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The next franchise


At the October meeting of National Football League owners, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who has replaced Bob Irsay as the man Baltimoreans love to hate, reportedly gave a lesson in geography. He lowered the lights and flashed a slide of the United States, showing where existing teams and the then-wannabes are located. There, of course, was poor Baltimore scrunched in between Washington and Philadelphia, the Little Orphan Annie of the pro football world.

The Sun published a similar map Sunday, and anyone familiar with Mr. Tagliabue's expansion philosophy knew immediately where the next team will be located:

Billings, Mont. That's right. Billings sits smack in the middle of the last void to be filled by the NFL, the territory between Seattle on the west, Minneapolis on the east, Denver to the south and the Canadian Football League to the north.

Will the Billings Mustangs draw? You bet, as Montanans are fond of saying. Of course, two-thirds of the men, women and children in town will have to turn out to fill a 45,000-seat stadium. But there are always the suburbs. No doubt fans will flock from Laurel, Worden, Crow Agency, Fromberg, Absarokee, Columbus, Molt and Red Lodge.

Visiting teams can stay at the venerable Northern Hotel, although Mr. Tagliabue, when he comes calling with his entourage, will want to stay in the tower suite at the downtown Sheraton. Much swankier, and at 23 stories the tallest hotel (and second tallest building) in Montana.

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