Shreveport game creates tough test of fan interest


If Doug Flutie was the grand opening, Terrance Jones is the acid test.

Lured by the return of pro football to Memorial Stadium, a crowd of nearly 40,000 turned out Saturday night to see the Baltimore CFLs play the Calgary Stampeders with Flutie.

Minus last week's pomp and circumstance, the CFLs face the Shreveport Pirates this Saturday night in a game that may say more about the Canadian Football League's acceptance here than opening night did.

The biggest name on the Shreveport roster is coach Forrest Gregg, a Hall of Fame tackle who was the first man to play and then coach in the Super Bowl.

The quarterback is Jones, a career backup in the CFL out of Tulane who opened the season with a 1-for-20 passing performance.

The Pirates fell to 0-2 Saturday, although Jones threw for 251 yards in a 35-34 loss to Toronto. Of the league's three new U.S. expansion teams this year, they are the only one that has not won a game in preseason or the regular season. They fired their first coach a week before the first exhibition game -- a 33-18 loss to Baltimore.

This is a hard sell, as ticket sales are indicating.

Team owner Jim Speros said yesterday that the CFLs are running some 6,000 tickets behind last week's pace. "We're up to 27,000," he said. "Last week at this time we were at 33,000. We will be marketing this week, and we do have a lot of good seats available.

"What will be different is that now we've settled in and the housewarming party is over with. I'm hungry, expecting a victory against Shreveport. . . . Winning at home is important to me."

Last week's pre-game festivities were lavish with fireworks, a moving van and a thrill ride for both Speros and CFL commissioner Larry Smith. Both men mounted horses and rode -- cautiously -- to midfield. Smith, who hadn't been on a horse since he was 10, got thrown before he left the warning track. Gamely, he got back on.

"I thought I was on Secretariat," he said. "I'll try anything once. I was just trying to promote the team."

At 39,247, Smith was rewarded with the biggest crowd of the CFL's young season. The next highest was 25,687 for a first-week game in Edmonton between the Eskimos and Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

It was the biggest regular-season crowd in the CFL since Sept. 10, 1993, when 54,324 saw the Eskimos beat Calgary, 29-16, in Edmonton.

"It was a very positive start," Smith said. "Jim's group has done a very good job. The support of the mayor [Kurt L. Schmoke] was evident. It's sad in a way they had to play Calgary in the opener, but they got to see the best, and Doug Flutie is the best."

Said Speros: "My goal is, I want 35,000 to 40,000 a game. I want to lead the league in attendance. I think the people in Baltimore will be the determining factor in how American expansion goes. If these fans support us here, no one can stop us."

NOTE: Speros said he has resolved a complaint by the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, and will supply fans and refreshments in their dressing room to combat the heat. Speros said he is purchasing new uniforms for the band at a cost of $44,000.

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