Here is how the citizenry of St. Louis greeted the announcement that Bill Bidwill was "considering moving" the Cardinals: At least one person threatened to kill Bidwill, which accounts for the team of detectives assigned to protect him at last Sunday's home game. Other than that, just 22,449 people showed up, leaving more than 30,000 empty seats in Busch (The Hell With Your Team, Billy, I'm Headed For The Mountains) Stadium.
These people aren't stupid.
So the question becomes: Where will the Cardinals go?
Which is a polite way of asking: Who'll make Bill Bidwill smile? (Remember, the secret word is "skybox.")
Before we open the bidding, let's recapitulate what a pile of rubble the St. Louis Cardinals are. This tidbit should suffice: In their 27 seasons there, the Cardinals have never hosted a playoff game.
The Cardinals are now, and have usually been, a lousy team.
Whatever Bill Bidwill has done with this team, there's no reason to believe Spuds McKenzie couldn't have done it better. How many college degrees do you need to draft Kelly Stouffer No. 1 and fail to sign him? (While we're on the subject of college degrees, how many box tops do you have to send in to become a meteorologist in this town? This is "a dusting"? Where are we, Nome?)
Bidwill's reward for his bungling, of course, will be riches beyond his wildest dream. Cities will prostrate themselves at his feet, eager to catch his germs. And why? Because to those that don't have one, an NFL franchise -- even more than a Bloomingdale's -- is the final brick in the wall to being certified as "Big League."
Congratulations, I heard Brent mention your city on TV.
Yeah. Thank God we didn't move to Dayton.
(By the way, in the course of the negotiations to make Bidwill smile, you'll hear some cities accused of being "raiders." There is a rule of thumb to follow in matters like these: Somebody else's city is "raiding" a franchise. Your city is simply "offering economic relief and growth opportunity.")
Baltimore is a leading candidate for the Cardinals. Edward Bennett Williams has "urged" Bidwill to relocate there. Nothing like another last-place team to take the heat off the incumbent. Personally, I hope they go there. Then four of the five NFC East teams will be within 2 hours and 49 civilized minutes on the train, whereas connecting through the fifth, Dallas, you need 2 hours and 49 minutes to change planes.
If the Cardinals do land in Baltimore, the least that cabbagehead, Bob (Gas 'N Go) Irsay, can do is give the franchise back the name "Colts," although knowing Irsay they'd have to buy it from him. The only foreseeable drawback with Baltimore is that the citizens have had their affections tampered with before. Next time, they may shoot on sight any Mayflower moving vans headed out of town. Plenty of room at the Hotel Inner Harbor: You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.
Jacksonville, too, is high on Bidwill's list. After what it offered Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams, Jacksonville ought to be high on every owner's list. I predict, by 1996 Jacksonville will have six NFL teams, one for every restaurant in town. (Al Davis will have moved there from Irwindale in 1994. After one year in Oakland, Irsay will have followed in 1995.)
Routinely an unrequited suitor of NFL teams, Jacksonville offered to guarantee sellouts for 10 straight years in the 80,000-seat Gator Bowl as part of a $115.2 million guaranteed profit package. "I don't see how I can turn it down," Adams said, before turning it down for the promise of 72 skyboxes -- the secret word -- in Houston.
Bidwill is undoubtedly contemplating other cities. Round up the usual suspects: Phoenix and Tucson will tumble for you; Orlando, where everything's for sale and comes in the shape of a mouse's head, presumably including a rabbit's foot; Sacramento and Portland, riding the escalator from the NBA; Memphis, which may tempt Bidwill by promising that Elvis will reappear and sing the anthem. Maybe Williamsport, Pa., will get in the running because it's tired of being Little League.
My money is on the place that comes up with the right number of skyboxes. There's gate-sharing in the NFL; visiting teams get 40 percent of the swag. But skyboxes are exempt. You rent 'em, you keep 'em. Whoa, big fella, settle down, Scout. Adams will reportedly charge $30,000 per skybox. With 72, that's a potential $2.16 million in his pocket each year.
This is why owners want skyboxes.
Deep pockets take so long to fill.
The great high-tech leap forward will come from a city that perfects a way to build a domed stadium with bleachers accommodating 10,000 people for general sale (and gate sharing) and 65,000 individually wrapped seats. Tiny, enclosed cubicles with plush carpet squares, 3-inch color-TV monitors that rest on your lap and a call button to summon a cocktail waitress.
Skybox for One.