Ten years after Robert Irsay stealthily crawled out of town in the middle of the night with Baltimore's grand pro football tradition in tow, a new era is dawning. Professional football returns tomorrow night to Memorial Stadium. And this new team's league may prove to be more exciting and fun for sports fans than the staid and lumbering National Football League brand of athleticism.
Fans will call them the Colts (though an Indiana judge says that's a federal offense), but owner Jim Speros is temporarily referring to them as the CFLs. It doesn't matter. The players represent Baltimore's re-entry into pro football. And what an exciting brand of football it is! No more "Hey, diddle, diddle, Lydell up the middle" in an endlessly boring ground offensive. In the Canadian Football League, you get only two tries to make a first down before you punt. And with the extended playing field, the CFL game is wide open; the air is filled with passes.
This large field also is tailor-made for smaller, scrambling quarterbacks and mobile mid-sized linemen. No 300-pound behemoths in this league. And with the 20-second clock between plays and fewer time outs, this game moves.
In fact, Baltimore could be the pivotal U.S. city for the CFL's expansion plans. If the league makes it big here, other U.S. cities of comparable size may jump on the CFL bandwagon next year. Then all it would take to compete with the NFL would be a network television contract -- a distinct possibility down the road.
Mr. Speros' CFL team ought to be welcomed with open arms by city officials. He is pumping money into a refurbished Memorial Stadium, returning life to that deteriorating edifice. Merchants along Greenmount Avenue have their fingers crossed that the CFL will bring back long-lost business. Residents hope the stadium's upgrade will stabilize the neighborhood. And folks at City Hall and in Annapolis are looking for big crowds to pour lots of tax money into government coffers.
Everyone wins with this team. As for the NFL and lawyer/baseball owner Peter Angelos' quest to buy an existing franchise, that's very much a hypothetical. For now, the CFLs are all we have. And they are Baltimore's own -- a team we can proudly cheer on and support. Our pro football tradition has been revived, and with a verve and energy worthy of this town. So let's hear it loud and clear: C-F-Ls, C-F-Ls!