Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday that the Washington Redskins were not a significant factor in the NFL's decision to bypass Baltimore when it awarded expansion teams to Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla.
"Baltimore was not eliminated on geography grounds," Tagliabue said in a national conference call. "The committee we had was broadly representative of the whole country, and the consensus was on the Southeast as the focal point. I think that's what drove the committee's thinking. I don't think the Redskins' situation was a significant factor in that analysis."
When Tagliabue was asked if Washington owner Jack Kent Cooke told him he was against a team in Baltimore, he said, "No."
And when the commissioner was asked to respond to criticism from Baltimore officials about the expansion procedure, he replied that they didn't complain during the process.
"I had a number of conversations with Herb Belgrad and others involved in Baltimore at that time, and they were very complimentary of the fairness of the process," he said.
"I regret they feel disappointed now and they're critical, but it's understandable, I guess."
Belgrad, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, agreed that he complimented Tagliabue about the fairness of the process, but added, "That proves in the long run how well they conned me.
"No one shared with us the information that Jack Kent Cooke was in negotiations with [Laurel Race Course operator] Joe De Francis. I trusted the commissioner and his staff to be up front with me and not to have a hidden agenda. Even though the commissioner had knowledge at the time that Cooke planned to invade Maryland, he never gave us the courtesy of informing us. Now that Cooke has come out of the closet, it has become very clear."
Tagliabue also endorsed Cooke's plan to build a new stadium in Laurel, even though Gov. William Donald Schaefer has opposed it.
"My reaction I guess is similar to the reaction I had when Mr. Cooke first announced his stadium in Virginia. I thought it was a very positive thing for the Redskins and the Redskins fans," he said.
Tagliabue was present at the news conference on July 9, 1992, when Cooke announced he had made a deal with Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder to build a stadium in Alexandria, Va.
Cooke backed out of that project on Oct. 14, 1992, when Wilderasked him to make modifications because the project ran into so much state opposition.
Tagliabue declined to speculate on what effect Cooke's planned move to Laurel would have on existing teams that might be considering a move to Baltimore.
But he said the Redskins would not get any compensation if a team did move to Baltimore.
Tagliabue said that policies adopted in 1978 and updated in 1984 ruled out indemnification if a team moves into another team's territory.
Tagliabue said the league could be compensated "in certain instances"after a move. He noted the Cardinals paid the league after they moved to Phoenix in 1988. The rationale was that the Cardinals were depriving the league of an expansion site.
Because Baltimore was rejected as an expansion city, it's uncertain whether that provision would apply to a team moving to Baltimore, and Tagliabue didn't mention that.
When Tagliabue, a former Washington lawyer, was asked what his reaction to a Laurel move would be if he were still a Redskins season-ticket holder, he said he now goes to games around the country and added: "I don't know if there's very much of a point to talk about what if I was still a Redskins season-ticket holder."