On 4th down, watch Schaefer go for it


Woe to the elected official who doesn't follow the politician's credo: Cover your behind. That's what Governor Schaefer did by sending a letter to Herb Belgrad reaffirming the 60-day deadline for luring an NFL team to Baltimore.

The letter was marked "Confidential," but it was leaked before the "Don Schaefer" signature was dry, enabling the governor to shout, It's Feb. 14 or else, Herbie! As if that's news to the stadium authority chairman. As if something has changed.

How appropriate that this charade will end on Valentine's Day, most likely with Baltimore heartbroken again. Actually, it probably won't end on Valentine's Day. Let's not forget that other politician's credo: Deadlines are flexible.

So, what's the Guv up to?

It's fairly simple. On one hand, he's trying to apply pressure to any existing franchise considering a move to Baltimore. On the other hand, he's positioning himself to welcome the CFL to Baltimore and the Redskins to Laurel.

That's right, the politician who helped bring you the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards might wind up endorsing a team that is utterly despised in his favorite city, the one where he was once mayor.


Only if it's one end of the deal.

Schaefer isn't going to give in to Jack Kent Cooke, the man who torpedoed Baltimore's expansion chances.

He's going to want something back -- not necessarily from Cooke, who has little to give, but from all those legislators in the D.C. suburbs who are pushing for the Redskins.

Here's the trade:

Redskins to Laurel.

Bullets and Capitals to Baltimore.

Cooke can name his complex after Schaefer, he can pay for some of the stadium infrastructure, he can move the Redskins' training camp to Western Maryland. But, in a stadium with 15,000 club seats, he'll barely have any tickets left for those on the Redskins' waiting list, much less any fans in Baltimore.

That wouldn't satisfy Schaefer. This is politics. If the legislators from Montgomery and Prince George's counties want the Redskins, Schaefer should demand that they pass legislation to use the stadium money for the construction of an arena at Camden Yards.

Now that would be something for Baltimore.

And what about football? It took awhile, but Schaefer finally is recognizing that the Redskins would be better than nothing at all -- especially when Baltimore can latch onto the CFL, a perfect vehicle for reviving the city's football tradition and sticking it to the NFL.

Make no mistake, the first choice is still an NFL team. When Schaefer says he "may withdraw" his opposition to the Redskins, he's simply telling the city's NFL suitors that they had better move quickly to secure The Greatest Deal Ever Rejected By A Sports League.

(Lest we forget, a belated thanks to native son Tom Clancy, who dropped out of the expansion race because he didn't think football would be "economically viable." Clancy is now competing with a Baltimore group to buy the New England Patriots and move them to Hartford. Way to support your hometown.

(The updated enemies list:

1. Paul Tagliabue.

2. Jack Kent Cooke.

3. Clancy.

4. Alfred Lerner/Art Modell.)

Seriously, Schaefer can't possibly expect an NFL team to act by Feb. 14 -- especially with Cooke trying to move 15 miles south of Baltimore. Cooke isn't sure he'll build in Laurel if another franchise relocates in Baltimore. But the mere idea that he might could scare other teams away.

The deadline serves as an implicit warning to teams trying to cut better deals in their current cities. The letter reinforces the threat, while defining the terms for everyone. Belgrad can wave it at the Los Angeles Rams. Mayor Schmoke can wave it at the CFL.

But what if Belgrad is close to a deal on Feb. 14? What if the Rams say, "We're interested. But we need more time?" The argument over an extension would be ugly. But the legislature couldn't justify killing Baltimore's NFL dream.

In the end, the Redskins are the most realistic option, and Schaefer knows it. For so many, they aren't a particularly desirable option. But if the package included the Bullets and Capitals, Schaefer would come out of this a hero.

This is politics. The letter is a statement of purpose, a first step toward embracing the Redskins, a nod to pragmatism over principle. The governor is getting ready to cut a deal. If the Redskins want to move to Laurel, someone is going to have to pay the price.

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