'Museum' still hanging over Tagliabue


TAMPA, Fla. - Baltimore has a great football team, a beautiful new stadium and every reason to rejoice in its NFL renaissance, but old wounds are slow to heal.

No one should know that better than NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who still is trying to live down one ill-advised comment in the aftermath of the city's unsuccessful bid for an expansion team in 1993.

Maybe he didn't mean any disrespect when he told reporters that Baltimore might be better off using the money earmarked for a new football stadium to build a museum. But five years after the arrival of the Ravens and two days before their first Super Bowl appearance, the infamous "museum quote" was still following him around.

The memory is a museum, and Baltimore football fans have an entire wing devoted to Tagliabue's apparent insensitivity to the city's sense of loss over the abrupt departure of the Colts after the 1983 season.

"It's unfortunate that the comment was taken the way it was taken," Tagliabue said during his annual Super Bowl state-of-the-game news conference yesterday. "I lived in Maryland for many years and went to many Colts games, including those in the mid-'70s when they were 11-5 and so forth and they were beaten at home in two playoff games by the Raiders and Steelers.

"I have tremendous respect for the football fans in Baltimore, not just from a distance, but from first-hand experience. ... They are legendary fans and have a legendary team."

Tagliabue fell well short of apologizing for what fans long have perceived as a bias against Baltimore during the expansion process. The city was among five finalists for the two expansion franchises that were awarded late in 1993, but the teams were given to Charlotte (Carolina Panthers) and Jacksonville (Jaguars).

He did, however, express regret at the circumstances that led to the Colts' midnight run in 1984.

"The unfortunate thing was, No. 1, in the 1980s, the league was under court rulings from California that were negative to the league and created what Pete Rozelle called a form of franchise free agency.

"And during that period, the Colts moved to Indianapolis. That was a tremendous loss to the community and very, very painful, not just for the community, but I know for Commissioner Rozelle and many people in the league.

"Then, in the expansion process, five cities competed to get two franchises. We managed the process and did so, I think, very fairly. But again there was severe disappointment when Baltimore was not selected and that compounded the injury and poured salt on the wound."

Of course, it was just three years later that the Cleveland Browns became the Ravens and Baltimore's football tradition was revived, but Tagliabue remains persona non grata in Charm City, even as his stature as a solid commissioner has grown throughout the rest of the country.

Partly because he expressed the opinion that there were better uses for Baltimore's tax and lottery dollars than the construction of a football stadium.

"My comment was taken out of context, or if it was in context, the context was this: that life has got many elements, Baltimore has many assets, its people have many interests," Tagliabue said. "It is one of the great examples of a city restoring itself, and it's a great entertainment complex with the Orioles and Camden Yards.

"The thing that I think is important is, No. 1, we have respected that great NFL tradition in Baltimore, that the Ravens have recaptured that tradition and done so very quickly in a very dramatic way. Hopefully, that goes some distance towards ameliorating some of the pain in the past."

Tagliabue also tackled another tough issue during the news conference - the Ray Lewis situation and the rationale for the $250,000 fine levied against him for his involvement in the melee that led to the stabbing deaths of two men after a Super Bowl party last year in Atlanta.

"On the reasoning on the Ray Lewis discipline, I took account, No. 1, of what he did, what he admitted he did and what was proven, as opposed to what the speculation and conjecture was," Tagliabue said. "The second thing is, I took account of how that negatively impacted the league - in particular, how it negatively impacted the other players in the league and the stereotyping of NFL players. I felt that was a very negative offshoot of the charge that Ray had admitted to, which was the obstruction-of-justice charge.

"Thirdly, I considered what kind of discipline would drive home the seriousness of what he had done, the seriousness to the league and taking into account in that context of what he had already been through."

Though Lewis has drawn criticism this week for not displaying sufficient remorse for his part in the incident, Tagliabue joined the chorus of NFL and Ravens officials defending his character.

"I think it's clear to me from my meetings with him ... that he understands the seriousness of what he allowed himself to be a part of," Tagliabue said, "and understands his responsibilities and does have a great deal of remorse, compassion, whatever you want to call it, for the victims in that incident."

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