Eisenberg: Expansion Decisions Make Little Sense Now


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It makes little sense now that bids submitted by Carolina and Jacksonville bested Baltimore's when they competed for expansion franchises back in 1994. Jacksonville annually ranks in the bottom third of the league in attendance. Carolina fares better when the team is winning. But the Ravens never play to anything less than full capacity at M&T Bank Stadium.

If Baltimore's revved-up home-game environment isn't the NFL's best, it is close.

Kind of makes you want to send an email to the NFL offices and ask them, you know, how that expansion thing back in the day worked out?

I can vouch for the fact that the late William Donald Schaefer shed a tear when he learned Baltimore had been turned down. I was standing right next to the then-governor at a Chicago airport hotel when former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue made the announcement.

In all my years of covering Baltimore sports, that was the worst moment.

I wrote a newspaper column saying that if the league wasn't going to play fair, it was time to go steal some city's team – not a nice thing for someone from Baltimore to write after the experience of having lost the Colts to Indianapolis. But oh, it was a galling day.

Tagliabue, remember, was the one who suggested Baltimore should build a museum instead of a football stadium for a new team to replace the Colts.

Everyone knows what happened next. Art Modell took the deal the NFL had turned down and moved his Browns to Baltimore. The Rams moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis, which had also been turned down in the expansion derby. Cleveland got an expansion team.

In the end, after a lot of bitter tears shed, everyone was back in the game.

How's that working out?

Schaefer, who always understood his city's supreme passion for football – unlike the NFL back in the day – said if Tagliabue ever attended another baseball game at Camden Yards, "I'm going to have it announced on the loudspeaker that we have the commissioner of football in seat 10, row 14." So people could come up and say "hello."

But Tagliabue sat in a private box when he attended the 1998 opening of what is now M&T Bank Stadium.

Ah, well. It's probably not good to delve back into this history. The blood pressure suffers.

And anyway, things couldn't have worked out better for Baltimore. Modell brought Ozzie Newsome, then a fledgling personnel executive, with him from Cleveland. The franchise won a Super Bowl in 2001 and settled into a winning rhythm, resulting in seven playoff trips in the past 11 seasons.

Meanwhile, Cleveland's expansion franchise has sputtered, and Jacksonville has made two playoff appearances in those 11 seasons.

Baltimore's football passion has reached what feels like a new zenith in the past few years, surpassing even the heat from the Super Bowl era. When Ray Lewis performed his dance before the Jets game on Oct. 2, the Sunday Night Football crew said it had heard few louder crowds.

The Ravens are 36-17 in regular season games under John Harbaugh, having won 22 of 27 at home, including 13 of the past 14. They're so good at home that their goal for 2011, unstated but simmering, is to win enough to get to host a playoff game or two in January.

That's the easier way to try to get back to the Super Bowl, as opposed to doing it as road warriors.

Tickets, as always, would be extremely tough to get.

John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*

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