CLEVELAND -- While this city was pelted by sleet, snow and the virtual certainty that the Browns were moving to Baltimore, Mayor Michael R. White angrily declared yesterday that a "cruel hoax" was unfolding in Maryland, and he vowed that the football team won't leave without a battle.
"The message is clear: The Cleveland Browns are ours, and keep your hands off them, any other city in America," Mr. White said at a news conference in which he outlined plans -- which include possible legal action -- to keep the Browns.
On Wednesday, Mr. White said, he will submit a financial package to Browns owner Art Modell. The package is dependent on approval of a "sin tax" in a Tuesday referendum.
However, Cleveland apparently can't match Baltimore's offer, which could bring the Browns a $30 million operating profit.
Fred Nance, chief counsel to Mr. White, said: "We're not even going to come close to that. We know we can't."
Mr. White said he will be in Maryland today to meet with Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to discuss the Browns. Mr. White said he also intended to attend Mr. Modell's news conference in Baltimore tomorrow, when he is expected to announce he is moving the franchise.
Mr. Modell has not confirmed any agreement with Baltimore, but the Akron Beacon Journal, quoting unnamed sources, said that on Friday he informed the Browns' front-office staff of the imminent move. He also offered them jobs with the team in Baltimore and moving expenses, the Beacon Journal said.
Mr. Modell said that he saw "nothing on the horizon" to prevent the team's move.
That didn't stop Mr. White. He told Clevelanders to get "fighting mad" and to turn out in force for a Cuyahoga County referendum on Tuesday that would provide $175 million for a renovation of Cleveland Stadium. The Cleveland mayor is relying on the funding measure, which would renew a tax on alcohol and tobacco, as a last-ditch effort to keep the Browns.
"It'll be up to every citizen in this community to reject this cruel hoax being perpetrated by Baltimore and some of the NFL leaders," said the mayor, surrounded by a dozen local officials in Cleveland City Hall.
"The cruel hoax is that they would have us believe that on Monday, the deal is done. The deal isn't done. There is a major, specific process that has to be used in order to allow the Browns to leave."
Under National Football League bylaws, a team's move must be approved by two-thirds of the owners. "In order to do that," Mr. White said, "the owner of the Browns and the NFL have to prove that this is an inhospitable community. This is not an inhospitable community."
Letters will be sent to NFL owners urging them not to support the Browns' move from Cleveland, Mr. White said.
And Mr. Modell apparently won't find that all of his fellow owners favor his move.
"I'm not going to vote for it," New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft told the Boston Globe. "I just don't think it is right. This team has had great support over the years."
The Globe also quoted Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson as saying: "This is wrong, and I'm against it. The credibility of our league has taken a beating in the last year. Fans across the country used to believe that our league stood for something."
However, Carmen Policy, San Francisco 49ers president, said: "I don't think that just because a team says it's moving, it automatically just moves. I don't think we're quite there yet."
The ability of sports leagues to control franchise movement has been the subject of several lawsuits. Decisions have upheld the right of leagues to control moves as long as the league acts according to consistent rules and for legitimate business purposes.
Mr. White said that he has been in consultation with attorneys about "a series of legal and extra-legal options we are pursuing."
"No matter what happens on Monday in Baltimore, it's not the final play in this game," he said.
Mr. Schmoke said he spoke yesterday with Mr. White, a longtime political friend of his. The two have known each other since Mr. White was an Ohio state legislator.
Mr. Schmoke said the conversation was "strained." When Mr. White pressed him, Mr. Schmoke said, he deferred to the Maryland Stadium Authority and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, saying they were leading the discussions.
"If we get an NFL team, I think it's great," Mr. Schmoke said. "We've said that we don't want to go out and try to lure anyone away, but if a team has made a firm decision to leave, we'll discuss it."
Mr. Modell, attracted to Baltimore by the prospect of a new stadium to be built alongside Oriole Park, said yesterday that money from the sin tax wouldn't be enough to keep him in town.
"It's just not the answer," Mr. Modell said in an interview on a Cleveland radio station. "It doesn't do the job."
An analysis by The Sun suggests that a team playing in a new Baltimore stadium could earn an operating profit of $30 million a year on revenues of $85 million. In contrast, Financial World magazine, using a similar analysis, estimates that the Browns currently earn an operating profit of $6 million on revenues of $64 million.
Details of the agreement with Maryland were sketchy yesterday, but sources familiar with it said the Browns would receive tens of millions of dollars from personal seat licenses, and the proceeds would be used to defray relocation expenses of the team -- not to enrich the owners.
Other officials in Ohio, some of whom accompanied Mr. White to yesterday's news conference, had all but given up hope.
"The owners today are much more loyal to money than they are to fans, which I'm sure Baltimore already knows," said Timothy F. Hagan, a Cuyahoga County commissioner. "This has nothing to do with the loyalty to the town. It's got to do with how much money you can make. Modell won't have any more loyalty to Baltimore than he did to Cleveland."