In museum of gall, Tagliabue's expansion remark is masterpiece

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It was appropriate that the day after Baltimore was knocked out of the NFL expansion race, the Friends of the Performing Arts announced they'll be raising funds to build a $60 million performing arts center in the Mount Royal cultural district.

If they're looking for contributions, they should start in Bethesda, where they could speak to that well-known Maryland patron of the arts, Paul Tagliabue.

It was Tagliabue who suggested Tuesday that cities could spend their money on museums instead of football stadiums.

That often has been said by critics of sports, but it's probably the first time it has been said by a football commissioner. But Tagliabue is the Jimmy Johnson of commissioners. He likes to run up the score.

It wasn't enough that he used the committee system to stop the entire ownership from ever voting on Baltimore's application. He couldn't resist gloating about it afterward.

To paraphrase Marie Antoinette, let them go to museums.

The empty suits Tagliabue has surrounded himself with also showed their usual lack of class after the deed was done.

The first words league president Neal Austrian spoke when he entered the Baltimore room were, "I guess you've heard, huh?" even though the Baltimore delegation hadn't been notified.

Austrian even had the gall to add that Baltimore had many friends in the league. With friends like those, Baltimore doesn't need any enemies.

Of course, it was no surprise when Baltimore was bypassed. Tagliabue made it obvious last time that he had an ABB policy -- Anybody But Baltimore. Once St. Louis faltered, Jacksonville was the choice.

Tagliabue didn't want Baltimore for the same reason he didn't want Oakland. He felt Baltimore was too close to Washington and Oakland was too close to San Francisco.

Oakland had the consolation of being eliminated on May 19, 1992, before it got its hopes up. Baltimore was strung along another 19 months.

Oakland didn't have to go through the premium-seat campaign and the expense of three visits to Chicago the past three months.

Tagliabue even shamelessly led on Gov. William Donald Schaefer, telling him one thing to his face while he worked behind the scenes to scuttle Baltimore.

As Schaefer said: "When I met Mr. Tagliabue up in his office, [he said] all the time how great the city was, how wonderful this was, and how great Mr. [Leonard] Weinglass was, how great Mr. [Malcolm] Glazer was, how wonderful Mr. [Alfred] Lerner was and all the time, the die had been cast."

It brings to mind the famous quote from Joseph Welch to Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy during the Army-McCarthy hearings, "At long last, do you have no sense of decency?"

It turns out Tagliabue doesn't.

The Laurel Redskins?

If you can put a team in Jacksonville, Fla., why not Laurel, Md.?

That seems to be Jack Kent Cooke's new motto now that he's talking with Joe De Francis about building a stadium at Laurel Race Course for the Redskins and trying to make the team a regional franchise. The advantage is that the zoning is already in place there for a stadium.

If Cooke can make look like it can become a reality, it may energize D.C. officials to cut through the red tape and get the OK for the stadium he has proposed next to RFK Stadium.

The problem is that while all this is going on, it's going to make it even more difficult for Baltimore to lure another team here -- and the odds weren't very good in the first place.

There are two major problems. The first is that Georgia Frontiere doesn't appear to want to sell the Los Angeles Rams. That means she'd have to fight the commissioner and the league to make the move herself.

Roger Goodell, who ran shotgun for Tagliabue in gunning down Baltimore's expansion bid, tipped the league's strategy when he said he doesn't think the Rams meet the criteria to move. That means the league is going fight the move on those grounds. The league could be beaten on the issue. Al Davis proved that. But Georgia Frontiere has shown no signs of being Al Davis.

As far as buying the New England Patriots or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the first priority is to find somebody with deep pockets to come up with the money. Glazer hasn't decided to make a move and Weinglass seems preoccupied with the problems at Merry-Go-Round.

The alternative

If a team doesn't move here by next spring, Baltimore would seem to have a good chance in a court battle against the NFL.

By going to such a small market as Jacksonville, the league proved that there are any number of cities that can support NFL teams.

The NFL was found guilty of being an illegal monopoly in the USFL case and it is using monopolistic practices to artificially hold down the number of teams in the league.

Joseph Alioto, the San Francisco lawyer who just won $114 million for former Patriots owner Billy Sullivan in an antitrust suit, would be more than happy to take on the case.

After all, the NFL has made losing lawsuits a virtual cottage industry.

The other alternative is to have Maryland's two Democratic senators, Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes, have a chat with President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.

It just so happens that the vice president is from Tennessee, which got the back of the NFL's hand, too.

Maryland should fight a war on many fronts against the NFL. It has nothing to lose now.

On the field

All the controversy over the Leon Lett play a week ago obscured what a drab season this has been.

The soft zone defenses -- combined with the lack of good quarterbacks -- are turning the game into a bore. They've taken away the long pass and turned scoring touchdowns into a lost art.

The colleges are now playing the exciting brand of ball that used to be the NFL's trademark.

Sports Illustrated highlighted the problem with a cover story entitled: "Can the NFL Be Saved?"

The title was a bit of hyperbole, but there were some sound suggestions for opening up the game such as permitting only one defensive substitution per play and adding the two-point conversion.

The problem is the league won't even admit there's a problem. There's so much arrogance in the Tagliabue regime that they just point to the TV ratings and attendance figures and insist things are fine.

One writer who chronicled the problems was stunned to get a list from one of the league office's empty suits of 15 supposedly good games.

It's obvious that from a historical perspective, the legacy of the Tagliabue era will be that the game went into a decline after the great years of the Pete Rozelle era. The key question is whether the game will rebound under the next regime.

The Bickering Bills II

The Buffalo Bills seem to be becoming the Bickering Bills again.

They're complaining about the coaches and each other in the wake of last Sunday's 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Andre Reed questioned the coaching by saying, "Every week we sit in the meetings and every week we don't come up with anything. We've been doing the things we've been doing for four years. The defenses are catching up to us."

Jim Kelly said his teammates aren't playing hard every play.

"Everyone has to play every play. It just angers me at times when you watch film and see the reason you get sacked is because somebody decided this time was their time to watch," Kelly said.

The same old Colts

After a 31-0 loss to the San Diego Chargers last Monday night, wide receiver Jesse Hester of the Colts said, "It's just totally, totally embarrassing. To be on a 'Monday Night Football' game like that in front of a national audience like that and get embarrassed, it's frustrating.

"It's going to be a while before I show my face around town."

The only question is what were the Colts doing on "Monday Night Football" in the first place?

Praising the boss

Last year, the New England Patriots were 2-9 after 11 games. This year, they're 1-10.

Yet vice president Patrick Forte said that new coach Bill Parcells should be Coach of the Year.

"There isn't any anarchy here like there was in the past," he said.

But there's also only one victory.

BOO!

The Cleveland Browns fans will be booing coach Bill Belichick again today, but owner Art Modell insists it doesn't make any difference.

"He will be the Browns coach next year and for years beyond, because he's a good coach and a good man, and he deserved better treatment than he got in our home ballpark."

Taking the heat

Coach Art Shell understands the way the Los Angeles Raiders work. Owner Al Davis takes the credit when things go well and the coach gets the heat when they don't.

After losing to the Cincinnati Bengals last week, Shell said, "As a head coach, you accept responsibility when the team wins or loses. It just falls on your shoulders. It's tough for me. It's tough for the whole organization."

MOVING DAY?

Do you want an existing NFL team to move to Baltimore? To vote, call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County, 836-5028 in Harford County, 848-0338 in Carroll County). After you hear the greeting, punch in the four-digit code 6111.

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