Jim Speros' dogged pursuit of a Canadian Football League team for Baltimore finally reaches pay dirt today at City Hall.
Barring an unlikely commitment from an NFL team to move here, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke will sign a lease that allows Speros' CFL expansion team to play at Memorial Stadium this July.
The lease, to cover a period of five years, must be approved by the city's Board of Estimates and the CFL's Board of Governors tomorrow. Speros, a Virginia businessman and native of Potomac, will formally introduce the franchise in a ceremony Thursday.
"It's pretty much a certainty," Clint Coleman, Schmoke's press secretary, said about today's lease signing. "Unless something happens overnight [with an NFL team] that we are not aware of at this point, the mayor expects to sit down with Mr. Speros and put ink to paper.
"Mr. Speros indicated he will give the mayor something that symbolizes the new team, and the return of pro football to Baltimore."
Ten years after the Colts abandoned Baltimore in a March snow squall, pro football returns Canadian-style. That means new rules, a larger field and unfamiliar heroes. For Speros, it means the culmination of a project that began a year ago and turned serious last summer when he submitted a nonrefundable deposit of $50,000 for an expansion team in Baltimore. The franchise will cost $3 million.
Along the way, Speros had to win over the Memorial Stadium community and the city's politicians.
After missing a Jan. 15 CFL deadline on the stadium lease, Speros was granted a 30-day extension that coincided with the city's bid for an existing NFL team.
In a news conference last week, Schmoke talked of the CFL vision he sees for Baltimore.
"I kind of feel, with respect to the CFL, the way I did with the old Baltimore Colts before Mr. [Robert] Irsay," Schmoke said. "This is a family-oriented-type sport, the pricing of the tickets is going to be such that families are going to be able to go without putting a second mortgage on their home. And so I think we ought to reach out to them and embrace them. It's a changing climate for professional sports and football, and we ought to adapt to these changes."
Tickets will range from $9 to $28 (the most expensive are some 3,000 club seats on the mezzanine level at Memorial Stadium), and Speros says he has 25,000 season-ticket reservations. The team has a coach, Don Matthews, and most of Matthews' assistants with the Saskatchewan Roughriders will join him. What it doesn't have is a nickname.
Speros said yesterday that no decision has been made on using the name Colts. The NFL urged CFL commissioner Larry Smith last week not to use Colts, saying it would pursue legal action if the team were named after Baltimore's former NFL team.
CFL spokeswoman Diane Mihalek said yesterday that the league's recommendation to Speros is to get another nickname, and to stay away from Silver Colts and Fighting Colts as well. Smith was unavailable for comment.
Matthews' staff, meanwhile, apparently is complete. Steve Buratto, an offensive line coach in Saskatchewan last year and head coach of the Calgary Stampeders in 1984-85, said yesterday that he has agreed to come to Baltimore.
"If it [the team] goes through, I go," Buratto said from his home in Boise, Idaho.
Along with Buratto, other Matthews' assistants who've left Saskatchewan since the end of the season are Daryl Edralin, linebacker and special teams coach, and James Parker, defensive line coach. Bob Price, defensive coordinator with the Roughriders, and Jim Popp, the team's chief scout, also are expected to join Matthews. Popp likely will become personnel director.