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ANAHEIM AND THE RAMS: FINAL PLAY? : Other Cities Pant to Win Team Over : Move: Football-hungry Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, San Antonio and Hartford are the hottest contenders.

May 01, 1994|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tired of shelling out big bucks for that inferior product the Rams have fielded lately? Frustrated by four consecutive losing seasons and a string of questionable front-office moves?

The folks in Baltimore, St. Louis, Memphis, San Antonio and Hartford would love the company of your misery. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses . . . your Los Angeles Rams. They'll take the wretched refuse of our teeming shore.

These football-hungry cities are making their pitches, and to Rams owner Georgia Frontiere and Executive Vice President John Shaw, they're like belt-high fastballs down the middle of the plate--very enticing.

Each of the cities is offering a more financially lucrative deal than the Rams have in Anaheim.

But there's also some fine print, such as potential legal hassles that could follow a move to Baltimore; the possibility of a messy stadium lease in St. Louis, and the reluctance of the other NFL owners to approve a third franchise in Texas or a fourth in the New England-New York area.

The Rams, of course, could stay in Anaheim. They could sell out every game in 1994, lease out every luxury suite for 10 years, negotiate a better stadium lease, win the next four Super Bowls, make gobs of money and live happily ever after in Orange County.

But if they do decide to leave, their most likely destination is Baltimore, St. Louis or Memphis, Tenn., with San Antonio, Hartford, Conn.--and, yes, Los Angeles--considered long shots.

The Rams played in the antiquated Coliseum for more than 30 years before moving to Anaheim, and there have been rumblings of Los Angeles putting together a new stadium deal to lure them back. But don't expect an offer from the government sector.

"They're welcome to come back, but I don't think you can spend your resources on a type of facility that, while it's not state-of-the-art, we already have," said John Ferraro, a Los Angeles city councilman. "To spend that kind of money when we have so many other problems . . . we could be condemned for even thinking of something like that."

But there are several other cities, desperate for pro football, that have raised taxes or floated municipal bonds to fund stadium projects. An update of activity in five potential future homes of the Rams:

BALTIMORE

Peter G. Angelos, majority owner of baseball's Baltimore Orioles, is now heading efforts to bring NFL football back to the city, taking over for the Baltimore Stadium Authority after it failed to win an expansion team in 1993.

Angelos has reportedly bid $200 million to buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and he recently acknowledged that Larry Lucchino, former president of the Orioles and a member of Angelos' NFL investment group, has met with Rams officials.

Speculation that Frontiere might sell a minority interest in the Rams to Angelos was fueled during league meetings in March, when owners discussed a resolution that would allow them to own more than one major league team in the same city.

The sponsors of that resolution? The Rams.

Shaw, however, said he made that proposal in 1993 and that it had nothing to do with Angelos. Owners aren't expected to vote on it for at least a year.

Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, meanwhile, has been under pressure from state General Assembly leaders, who threatened in February to allocate the $160 million earmarked for a new stadium in Camden Yards to other state agencies unless he could secure a franchise.

Legislators in Maryland's Washington, D.C., suburbs were also concerned that Schaefer's staunch refusal to endorse Redskin owner Jack Kent Cooke's plans to build a new 78,000-seat stadium in Laurel, Md., just south of Baltimore, would drive away the Redskins, leaving Maryland with, possibly, no NFL team.

But in March, Schaefer struck a stadium compromise with lawmakers, welcoming a Redskins' move to Laurel in exchange for assurances that Baltimore's stadium financing would remain in place. Cooke, however, did not promise to support a Baltimore team.

It will be at least a year before Cooke receives the zoning approvals necessary to break ground in Laurel. The thinking in Maryland is that if Cooke begins construction, Baltimore's chances for an NFL team are slim. But if a team announces it's moving to Baltimore first, Cooke might have to stay in Washington or look elsewhere.

Many government and business leaders, including Angelos, believe Maryland can support two NFL teams. But Cooke does not and predicted the league would not allow two franchises so close.

At the least, the team that lays claim to Maryland first will likely avoid the legal battles that a second team would face if the NFL opposes a two-team Maryland.

Cooke's stance also angered Maryland state Sen. John Pica (D-Baltimore), who predicted that groundbreaking for the Laurel stadium would be delayed by lawsuits and zoning requirements long enough for a team to move to Baltimore.

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