Fasten your seat belts. Baltimore's football fans are about to take another rocky ride on the NFL Franchise Chase.
This has been one of those virtual-reality rides. There are a lot of ups and downs, but it always has ended where it started for Baltimore -- without a team.
There are going to be some new twists and turns this time and nobody can predict whether it's going to have a better ending for Baltimore.
The latest saga started when commissioner Paul Tagliabue misjudged Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. If Tagliabue had hammered out the deal he made with the Rams last February, announced the team met the moving guidelines -- which are open to virtually any interpretation -- and approved the move, the NFL still could act as if it had some control of the process.
Instead, Tagliabue gambled that Frontiere would sell the team or back down, announced the Rams didn't meet the guidelines and recommended the owners reject the move last month.
Frontiere, though, didn't back down. Instead, she said that if the owners rejected the move again last Wednesday, she would be in St. Louis on Thursday announcing her team was the St. Louis Rams and would play there this fall. It would be up to the NFL to stop her in court.
Tagliabue blinked and made a deal. The Rams agreed to pay $46 million, give up $13.3 million in expansion fees and pay $12.5 million more if Fox gets a TV rebate. The move then was approved.
In effect, the NFL was admitting that its guidelines are meaningless. The NFL thought the Rams didn't meet the guidelines, but the league didn't want to fight the Rams in court.
The next day, Brown was telling Cincinnati reporters about the tradition in Baltimore.
"There are certainly attractive aspects to Baltimore," he said.
He remembered seeing his father's Cleveland Browns beat the Colts, 38-31, at Memorial Stadium in 1959 ("I have very fond memories of that game"), and the Bengals playing their first playoff game in Baltimore in 1970 and losing, 17-0 ("It was very cold and windy, the dust was swirling around.")
He was doing nothing to contradict the impression that he is interested in Baltimore if the city of Cincinnati doesn't solve his stadium problem.
Meanwhile, John Moag, chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said he's ready to meet with Brown. When both were asked if they had met, they declined comment.
In a related development, the NFL said it wants to put a team in Los Angeles to replace the Rams and says it will screen the candidates. But it doesn't seem eager for the Bengals to fill that role. Brown is a conservative football man who doesn't fit the glitzy Hollywood image.
So, a lot of rumors started flying. One -- printed by the Cincinnati Post on Page 1 -- was that the Bengals would move to Philadelphia and the Eagles to Los Angeles. That sounds far-fetched, although Eagles owner Jeff Lurie has been a movie producer and wants a new stadium. If Al Davis of the Raiders gets a new one at Hollywood Park, Lurie could share it in this
Brown said he hasn't heard that rumor, but it wouldn't make sense for him to go to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia when he can have a new stadium in Baltimore.
What Brown wants to know is whether Cincinnati will give him a new one. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Cincinnati business executives met privately with Brown and Reds owner Marge Schott last week in an attempt to solve the problem.
Ralph Michael, vice chairman of the Cincinnati Business Committee, said, "You can expect the business community to be there when the chips are counted." Whatever that means.
Moag also has a message for Brown. He would like an answer by this fall before the 1996 state budgets are put together.
The Maryland legislature started raiding Moag's stadium fund last month when it gave $2 million to Jim Speros, owner of the Baltimore Canadian Football League team. The legislature will take the rest by May 15, 1996, if the city doesn't have a team by then.
The stadium bonding legislation may remain in place -- State Sen. John Pica said he thinks the pro-Baltimore forces can win the fight to preserve it for at least another three or four years -- but Moag doesn't want to take any chances. If the Bengals don't want to commit here soon, he wants to talk to other teams.
If construction starts on the new stadium by this fall, it could be ready by 1997. A team playing at the new stadium will bring in $42 million in ticket revenue. Playing at Memorial Stadium until the new one is built, a team would bring in $30 million, so there's a $12 million difference for each year the stadium isn't built.
Brown said there's a "window of opportunity [in Baltimore] that could close, and I'm aware of that." But he's giving Cincinnati a chance to do something first. All Baltimore can do now is wait to find out if Cincinnati has a stadium solution.
