New teams kick off NFL agony expands


The NFL exhibition season opens Saturday afternoon with Jacksonville and Charlotte meeting in the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.

It's enough to make you sick.

Think of it -- those two towns, Charlotte and Jacksonville, are in the National Football League now and Baltimore is not.

On top of that, St. Louis is back in the league this year. St. Louis was never the pro football city Baltimore was. St. Louis has always been a baseball town.

Maybe it has taken this -- for the two expansion teams and the relocated Rams in St. Louis to be out there playing games -- for the full impact of Baltimore's loss to sink in.

Baltimore is full of NFL and Paul Tagliabue haters. Who could blame them after the shabby way our city has been treated?

We've all read about the wife-beating, drug-taking thugs who play in the NFL now.

Between the players and owners like Jack Kent Cooke and Al Davis (not to mention Bob Irsay), I'm this close to saying the heck with the whole thing.

But if pro football is a good thing to have in your city -- and I believe it is -- the NFL is still the league to be in. And, by golly, Baltimore belongs in it.

The CFL Stallions are doing an admirable job here. Drawing 30,000 people for Canadian football in Baltimore during a July heat wave, which the Stallions have been doing, is remarkable.

But the CFL is not the NFL. No one disputes that.

With all its warts, the NFL is still the league of Marino, Shula, Aikman, Emmitt Smith, Elway, Steve Young and Randall Cunningham. Those are the people I want to see.

Will they ever return to Baltimore? Nobody knows.

What's worse, we're getting closer all the time to the point where nobody's going to care.

John Moag, the new chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority, knows more about this stuff than anyone. And he doesn't know if we're going to get a team either.

Moag, a graduate of Loyola High and Washington College, was the speaker at the July sports luncheon at J. Patrick's.

What he said about Baltimore's pro football future will neither have citizens dancing in the streets nor jumping off bridges.

I like that about Moag.

He meets these NFL owners. He listens. He talks to them about the new stadium that would be built here and the terrific financial package that awaits a team that would come.

And he refuses to get too excited about any of it. Moag is learning. Already he has learned a lot about owners. "This job," said Moag, who is with the prestigious D.C.-based law firm of Patton Boggs, "is very time-consuming but it's very interesting. There are some aspects of it I enjoy, but there are some aspects that get to me."

That's what got him talking about owners.

"I help to manage a law firm with 250 lawyers," Moag said, "so I'm used to dealing with big egos. But I have never seen egos like some of these sports owners have."

You don't have to look far to see what he's talking about. Forty miles away there's the Redskins' Cooke.

Former Governor Schaefer, who attended the J. Patrick's luncheon specifically to hear Moag, has dealt with Cooke.

Schaefer said that Cooke and NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue "agreed not to let us in" in the last expansion. Schaefer says "they used us to drive the price up."

Moag knows that Cooke is constantly changing his mind about where he wants his team to play. One report has it that Cooke is interested in moving to NFL-vacated Los Angeles, where Cooke once owned the Lakers and The Forum.

"Who knows where that man is coming from?" Moag says.

Moag recently spent some time in Myrtle Beach with Jerry Richardson, the long-ago Colts receiver who owns the new Charlotte Panthers.

"One thing Richardson advised me to do," Moag said, "is hang on to the money to finance a new stadium in Baltimore."


"Because there are a heck of a lot of NFL teams in financial trouble," Moag said, "and as long as our offer is on the table one of them could decide to move here."

Even the Bengals-to-Baltimore possibility is not dead. Bengals owner Mike Brown still needs a 1 percent sales tax increase in Cincinnati to get his new stadium and a newspaper poll this week showed the public is against it, 65 percent to 35.

"There's not a place in the country now," Moag said, "where you can get a sales tax increase passed for a new stadium."

If it's not passed in Cincinnati, Mike Brown will be back talking with John Moag.

There are lots of projects for which those millions could be spent. Governor Glendening has a December deadline for deciding whether the funding mechanism for football stays in place.

"We've got to have a team in order to hold that money," Moag said. "Basically, the owners in the NFL can do whatever they want now.

"Nobody is going to decide at this point that they're coming here -- not when they're selling season tickets. If it happens, it'll happen in the latter part of the football season."

Moag is ready to move as soon as an owner is.

"We're still the only player in the country," Moag said, "where all it'll take is an owner and my signature and there'll be a hole in the ground in a couple weeks."

Added Moag: "Something will either happen in the next couple months or we're out of the picture and it's not going to happen. Come Christmas, we'll know if we're going to have a football team."

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