Maryland can just say 'no' to Cooke, Redskins

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Ask not what the NFL can do for you. Ask what you can do for the NFL.

With apologies to President Kennedy, that seems to be the NFL's message to Baltimore and Maryland these days.

A week after the NFL refused to give Baltimore an expansion franchise and commissioner Paul Tagliabue suggested the city could spend its money on a museum, the Washington Redskins came up with another way for Maryland to spend its money.

Owner Jack Kent Cooke suggested the state spend millions of dollars in infrastructure so he can build a new stadium in Laurel. That probably would help keep Baltimore from luring an existing team.

P. T. Barnum would have loved it, asking Maryland taxpayers to spend money to help deny Baltimore a team.

It's not surprising that Gov. William Donald Schaefer found that an offer he could refuse.

What was overlooked in the furor is the fact that it's not a good deal for Maryland even if it didn't hurt Baltimore's chances of getting a team.

Virginia turned the deal down a year ago -- even though Gov. L. Douglas Wilder backed it.

The Laurel project isn't a good idea because suburban stadiums are an idea whose time has come and gone.

Suburban stadiums don't create any economic development around them. Just take a look at the lack of development around stadiums in Orchard Park, N.Y., Foxboro, Mass., Pontiac, Mich., and even the Meadowlands complex in East Rutherford, N.J.

On top of that, they don't have any public transportation and create huge traffic jams. The Laurel stadium would turn Interstate 95 into a parking lot on game days.

As Camden Yards has shown, downtown stadiums are the wave of the future.

The Laurel stadium also does little for Maryland. The team will remain in Virginia -- and the players would pay taxes there -- because that's where the training complex is. There probably will be no tickets available for Baltimore fans -- unless they want to buy a luxury box or a club seat. The Redskins have 48,000 people on their waiting list.

Cooke apparently has his eye on those 100 luxury suites and 7,500 club seats Baltimore sold. He forgets Baltimore companies aren't likely to buy a suite or a club seat in a stadium for a Washington team.

Cooke's also trying to sell the fiction that Baltimore and Washington are one market. If he believed that, he would move to Camden Yards. But he knows if he did that, some other team would move to Washington in a second. This area is more than big enough to support two teams.

For once, an area can afford to say no to an NFL team because Cooke won't go more than 20 miles from Washington.

After the way Maryland has been treated by the NFL, it's only poetic justice that it can say no. This time, Maryland has the upper hand.

There just aren't enough benefits for Maryland to justify the cost.

If Cooke wants this stadium, let him pay the infrastructure costs.

Since Virginia turned down Cooke, it's difficult to believe it's a good deal for Maryland.

Renovation

If the NFL can give a franchise to Jacksonville, Fla., for a renovated stadium, why does Cooke need a new stadium in Washington? Why can't he renovate RFK Stadium? But the NFL has different standards when it goes to Tagliabue's favorite part of the country -- the Southeast.

Look at the fine print

Cooke seems convinced he can outlast Schaefer and get a governor elected who's more to his liking.

But even if that happens, there's no guarantee that Cooke will ever be able to close a deal to put a stadium in Laurel.

Negotiating with Cooke is no easy task. His idea of negotiations is that he gets everything his way.

He likes to trumpet the fact that he's going to build the stadium, but once you look at the fine print, it's likely to be a good deal only for Cooke after he puts all his demands on the table.

Even his negotiations once the players got free agency showed that Cooke doesn't like to make deals when the other side has leverage.

In previous years when players didn't have other options, he would pay well by the standards of the day, but he didn't throw money away. When the Redskins won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season, he didn't have a single player among the highest-paid 25 players in the league.

Last year, Mark Rypien, Jim Lachey, Darrell Green and Desmond Howard engaged in holdouts that helped wreck the season.

This year, the players just walked when they had free agency. Cooke was outbid by Bill Bidwill of the Phoenix Cardinals for Gary Clark. He traded Wilber Marshall to the Houston Oilers. He dropped out of the bidding for Reggie White. He wouldn't enter the bidding for Emmitt Smith.

