Schaefer seeking deadline delay as NFL activity heats up


Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- who has talked with at least one NFL owner thinking of moving his team here while Orioles owner Peter Angelos has emerged as a possible bidder for two others -- is maneuvering to get more time from the General Assembly to close a football deal.

"There is activity, real strong activity," Schaefer said of the city's NFL hopes.

On Friday, he spoke for about 30 minutes by telephone with Los Angeles Raiders owner Al Davis. The governor also has been in contact with Angelos, who is prepared to bid on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams with the intention of moving them here, according to sources familiar with his plans.

Schaefer said yesterday he has not asked anyone for anything yet, but House leaders and other State House sources confirm that he is moderately hopeful that a team could end up in a new, state-financed stadium adjacent to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. He is expected to discuss the issue today with the presiding officers of the House and Senate and to meet with a broader array of legislators tomorrow.

But the governor's relentless quest is creating political problems for legislators. They had hoped that, by next week, they either would be presented with some sort of solid agreement from a team interested in moving to Baltimore or a recognition from Mr. Schaefer that his 10-year drive for a team to replace the departed Colts was finally over.

Instead, lawmakers may be facing more uncertainty.

House leaders appear to be siding with Schaefer, advocating a cautious policy. But Senate leaders say they are worried further delay could prompt Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to withdraw his plan to finance and build his own $160 million stadium in Laurel.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm not going to give any support for a delay," said Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Laurence Levitan, a Montgomery County Democrat who, like other Washington-area legislators, would find it politically beneficial in this election year to vote against spending millions on a football stadium in Baltimore.

"My view was you pretty much had to have something ironclad to go ahead. I don't think they have that, or something even close to that," he said.

In mid-December, legislative leaders gave the Schaefer administration 60 days -- until Feb. 14 -- to demonstrate the level of interest among NFL teams in moving to Baltimore. But in the weeks leading up to the deadline, lawmakers have suggested dozens of ways to spend the approximately $160 million in authorized bonds, cash and future revenues that would go toward building a new football stadium adjacent to Oriole Park.

Even Schaefer joined in such discussions, in which the stadium money has been considered for such uses as a new arena in Baltimore, convention-center renovation in Ocean City or for schools, prisons or even performing arts centers.

In a letter to Maryland Stadium Authority Chairman Herbert J. Belgrad on Jan. 17, Schaefer wrote that "a finality date must be established. It is my intention to abide by the 60-day rule. . . . We must have a contract, letter of intent, etc., by that date."

Now, he appears to have shifted gears again, declaring yesterday that Feb. 14 was never intended "as a date of finality."

"It was a date where, if there was progress, if there was something happening, if there were reasons," then perhaps an extension might be in order, he said.

Schaefer has discussed the stadium dilemma several times with House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, who said yesterday he is "absolutely open to an extension if there is a reasonable demonstration something can be gained by an extension."

Taylor said the state could end up with the Redskins in Laurel, an NFL franchise in Baltimore, a Canadian Football League team at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, and still retain professional hockey and basketball franchises in Maryland.

Baltimore lawmakers are eager to see the stadium money used on another project benefiting the city. Abe Pollin, owner of the NBA Washington Bullets and NHL Washington Capitals, has indicated a desire to move one or both of the teams to a new facility, perhaps in Baltimore.

Angelos became involved again in the football hunt at the request of Schaefer, according to several people familiar with the discussions. Angelos is willing to invest in or lead a group and is in contact with the Buccaneers and Rams.

Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse is terminally ill, and his family has said it wants to sell the team after his death. Angelos has acknowledged contacting the team several weeks ago but being told that the team was not for sale yet and that local investors had expressed an interest anyway.

But a source familiar with the talks says Angelos has resumed negotiations with the team, possibly aimed at purchasing a right to be first in line in the event of a sale.

The Orioles owner is also in contact with the Rams about a possible sale of a portion of that team, the source said.

Angelos declined to discuss the proposed deals, other than to say: "I support Baltimore football, but I can't get into the details."

Cooke said Schaefer promised to support the Redskins' move to Laurel if no NFL team had committed to Baltimore by Feb. 14.

Prospective CFL team owner Jim Speros said he wasn't concerned with the NFL effort, but looked forward to getting a lease next week with the city for Memorial Stadium. Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, in deference to the NFL bid, asked Speros to wait until after Feb. 14 to sign the lease. At the same time, he signed a letter promising to give the team a lease unless an NFL team had committed to a move, Mr. Speros said.

Last night, Schmoke said through a spokesman: "I am aware of a lot of discussions going on, but unless there is some dramatic change over the weekend, it is likely we will be signing the lease with the CFL team Tuesday evening."

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