Of all the bizarre aspects of this latest Robert Irsay escapade, the strangest is that the poor people of Baltimore have no idea what they have done to upset the Colts' owner.
Here he is in Jacksonville, Fla., given the keys to the city, promised great promises, even kissed by Miss Jacksonville -- all because he says he might move his football team there. If, that is, he doesn't move it to Phoenix or Memphis or Los Angeles or Indianapolis.
Back in Baltimore, where Miss Baltimore ought to be hugging up both Edward Bennett Williams and Irsay, no one knows what Irsay wants from them.
"We're trying to work something out so that the mayor can meet with Irsay and the governor when the governor comes back from vacation around the 26th," said Chris Hartman, press secretary for Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer. "Irsay does have a $19 million investment in this city, and the mayor feels we have not done enough for him."
Irsay's mad scamperings around the country have a comic air to them. In Los Angeles, the Coliseum people said his visit was regarded as part of an emotional blackmail scheme aimed at a better deal in Baltimore. Indianapolis doesn't have a football stadium. Memphis hasn't heard from Irsay. The stadium in Phoenix is tied up by a college.
In Jacksonville this week, 45,000 people at the Gator Bowl chanted, "We want the Colts," when Irsay arrived at midfield by helicopter. They had free food, a rugby game, sky diving and someone riding a horse -- a Colt? -- around the field, occasionally shooting off a pistol. They turned out the stadium lights and spectators lit matches in the dark as symbols of the "spark" necessary to woo the Colts south.
Cross my heart.
Irsay liked the seduction -- "Anybody in his right mind has to be impressed," he said -- but it didn't interfere with his business sense.
He took one look at the Gator Bowl and pronounced it "completely unacceptable" without millions of dollars worth of improvements. He asked for the gift of a 40-acre training site, a guaranteed loan fund of $8 million and, cross my heart again, the guaranteed sale of 65,000 season tickets for the next 10 years.
Instead of falling down in giggles at the outlandishness of that 65,000-for-10-years demand, Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold said, "I think we can do it without using any taxpayers' money."
Only two of 28 NFL teams sell more than 58,000 season tickets: the New York Giants and Denver, with 73,000 each. Irsay's use of that ridiculous 65,000 number suggests his trip to Jacksonville, like the one to L. A., is another message to Balti- more that it had better shape up if it wants to keep its precious football team.
But how? What does Irsay want? William Boucher of the Greatest Baltimore Committee said it is time to sit down with Irsay and "see what's bugging him."
On his tour of American cities, Irsay says nasty things about Baltimore's Memorial Stadium. The only improvements the city and state have made, Irsay said, "is to install a crummy little elevator."
He is wrong. The question that needs answering is: Why would Irsay say such a thing when he knows the state has spent $1 million and the city $300,000 a year to dress up the stadium? There are new seats and new concession stands, and restroom facilities are being doubled.
"Well, he flies off the handle," said press secretary Hartman, kindly characterizing a long series of incidents in which Irsay has fired coaches and general managers, rehiring them on the spot, fired them on the sidelines, insulted the state's governor and played his mysterious blackmail game with Colt fans.
"But the mayor is very fond of Irsay, and he wants to work something out," Hartman said.
Even an angel through whose veins course the sweetest milk of human kindness -- let's say Donny Osmond is covering this story -- could not help wondering if Irsay, who lives in a Chicago suburb, wants to take advantage of a Baltimore that is pitifully vulnerable right now.
Edward Bennett Williams, a Washingtonian, says he won't move the Orioles as long as Baltimore supports them. Donny Osmond might not wonder what "supports them" means, but some others, perhaps in need of a refill of kindness milk, took EBW's equivocation as a sign he will move the Orioles whenever he wants.
Irsay has said without equivocation that the Orioles are leaving Baltimore. He's said it by way of demonstrating his plight, offering it as proof Baltimore can't do right by its professional sports teams.
He is not happy with the Colts' attendance. The team drew just under 48,000 customers a game last year. Only six teams in the league did worse. Season ticket sales fell from about 35,000 last year to about 32,000 this season. Everywhere Irsay has gone, he said, he has asked for assurances of sellout crowds.
No one in Baltimore can make such an assurance, and no one ought to be asked to assure sellouts for a team that wins five of 16 games, as the Colts did last year. But as it happens, Baltimoreans might have a way out of the Orioles-Colts dilemma if Prince George's County can pull off a dreamy scheme.
Lawrence J. Hogan, the county's chief executive, wants to build a "new superdome in Laurel."
Hogan has proposed the stadium idea to Williams as home for both the Orioles and the Redskins. "Williams said, without committing himself, that he's willing to listen," said Hogan's senior assistant, John McHale.
A baseball team in such a midway stadium between Baltimore and Washington "would be a goldmine," said Oriole Manager Earl Weaver.
Williams, president of the Redskins, might like an extra 20,000 seats above RFK's capacity for football, too.
And would Robert Irsay move the Colts into such a new stadium?
Maybe someone in Baltimore should ask him.