Around local water coolers and their digital equivalent (local message boards related to the Redskins), there has been a lot of back and forth preceding the Super Bowl about the Washington-Baltimore sports dynamic and why people of each region feel the way they do about fans and teams in the other market. Many Redskins fans have cited the outright war against local baseball’s return by Orioles owner Peter Angelos as a significant factor why they root against all things Baltimore.
In response, some Ravens backers are attempting to elevate former Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke to the villain level of Colts owner Bob Irsay and former commissioner Paul Tagliabue as it concerns the dozen-year absence of the NFL from Baltimore. Worse, some have even tried to equate Cooke with Angelos as being roughly equivalent impediments to each market’s attempts to restore pro teams they had lost. This is despite Angelos’ myopia over MLB’s return to this market (quite possibly to the detriment of the on-field success of his own franchise) and a palpable lack of proof that Cooke had any true impact on the length of time that Baltimore was without a franchise.
While Cooke might not have been leading the charge for the NFL‘s return to Baltimore, neither were Orioles owners Eli Jacbos, Jerry Hoffberger, and Edward Bennett Williams leading the charge for MLB‘s return here (which tok over 20 years longer than it took for Baltimore to snag the Browns from Cleveland). However, like the three predecessors to Angelos who said they would not personally obstruct the return of MLB here were MLB to approve an expansion team or relocated franchise, Cooke did not incessantly use the Baltimore and national media drop hints of lawsuits or endlessly harangue whomever would listen about how the return of the NFL to Baltimore would severely hurt his franchise whose games were being carried on Baltimore TV and radio stations. The distinction of that disgraceful level of overreaching into the affairs of a completely different market belongs to Peter Angelos alone.
Cooke’s detractors point to his brief flirtation with Laurel, MD (almost equidistant between Washington and Baltimore) as one of the number of potential locations for a new Redskins stadium (for which he was offering to pay the lion’s share of its total cost) for their evidence of improper meddling on par with Angelos. Of course, the implication that JKC made himself an intractable impendent feverishly working behind the scenes that prevented the NFL’s return any sooner than otherwise would’ve happened (as Angelos did with baseball’s return to this area) still doesn’t bear out, especially since the supposed Laurel obstacle wasn’t in play when the only franchise move prior to the NFL’s 1993 round of expansion occurred (the Cardinals moving to Arizona in 1988).
Though every O's owner likely held the preference that a DC team not hurry back, it was only Angelos that acted in a way that so actively sought to destroy any hope of that occurring. Incidentally, Cooke had only eight dates a year to fill (not ten; he even refused to charge season ticket holders for preseason games), with a record-setting fanbase in hand for a sport which regularly sees fans in many markets travel 2-3 hours to games. That means that even in Laurel, the impact of what could be yielded from Baltimore was gravy rather than a potentially essential staple to the Redskins’ prosperity, furthering the evidence that Cooke's stance mirrored those of Angelos' predecessors.
Moreover, between the time that the NFL left Baltimore and returned via the relocation of Cleveland's Browns, Jack Kent Cooke owned a team that had sold out its games since 1966. The Ravens' arrival didn't result in any identifiable turnover in the season ticket numbers or the waiting list, as Cooke knew would be the case. Further, the NFL's national TV contract and the limited amount of games in an NFL season compared with other area pro sports meant that Cooke had little reason to worry about a football team in Baltimore significantly impacting the Redskins' fortunes. Even in the midst of one stadium setback after another before the Ravens’ arrival, Cooke refused to consider PSLs, being widely panned by existing season ticket holders at the time as a superfluous revenue grab.
All of the aforementioned factors at play hardly suggest Cooke, from turning down one easy revenue boost after another from the preseason game sales to PSLs and so forth, would have been uniquely proactive when it came to trying to derail the Baltimore NFL process for his personal enrichment. Let’s be honest; how much credence can we give to Cooke ardently scheming for the comparative small change of capturing whatever moving 15 miles closer to Baltimore would yield, this when despite multiple local rebuffs during his effort to build a stadium largely funded by himself, the Squire repeatedly refused used the leverage-boosting threat of leaving the greater Washington market (in a time of franchise free agency) for a sweetheart deal elsewhere – including downtown Baltimore and their amazing deal they were offering to any and all comers for years?!? These facts decimate the feeble attempts to drag down Cooke’s reputation and tag it to that of Irsay and, even worse, Angelos.
Nevertheless, some of Cooke's recent detractorsstill imply that there must have been back-door machinations aplenty with then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue gumming up the works and thus preventing Baltimore’s victory in the NFL’s 1993 round of expansion that ultimately placed franchises in Charlotte and Jacksonville. Cooke’s puppet mastery of the commissioner’s office was actually nowhere to be found in 1993, specifically during the whole Wilber Marshall debacle. The commissioner interfered in an abandoned trade with the Houston Oilers, unilaterally awarding Marshall to the Oilers and arbitrarily reduced the compensation the Redskins got in return (from a 1st and 5th rounder for Marshall down to a 3rd and 5th rounder).
It’s worth examining 1993’s expansion process as it’s the one that draws the most attention from Cooke’s detractors. Jacksonville’s eventual success in the bidding was surprising to some, but not those who understood how most processes like those have historically played out. For an expansion team, Jacksonville was a reach by the NFL just as Tampa and Southern Florida were in MLB, but it fit the goal that most leagues hold of expanding to markets seen as untapped and underserved. That factor was one of Baltimore’s biggest impediments, one that haunted the local market in the baseball expansion process.
Even were one of the also-ran markets to have gotten a team during the NFL’s 1993 expansion process, one would think that was (current Rams owner) Stan Kroenke and Saint Louis would’ve received that nod. The appeal of Kroenke’s Wal-mart connection and the tangibility to Saint Louis’ effort lent by having a domed stadium approved and under construction more than a year before the vote would likely have trumped Baltimore’s effort. In contrast, Baltimore’s stadium plans were still in the artist rendering stage and didn’t see final approval until paired with Redskins stadium approval plans in the Maryland General Assembly in 1996, and the city planners switched its backing to a new front group only two weeks before the expansion vote.
The aforementioned issues were enough to keep Baltimore from winning an expansion team and thus make Jack Kent Cooke a nonfactor in that outcome (or just one of the 26 ‘yay’ votes – along with the Modells, incidentally - versus two votes against Jacksonville’s approval) whether he wanted to be or not. The relocation derby kicked off in earnest after the 1993 round of expansion, with Saint Louis getting their team via that route soon after as Georgia Frontiere moved her team to her home town, the Raiders returning to Oakland, and Baltimore nabbing the Browns not long after that.
From the evidence of how things actually unfolded over time, it appears that circumstances were unlikely to give Baltimore the chance for another franchise any sooner than when they got one. If a smattering of revisionist Ravens fans want to make Jack Kent Cooke the boogeyman, that’s fine, but it doesn’t bear up upon re-examination of the facts. Unlike Angelos, there’s much more evidence that Cooke’s priority was what was best for his fans, which didn’t revolve around sabotaging Baltimore in their NFL expansion and relocation processes. Cooke’s memory deserves better than that, while Angelos deserves all of the credit for all the damage he’s done to both local baseball and to the Orioles themselves.