorite, Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, and the well-heeled out-of-towner, Malcolm Glazer -- to endorse Alfred Lerner, a minority owner of the Cleveland Browns.

All that got Baltimore was two votes in the Expansion and Finance committees and also-ran status along with St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn.

"There just wasn't much support for Baltimore," one committee member said.

Lerner's addition couldn't even get the city the vote of the Browns' majority owner, Art Modell.

Modell left the meeting early without an explanation of why he didn't support his friend. Lerner apparently didn't seem to mind, because he flew to New York with Modell.

Lerner also left without commenting and without answering the question of why he entered the race. Did he really think Baltimore had a chance, or did he just do it as a favor for Governor Schaefer?

Baltimore also can wonder if it would have made a difference if Lerner had come in earlier.

Alex Spanos, owner of the San Diego Chargers, said: "It's a shame they didn't have Lerner earlier. Really a shame. Baltimore impressed us -- fantastic, fantastic."

Ken Hoffman, minority owner of the Seattle Seahawks, said: "If this owner had been in before, you would have made it."

Yet Spanos and Hoffman were members of the committees and voted for Jacksonville. If they really wanted Lerner in Baltimore, they could have voted for him.

In the end, Baltimore couldn't overcome its proximity to Washington, the loss of a team when the Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 and the apparent opposition to its bid by commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Tagliabue supported St. Louis, a city in the Central time zone that lost the Cardinals to Phoenix in 1988. But when he saw the owners were leery of going to St. Louis because of its ownership problems, he switched to Jacksonville, and the owners went along.

Baltimore's only votes on the committee came from Norman Braman, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Robert Tisch, co-owner of the New York Giants.

The selection of Jacksonville was simply a rerun of Charlotte's selection on Oct. 26. The city was recommended by the combined Expansion and Finance committees, and the rest of the owners rubber-stamped it.

The only difference was that Charlotte was recommended 12-0. Jacksonville was supported 10-2. Tagliabue tried to get Braman and Tisch to switch to Jacksonville to make it unanimous, but they refused.

The committee system made it easier for Tagliabue to manipulate the results.

If the election had been thrown open to all the owners without a recommendation, Baltimore might have gotten at least eight votes to block Jacksonville and turn it into a wide-open race with several ballots.

Wellington Mara, co-owner of the New York Giants, for example, was a public supporter of Baltimore, but went along with the committee's recommendation. The vote for Jacksonville among all the owners was 26-2. Only Braman and James Busch Orthwein, the New England Patriots owner who supported St. Louis, voted no.

With most of the owners willing to go along with the committee's recommendation, Baltimore never really had a chance.

When Braman was asked why Jacksonville got the team, he said: "I voted for Baltimore, so I couldn't give you reasons for voting for Jacksonville."

So what were the main assets that got Jacksonville an NFL franchise yesterday?

"I don't know," said Mara.

"I just accepted the committee's recommendation," Mara added. They put so much time in it, so I just went with what they said."

That's the way a lot of owners voted.

"I really went with the committee's recommendation, to be quite honest with you," said Dan Rooney, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

When one owner was asked about the vote, he said: "I can't say for sure. I wasn't paying that much attention."

Ralph Wilson, owner of the Buffalo Bills, said: "They had a complete analysis of practically everything you could think of."

Wilson, though, didn't seem too sure of the details. "I don't even remember what the TV thing was. I can't remember," he said. "The thing that impressed me the most was the growth potential of the area. The statistics up on the board and so forth really favored Jacksonville as far as I was concerned."

But Wilson wasn't sure what those statistics were.

Of the population growth, Wilson said: "They had it up there, but I didn't see the figure. The year 2000, it would be something . . . I didn't notice that figure."

Rooney at least seemed to remember what the pitch was.

"They said it was a new place, that Florida is growing, that Florida is going to be the second- or third-largest state in the union. This is where the population is going to be. It's going to be a good thing from a television standpoint," he said.

Though Jacksonville is the 56th-ranked television market, Rooney said that wasn't a factor.

"As far as TV is concerned, St. Louis might be a very, very minor plus. Everybody else was pretty much the same. There was no competition there [in Jacksonville]. They really didn't have any other sports. Those are pluses," Rooney said.

In voting for Jacksonville, the owners overlooked that Jacksonville will have competition from Florida State and Florida, two of the nation's best college teams, or perhaps they viewed it as a plus.

Pat Bowlen, owner of the Denver Broncos, said: "Jacksonville has proven to be a hotbed of football. It's had very strong support for college football and World League football and that kind of stuff."

Though Jacksonville was the smallest market among the candidates, Bowlen said: "We're talking football fans here. We're not talking about just bodies."

Mike Brown, vice president of the Cincinnati Bengals, said: "Jacksonville has a lot to recommend it, a beautiful stadium [the soon-to-be-renovated Gator Bowl], in a part of the country, the Southeast, that will be good for the NFL."

Al Davis, owner of the Los Angeles Raiders, said: "Do you think Jacksonville would have won if I didn't vote for them?"

Jones, the Cowboys owner, said: "I'm glad for Jacksonville. They've really done something special. It's great football country. I know because Arkansas just joined the Southeastern Conference, so I'm familiar with that. They've got the heritage, they've got the tradition, those fans appreciate good football."

One of the most enthusiastic supporters of Jacksonville was Rankin Smith, owner of the Atlanta Falcons.

"By all means, this speaks well for the South and the Southeast," he said.

"The fact it's a big growth area, well, that was the big, big pitch, economically as well as with population, the growth in our area was a real positive with the owners," Smith said.

If the league ever realigns, Smith, who doesn't like being in the NFC West with the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams, said he would like to get in a southern division with both expansion teams.

Although the selection of Jacksonville over St. Louis was a surprise, Bills owner Wilson said: "In the NFL, I'm not surprised at anything. I've been in too many meetings over the years to be surprised."

There had been recent indications, though, that Jacksonville would get a team if St. Louis faltered.

By turning down two cities, Baltimore and St. Louis, that lost teams, the NFL sent a warning to cities with teams that they had better keep them because the league isn't likely to give them expansion teams to replace lost teams.

TICKET REFUNDS

Those who put down deposits on premium seating for a Baltimore NFL team will be getting refunds soon.

A spokesman for Give Baltimore the Ball said the deposits, with some interest, will be refunded by Maryland National Bank as soon as the NFL gives approval to return the funds, expected within 10 days.

Seat purchasers do not need to contact anyone to receive refunds.

GO, EAGLES

You still want to see pro football, even though prospects are dim for Baltimore? Your best option is the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Washington Redskins always are sold out, so they aren't an option. But the Eagles do have some individual game tickets available, and Veterans Stadium is about a two-hour drive away.

Plus, Eagles owner Norman Braman was the only one to back Baltimore in the final vote.

The Eagles' phone number for tickets is (215) 463-5500. Here are their remaining home games: Buffalo Bills, Dec. 12; New Orleans Saints, Dec. 26.

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