If it doesn't, Baltimore will have a shot at getting the Bengals.
Unlike old soldiers, old quarterbacks just don't fade away. At least Joe Montana won't.
His retirement announcement will be a two-day, two-city affair Tuesday and Wednesday in San Francisco and Kansas City, Mo.
Just as Johnny Unitas eclipsed Sammy Baugh and Otto Graham because he was the first great quarterback of the TV era, Montana played on center stage when sports began to be hyped cable TV.
It has been said so often that he was the greatest quarterback of all time that it's virtually accepted as fact.
It's now forgotten that he lost first-round playoff games in 1985, '86 and '87 by 17-3, 49-3 and 36-24 scores and was benched for Steve Young in the second half of the third one.
It has been forgotten he was benched at times by coach Bill Walsh early in the 1988 season, when the 49ers struggled to a 6-5 start. They then ran the table to win the Super Bowl.
The next year, Montana got his fourth Super Bowl title with a 17-2 record. In the 1990 season, the 49ers were 15-2 in the NFC title game when Leonard Marshall knocked Montana out late in )) the game.
He then sat out most of the next two years with injuries, but Montana's mystique was still larger than life. Kansas City traded for him in 1993, thinking he could take the Chiefs to the Super Bowl at the age of 37. Montana, though, didn't have the right supporting cast and was starting to age. He lost in the playoffs the past two years and is now ready to hang it up.
He goes out ranked with the other top quarterbacks of all time, including Baugh, Graham, Unitas, Roger Staubach and Terry Bradshaw.
It's not really possible, though, to rank any of them No. 1 despite all the Montana hype. It's easy to forget, for example, that Graham played in 10 straight AAFC and NFL title games from 1946 to 1955 and won seven of them. After he retired, the Browns slipped from 9-2-1 to 5-7 in 1956.
Graham, though, never had his highlights on "SportsCenter."
Handicapping the draft
The first day of the NFL draft has been shifted from a Sunday to a Saturday because ESPN is committed to a NASCAR race Sunday and wants to make sure that Mel Kiper has a chance to comment on the Indianapolis Colts' first selection.
With six days to go, the top two players seem set and there's only a little debate about the top five.
It now seems fairly certain that Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter will be the first player taken. The only question is whether Carolina, which has the first pick, will trade him or keep him. The Panthers could trade down a few spots and take quarterback Kerry Collins of Penn State.
Jacksonville seems content to stay at No. 2 and take Southern Cal offensive lineman Tony Boselli.
The Oilers seem torn whether to take quarterback Steve McNair of Alcorn State or Florida defensive lineman Kevin Carter, although they're also looking at Colorado wide receiver Michael Westbrook.
The Washington Redskins, drafting fourth, would like to trade up for Ki-Jana Carter. If they can't pull that off, they'll decide between Westbrook and Miami defensive lineman Warren Sapp. The Cincinnati Bengals, with the fifth pick, figure to take Sapp if the Redskins don't.
Since the Redskins are desperate for help on the defensive line, Sapp seems like the logical choice. But Norv Turner is an offensive coach who seems to be ready to go for Westbrook.
If the Redskins take Westbrook, it would be the second time in four years Washington has taken a wide receiver in the fourth slot. Remember Desmond Howard? Turner said Westbrook is much better, but he would have to live down the Howard legacy.
The first two rounds of the draft will be Saturday, with the final five rounds next Sunday.
Jim Ryan was busy defending his father last week, saying the Detroit Lions offered to sign Tharpe to a three-year, $2.5 million deal.
"I'm really surprised that Buddy is taking a lot of heat on this," Jim Ryan said. "Everybody knows that this kid has potential."
In Phoenix, though, the joke is that if a mid-round player wants to be drafted by Arizona, he should sign Jim Ryan as his agent.
NFL DRAFT ORDER
The selection order for the first round of the 1995 NFL draft, to be held Saturday and next Sunday:
10.Cleveland (from Atlanta)
11.Minnesota (from Denver
26.Atlanta (from Cleveland)