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Officials wary of Bengals


Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown came to Baltimore yesterday and said he was "very serious" about moving his team here, but local officials came away wary that Brown is more intent on striking a deal at home.

"He clearly wants to remain in Cincinnati," said Maryland Stadium Authority chairman John Moag.

Brown, who is heading back to Cincinnati today, watched an Orioles game at Camden Yards from the Maryland Stadium Authority sky box.

"I think we have a shot if Cincinnati is not providing Mike Brown with what he needs," Moag said. "We have a shot, but we've had shots before. We've been down this road before.

"Nobody ought to get excited about this."

Brown said little about the talks, other than "I leave with a very good impression."

A collection of civic leaders also attended the game with Brown, including stadium authority executive director Bruce Hoffman, Orioles general counsel George Stamas, First Maryland Bancorp head Frank Bramble and attorney George Beall.

Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who has offered to purchase a minority stake in an NFL team if it moves here, was attending baseball owners meetings in Minneapolis, but asked Stamas to meet with Brown.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke dropped by briefly.

"This thing is a long way from getting resolved," Schmoke said. "You have to remember that the NFL hierarchy isn't eager to put a team in this market.

"I don't feel like he is using us. He's being very careful not to get everyone's hopes up."

Brown brought with him four team officials and attorneys, including his daughter.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening this week expressed concern that teams would flirt with Baltimore in hopes of convincing &r; hometown power brokers to build them new stadiums.

Asked if he were using Baltimore for leverage, Brown said: "I wouldn't be here if I wasn't very serious."

But he acknowledged reluctance to leave the city in which he and his late father, Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown, founded the Bengals in 1968. The team is very much a family affair -- Mike Brown's brother is assistant general manager, his son assistant treasurer and his daughter secretary-treasurer.

"We're still talking with people back there," Brown said.

Brown was reported to have a meeting scheduled for today with Ohio Senate President Stanley Aronoff, who wants the Bengals to stay in Cincinnati.

Brown said the team needs a modern facility to compete in the NFL, where the economic advantage has swung in recent years to franchises with revenue-generating sky boxes, club seats and concessions. Much of that money is not shared with visiting teams and does not add to the revenue base upon which minimum team salary levels are calculated with the players union.

In Baltimore, public funding is in place to build a $180 million stadium adjacent to Oriole Park and for a $5 million upgrade of the Baltimore Colts' former training center at Owings Mills. The Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984.

Brown termed that funding, the same package of lottery-backed bonds and ticket taxes that built Oriole Park, "a tremendous selling point."

"That's an attraction for us and others as well," Brown said.

Baltimore is the only city with public funding in place for a football stadium.

The Bengals share 25-year-old Riverfront Stadium with the baseball Reds, a relationship that has been testy at times. Civic leaders have vowed to improve Riverfront for the Bengals and to build a new stadium for the Reds, but have not yet passed a funding plan.

"We've been trying to get an improved stadium situation in Cincinnati for a half-dozen years," Brown said.

Brown said he is not looking at any other cities. There has been speculation that the NFL may steer a second franchise to Los Angeles if an agreement can be reached to build a stadium for the Raiders there. He has said he is not interested in Los Angeles.

"If we can't get it done in Cincinnati, this is our prime option," he said.

He wouldn't say how quickly he expected to decide, but said it would probably not be in time for the team to play the coming season in Baltimore.

"We're going to come to a conclusion fairly quickly," he said.

Moag has said he has given the Bengals a deadline, which he will not reveal but has hinted is coming up soon. "He's got a timetable from me after which we are not going to be talking with Cincinnati," Moag said.

This was the first official visit to Baltimore by Brown, though about a month ago other team officials toured Memorial Stadium, where a team could play while the new stadium is under construction.

Brown has monitored Baltimore's NFL efforts for some time. When the Washington Redskins asked for and won an NFL resolution allowing them to move to Laurel -- plans the team since has dropped -- Brown quizzed commissioner Paul Tagliabue about the impact on Baltimore.

The commissioner said the NFL would not prevent Baltimore from getting a team.

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