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Los Angeles proposals lend a reminder that the Bengals nearly left Cincinnati

With two competing bids to bring one, if not two teams, to Los Angeles, we recall the early-to-mid 90s when the Bengals nearly left Cincinnati for Baltimore.

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

There will be an NFL team in Los Angeles.

That's the vibe after bids have finally become public knowledge. It just depends on which package the NFL wants to capitalize on. St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke joined with the Stockbridge Capital Group, who owns 238 acres of land in the Inglewood location, where a state-of-the-art venue would be built. An 80,000-seat stadium would join space already dedicated to retail, office, hotel and residential areas.

On Friday, reports surprisingly surfaced in which the Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers would join forces to share a $1.7 billion stadium in Carson, California. This is presently viewed as an alternative for the Raiders and Chargers, if they're unable to secure new stadiums in their current respective cities, Oakland and San Diego. According to reports, the league prefers this plan because it brings two NFL teams to the Los Angeles market. Per the Los Angeles Times:

In a statement given to The Times on Thursday, the Chargers and Raiders said: "We are pursuing this stadium option in Carson for one straightforward reason: If we cannot find a permanent solution in our home markets, we have no alternative but to preserve other options to guarantee the future economic viability of our franchises."

The teams are working with "Carson2gether," a group of business and labor leaders. The coalition will announce the project Friday at a news conference near the 168-acre site, a parcel at the southwest quadrant of the intersection of the 405 Freeway and Del Amo Boulevard.

Where do the Cincinnati Bengals fit in with this narrative?

They don't, really.

It simply served as a reminder as to just how close the Cincinnati Bengals were to leaving the city in the mid-90s.

It started in the early 80's when Colts owner Robert Irsay, unable to replace Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, moved his franchise to Indianapolis. The move shocked the city of Baltimore and floored the NFL because it was unexpected and unannounced. On the other hand, the hints/markers were there, notably Irsay refusing a long-term commitment to Baltimore.

Suddenly, they were gone and Baltimore and the state of Maryland felt it. Coordination began to bring in a new franchise. Investor groups came and went; even the Washington Redskins proposed ideas of moving closer to Baltimore to serve both markets.

And then, in 1993, the NFL decided to expand by two teams with the goal of playing those inaugural seasons in 1995. Baltimore was a candidate, if not a heavy favorite to land one. But, Carolina and Jacksonville were awarded those teams. For nearly two months that summer, Jacksonville had pulled out from the running -- their market was small, existing stadiums were outdated and investors couldn't piece together commitments for a new stadium. Then-commissioner, Paul Tagliabue urged Jacksonville to stay involved, and with the help of NFL President Neil Austrian and Vice President for Operations Roger Goodell, the group sold five-year commitments in 10 days. The city agreed to spruce-up the Gator Bowl soon after, committing $121 million.

At this point, Tagliabue was viewed as THE antagonist in Baltimore, and the city began looking at teams with a desire to relocate. The Los Angeles Rams were a candidate, but the league convinced Rams president John Shaw to relocate to St. Louis.

Max Blecher, who represented the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission in the Raiders trial, made that charge to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week. "[Rams president John] Shaw started out looking at Baltimore. He was touted off of that [by the league] with at least the implied assurance that if he went to St. Louis, yeah, that would be OK. But it didn't work out that way," Blecher said.

This is not exactly startling news. It long has been rumored in the league that Tagliabue was steering the Rams away from Baltimore, although he denied it last fall. But if the Rams make the contention in court, it will carry more weight.

Shaw echoed the same theme in an interview with the New York Times last week. "When people say we have not tried to take the league's interest to heart, that is simply not true," he said. "One of the cities that came after us was Baltimore. We respected the league's 75-mile franchise-radius rule, we respected the Washington Redskins and turned our attention to St. Louis."

Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos made a $200 million bid to bring Tampa Bay to Baltimore. It didn't work.

In the meantime, Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown began rubbing his chin. Brown wanted a new stadium in Cincinnati, but rumors began circulating that the Bengals could relocate to Baltimore. Mike Brown spoke about it rather publicly -- an often-used negotiating-tactic.

"Baltimore is certainly one of the most attractive cities," Brown said in November of 1993. "The money difference is staggering. You have what may be the No. 1 money producer [in the NFL]. Here in Cincinnati, we have what will be the No. 30 revenue producer. Our preference is for an open-air stadium. Ideally, it would have 70,000 seats and 100 [luxury] boxes. It would be the stadium you plan to build in Baltimore." In addition to playing in an outdated stadium, Brown was facing rising salaries and a $36 million tax lien by the Internal Revenue Service.

Brown said the dispute involves shares purchased by himself and his brother, Pete, in exercise of a stock option negotiated with former Bengals president John Sawyer.

Shortly after Paul Brown's death in August 1991, Sawyer sold the Brown brothers all but one of his shares in the franchise, raising the family's stake to between 56 percent and 57 percent of the 586 outstanding shares, the Enquirer said.

Brown said the terms were negotiated 10 years earlier, that Sawyer received dividends on his shares throughout that period, and that fair market value was paid based on the team's worth at the time of the negotiations.

Brown was so desperate for a new stadium, or a new city, that he was willing to move into Memorial Stadium while a proposed $200 million facility was being built.

For almost two years, this became an idle threat. Brown wanted a new stadium and kept cities hungry for NFL teams in the narrative. That was until April 1995, when Brown told the Cincinnati Enquirer that if he didn't get the guarantee of a new stadium by the end of that year, he would move the team. Despite knowledge that he had met Baltimore officials and planned several more meetings throughout the course of that summer, it was the threat of a deadline that woke up Cincinnati.

"It's clear we have to get something resolved this year," Brown said in an interview published in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

"It all is drawing to a head. And one way or the other, we have to have some alternatives and decide," Brown said. "If one alternative is a bird-in- the-hand and the other is a promise to review the issue further, I don't know how long we can ride with that."

The threat angered Bengals fans.

Since Brown took over as team president, the Bengals had separated with (fired/quit, it depends on whom you speak to) popular head coach Sam Wyche. Additionally, Boomer Esiason, realizing the direction of the team, demanded a trade and was playing for the New York Jets by 1993. From 1991 through 1994, the Bengals went 14-50 (winning only three games three time during those four seasons). Ticket sales fell dramatically and ownership was feeling that sting. A new stadium would bring ownership luxury boxes and the hope of a reinvigorated fan base. It was a fan base so angered and betrayed by the direction of the team, that many had said... "fine, go away." There was even one rumor of a proposal that the NFL would move the Bengals to Philadelphia while moving the Eagles to Los Angeles. This was eventually refuted.

Soon after, Brown received commitments from the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County that a new football-only stadium would be built on the Ohio River. Hamilton County voters approved a one-half sales tax increase to build and maintain stadiums for the Bengals and Reds. Unfortunately, the sales tax wouldn't account for construction costs that went over budget and due to a recession, the county faced a $14 million deficit in 2009. The county and the Bengals have been at odds since.

In the end, Baltimore turned to Art Modell and the Bengals remained in Cincinnati.