No longer will it be a novelty act because this is the second time around for Baltimore in the Canadian Football League. The owner of the franchise, Jim Speros, and the commissioner, Larry Smith, won't have to ride in on horses -- certainly one of the most imaginative sports introductions any city has ever been presented, considering that once upon a time there was a team playing in the same stadium known and revered as the Baltimore Colts.
Last season, the CFL and Speros, in particular, played off the fact, while tugging on the heartstrings, that the Colts were taken away. In short time, Speros had a higher profile than any owner in all of sports, with the exception of Bill Veeck. The presence of Baltimore in the league was a different experience.
Right now, it is expected Speros will take a step back and not show up on the sidelines once the game has started. He has a competent, proven coach in Don Matthews, a veteran roster and tomorrow night in Memorial Stadium they will be meeting the Ottawa Rough Riders, representatives of Canada's capital and one of its most picturesque cities.
But as the south-of-the-border experiment continues, questions abound. Such as:
Q: Will attendance in Baltimore be similar to a year ago?
Q: As noisy?
Q: Can we expect the same cheering refrain of spelling out C-O-L-T-S from a gathering that clings to Baltimore tradition and likes to remind the National Football League of where it's coming from?
A: Without a doubt.
Q: How about the future of the CFL?
A: It's a league, despite problems, that deserves to make the grade in America.
A: Because the pure entertainment aspect in numerous ways surpasses the NFL.
Q: What does the CFL need more than anything else?
A: A national television contract.
Q: Where should it go in its next expansion?
A: To Oakland and Milwaukee, like Baltimore, NFL rejects. There's an existing fan base in those places, waiting to be converted. The CFL would gain, not lose, status.
Q: What shouldn't the league do?
A: It can't take another Shreveport, La., which Jackson, Miss., would have been had the league made a foolish move and opted to go there. The NFL has a Green Bay, but only one of that size. Any similar additions would create a minor-league premise.
Q: How good a commissioner is Larry Smith?
A: The best there is. A former player and a leading businessman who makes a fine appearance, he is well-spoken and realizes the obstacles in front of him. He took the gamble of opening up America to the Canadian style of football, which went against the grain since it was a move some parochial CFL club owners opposed.
Q: Are there players in the CFL who could make it in the NFL?
A: Are there players in the NFL who couldn't make it in the CFL?
Without a doubt.
Q: Does the NFL respect the CFL?
A: It never has.
So now Baltimore, joined this year by such new U.S. representatives as San Antonio, Memphis and Birmingham, continues with the Canadian experiment. If you are prejudiced against the CFL concept, then stay home; if interested in a good time, the fun of the game will convince you it offers undeniable merit.