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In the space of five days last month the league owners: 1) lost a $114 million antitrust suit; 2) gave an ovation to an admitted alcoholic gambling addict; and 3) stiffed a roomful of respected businessmen and politicians who had been kept waiting five years.
If a large tent had been handy, it would have made a very nice circus.
Why anybody wants an NFL franchise in the first place beats us. The price is $140 million, you get only half a share of TV revenue for three years, one network is talking about bolting, and the quality of the game is the crummiest since the days of the Pottsville Maroons. Last week in the NFL three cappuccino vendors and a hat rack started at quarterback.
However, if some team is going to join the Charlotte Panthers as the second expansion franchise, it ought to be in Baltimore—the city that gave us Johnny U, The Greatest Game Ever Played and the Colt marriage quiz in Diner, the best sports scene ever in the movies. Baltimore has a history with the NFL. Baltimore was selling out pro football games when Charlotte was basically three guys on a bench.
St. Louis, on the other hand, doesn't give a can of JockItch about the NFL. St. Louis was the only city of the five applying that didn't sell all its luxury boxes. The old St. Louis Cardinals never won a home playoff game and were generally to the game of football what skateboarding is to the Indy 500.
St. Louis fans lost their franchise. Baltimore fans did not lose the Colts. The Colts were stolen from them by Bob Irsay, a man his own mother called "a devil on earth." Ten years ago he moved the team to Indianapolis in the skinny hours of the night. Colt fans did not lose faith. To this day the Baltimore Colt marching band still exists.
Is St. Louis offering the best deal? Hardly. If it is awarded a team, Baltimore will build—free—a gorgeous football-only stadium right next to gorgeous Oriole Park at Camden Yards. For this the new Baltimore owner will have to pay $1 a year.
Does St. Louis have the best fans? Please. St. Louis is a baseball town. In St. Louis, kids learn to honor three things: God, family and the cutoff man. Even on the day the football Cardinals moved to Phoenix, the headline in St. Louis was: OZZIE GOES 1 FOR 3; FOOTBALL TEAM LEAVES.