The excuse was that the league was going to implement a salary cap -- but it won't start until 1994.

As Ross Perot likes to say, the devil is in the details. Cooke has yet to reveal the details of this deal.

On the move

Speculation is increasing that the New England Patriots will move to St. Louis if Boston doesn't get a new downtown megaplex approved.

The league had tried to make it sound as if it had an agreement with owner James Busch Orthwein not to move the team. League officials now are saying Orthwein only has to follow the same criteria that any other team has to follow.

Whether he meant to or not, Tagliabue sent out signals last week in a conference call that he wouldn't fight a move when he said that Foxboro Stadium isn't adequate and that a team can't be held in a city "in perpetuity."

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the fans seem to have lost interest in the Rams. Their game against the Cardinals last week drew only a 6.5 rating (percentage of TV sets tuned in) on CBS in Los Angeles while the Denver-San Diego game on NBC got a 12.9 rating.

CBS isn't expected to oppose a Rams move, despite the size of the market, because it could show doubleheaders into the market that probably would top the Rams' ratings.

Tagliabue is likely to fight a Rams move, though, and it remains to be seen whether owner Georgia Frontiere wants to take on the league.

The Rams aren't expected to start debating their future until the off-season. One sign could be if coach Chuck Knox is fired. If he is, the Rams could be deciding to remain in Anaheim, Calif., and start a rebuilding program. If he stays, it could be a sign that they're going to play out the string in 1994. They have to give 15 months notice of a move so they can't leave next year and there would be no point in firing a coach for a lame-duck season.

Blowup

It's getting to be that time of year for coach Jimmy Johnson of the Dallas Cowboys.

Last year, he went into a tirade on the plane coming home from a December loss to the Redskins.

Last week, he publicly criticized his coaches after a lackluster victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

When pressed for details, he said, "That will be handled with the coaches as far as the particular area that I'm concerned about."

It is believed that special teams coach Joe Avezzano is a target of Johnson's ire because the special teams have made a major blunder in two straight games.

The pink slip

Being an offensive coordinator in the NFC Central is a hazardous job this year.

Two of them, Jack Burns of the Minnesota Vikings and Dan Henning of the Detroit Lions, have been fired during the season.

Mike Holmgren, the Green Bay Packers coach, said that his offensive coordinator, Sherman Lewis, came up to him after Henning was fired last week to note that he was the second one in the division to fail to last the season.

Holmgren said, "Yeah, it's a dangerous spot."

There's speculation that Henning could wind up as Washington's offensive coordinator if Rod Dowhower takes the fall for the Redskins' offensive problems this year.

The deadline

There was a two-day stir in the NFL when the league announced Wednesday that a Dec. 15 deadline had been set for contracts to be renegotiated that won't count under the salary cap.

Club officials and agents, who anticipated a deadline at the end of the season, complained it wasn't enough time to finish the deals. The result is that a new date will be set tomorrow.

For example, the Cowboys want to get Troy Aikman signed before the deadline so they can front-load his contract and keep some of it from counting under the cap.

The negotiations

Since there have been so many complaints about dull games this year, the NFL might decide to broadcast its contract negotiations with the networks instead of the games.

There's a lot of drama behind the scenes. The NFL is trying to persuade the head of the Fox network, Rupert Murdoch, to make a huge bid to give it leverage in talks with CBS and NBC.

The NFL takes the stand that there's so much prestige in televising its games that the networks should be willing to lose money to keep them. If they can use Fox for leverage, they may be able to make the networks blink.

Comparisons

Wade Phillips, coach of the Denver Broncos, is getting heat because former Broncos coach Dan Reeves is 9-3 with the New York Giants and Phillips is 7-5 with the Broncos.

"You've got to compare what Dan Reeves would have done here this year. I think we're doing a good job with this team," he said. He noted Reeves was 8-8 last year.

John Elway, a longtime Reeves critic, leaped to Phillips' defense. "We're 7-4 and everything's fine. We lose one game and now all of sudden, it's Wade's coaching style," Elway said.

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