In a climate of uncertaintly over the future of the Orioles in Baltimore, owner Bob Irsay of the Colts made his point Monday by threatening to move his team to Los Angeles unless renovations are expedited at Memorial Stadium.
Irsay shot him from the hip, suggesting that Gov. Harry Hughes "could go to hell" for canceling appointments with him and because a county inspector halted construction on a training facility at Ownings Mills over a technicality.
But, it has been learned, the gun wasn't loaded when Irsay said he was "97 percent sure" the Colts would be playing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1980.
The Colts are not going to move.
The Orioles have been for sale and if they and/or the Colts departed, the city's well-promoted revitalization would be hurt. The success of the Bullets since they left Baltimore for Washington is a current reminder of the high stakes involved for the politicians.
"We'd be Toledo," observed one Baltimorean of the possibility of the Colts and Orioles splitting town.
Despite the issue of stadium renovation, a spokesman for Huges said of the governor, "He's rather at a loss at what Mr. Irsay's outburst is all about."
A spokesman for Baltimore's recreation department, which owns the stadium, said of Irsay's remarks. "We're immune to all that talk. I think the Colts will stay."
Although Irsay conferred yesterday will Los Angeles officials, he apparently failed to convince them he was acting in good faith.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who is president of the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, said at a news conference after lunching with Irsay and several of the builder's associates:
"Irsay said he would like to bring the Colts to Los Angeles. He said he's 97 percent sure he would come here. But I'm a little bit pessimistic. I do not know whether Mr. Irsay is using us to get a better deal out of Baltimore and the Maryland governor . . . Let's all across our fingers and hope, but don't buy any season tickets yet."
A National Football League official said Irsay has not talked to the NFL about moving the Colts. Irsay would need 21 votes by the club owners to shift his franchise.
There would be complications. The Los Angeles Coliseum has a suit pending to prevent the Rams from making an announced shift to Anaheim for the 1980 session. If the Rams lose the case, Los Angeles would not be available to the Colts, although Anaheim might be.
Some owners might also be wary about a second team in Los Angeles, which is only 30 miles from Anaheim, presuming the Rams move there.
Commissioner Pete Rozelle traditionally has emphasized the stability of NFL teams, particularly in frequent testimony before congressmen opposed to club owners threatening to move to obtain advantagious stadium arrangements.
Baltimoreans recall that the late Carroll Rosenbloom repeatedly threatened to move the Colts if stadium renovations weren't made, and they discounted the warnings.
Rosenbloom ended up swapping the Colt's franchise to Irsay for the Rams. When the Los Angeles Coliseum did not responded to Rosenbloom's demands for improvements, he decided to move the Rams to Anaheim for the 1980 season.
The NFL constitution says, "In the event the Baltimore franchise is (ever) forfeited or surrendered or is transferred to a city other than Baltimore, all rights to the Baltimore territory shall revest (return to) in the Washington Redskins, and the area included in the Baltimore territory shall be reconstituted and become part of the home territory of the Redskins.
It was originally Washington territory that the Redskin granted to the Colts for considerations when founder George Preston Marshall operated the Washington franchise.