When Bengals owner Mike Brown passed up the Baltimore offer last June to stay in Cincinnati for a stadium deal that included a sales tax hike, he seemed idealistic at best and foolhardy at worst.
Even though he said at the time of his decision to stay, "I know it sounds quaint, but I thought it was the right thing to do," it seemed far-fetched that voters in a conservative city like Cincinnati were going to vote for a sales tax hike to pay for stadiums for the Bengals and baseball's Reds. Even property-tax relief included in the bill didn't seem likely to save it.
It didn't help that Reds owner Marge Schott wouldn't endorse the proposal and questioned why the Bengals needed a new stadium to play 10 games a year.
It quickly became obvious that Brown, whose father, Paul Brown, founded both the Browns and Bengals, was the logical choice to fill the void in Cleveland if Cincinnati voters rejected the sales tax.
Despite all that, the polls were calling the issue too close to call. It turned out it wasn't that close.
In a stunning result, more than 60 percent of the voters pulled the yes lever Tuesday to raise taxes to help fund the stadiums.
Brown, who contributed $300,000 toward the yes campaign (Schott didn't contribute), credited the Browns' move as a major factor in the yes vote.
"That was a message we couldn't have sent," Brown said.
The Bengals still have to negotiate a lease, and Schott must agree to put money into the project the way Brown has, but it appears likely Cincinnati will keep the Bengals.
Counting the two new stadiums that were approved for Maryland last week and the stadium that will be built in Cleveland, that means four new NFL stadiums will be constructed by 1999.
If Nashville, Tenn., voters approve a referendum in May, that will be five new stadiums, and Tampa could be a sixth if the Florida legislature approves a rental car tax that the rental car companies are likely to oppose.
When you add in the new stadiums for expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville, and one for St. Louis, nine teams would have new stadiums. If you throw in Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, the New York teams, Kansas City and New Orleans, more than half the teams would seem to have good stadium situations.
However, that will just put pressure on the other half. These new stadiums will bring in a lot of new revenue, raise the salary cap and make it more difficult for the have-nots to compete.
That's why the league is having architects work on the idea of a new type of dual-purpose stadium that would seat about 65,000 for football and between 40,000 to 50,000 for baseball. It would include movable seats that would sink into the ground depending on which sport it was being used for.
The league figures it would be at least $100 million cheaper than building separate stadiums for baseball and football, and would keep the NFL from being left out when baseball-only stadiums are built.
Steelers president Dan Rooney was quick to endorse the idea. "I think it's the way to go," he said.
But he added, "I don't think it's going to happen because of baseball."
Not only are the baseball teams opposed to the idea, but the mayor of Pittsburgh, Tom Murphy, also criticized the suggestion.
"I think that train has left the station," Murphy said of dual-purpose stadiums.
It's uncertain if one of these new dual-purpose stadiums will ever be built. But if baseball is successful in building more baseball-only stadiums, it's going to make it tougher for the NFL to get new football-only stadiums.
It's easier to sell a baseball-only stadium for 81 dates than football-only for 10 dates. It's a fact that the NFL have-nots must deal with in the coming years.
Baltimore to AFC East?
Assuming the Cincinnati vote means the Bengals won't be going to Cleveland, it means the league will have to realign in 1999.
The new Cleveland team will be the sixth team in the AFC Central. Since Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati have to stay together, that means Baltimore, Jacksonville or Houston/Nashville will have to move.
Modell gave up his vote on realignment as part of the deal to move to Baltimore.
If Baltimore is shifted, it's likely to go to the AFC East. It would seem to make sense to have Baltimore replace Arizona in the NFC East so the Giants, Eagles and Redskins would be in the same division with Baltimore.
But the league doesn't want Washington in the same conference with Baltimore because it wants to schedule them on different times on different networks. It still hasn't figured out that Baltimore fans aren't keen on watching the Redskins.
Another big question now is which team will move to Cleveland. The league doesn't want to expand, but it has said it won't move a team with an existing lease to Cleveland.
When coach Bill Belichick and personnel director Mike Lombardi departed Cleveland, they left the team hamstrung under the salary cap.
The club is still being charged for about $1.5 million in incentive bonuses this year that were earned last year, and has just 48 players tied up this year in almost $38 million in salary-cap figures, so it's only $1.5 million under this year's $40.8 million cap and will have to shed money just to sign its two first-round picks.
Only three teams have fewer than 48 players committed for this year Dallas at 44, Houston at 42 and Philadelphia at 38. By contrast, Jacksonville has 67 players tied to contracts or tender offers.
This helps explain why Baltimore has lost six of its 10 free agents, and two of the players it released (Bob Dahl and Dana Hall) have signed with other teams. Baltimore has added just one player, Jeff Blackshear, who was obtained in a trade.
Coach Ted Marchibroda doesn't believe the club has suffered any major losses, but the salary-cap problems have hampered the club's flexibility.
On top of that, Belichick has signed two of the six departed free agents for New England punter Tom Tupa and defensive lineman Pio Sagapolutela.
Belichick has taken advantage of the salary-cap problems he left behind. The only positive thing is that the Baltimore team figures to get a draft pick or two in compensation next year because it has lost six free agents and hasn't signed any.
The Baltimore team figures to finally get its nickname this week. Mustangs and Ravens seem to be the most likely choices, although the key to the popularity of a nickname isn't the name itself, but how well the team does on the field.
As Modell noted, there was nothing special when Green Bay was named for a packing company, but now it's a historic name because of the team's success.
Team spokesman Kevin Byrne said, "Art made the point that when Packers was picked, it might not have seemed like much, but now it's synonymous with Titletown, USA."
Pub Date: 3/24/96