Sure, Miami has an empty stadium. And sure, Bruce Frey has pigskin on the brain. But that's no excuse for the Canadian football league.

Before flying back to Toronto, league commissioner Larry Smith parroted the party line: The attendance was encouraging. He did not go so far, though, as to endorse the Manatees' entry into the league. "Do I support a team coming to Miami? We will go through due diligence and see if there is proper interest from the fans in Miami and if there is proper corporate support. I'm not unenthusiastic," Smith said unenthusiastically before slipping into a sports metaphor. "But right now we are in the first quarter."

The commissioner's neutral posturing was a rousing endorsement compared to the assessment of one member of the CFL expansion committee, who responded to a question about Miami's chances of landing a team by bluntly stating, "It's not going to happen."

Four days after the game, Bruce Frey sat at his desk in a Deerfield Beach office park. A white football helmet rested atop a cabinet, the helmet decorated with a Miami Manatees sticker. Pictures, postcards, and a T-shirt stuck to one wall depicted manatees swimming in the ocean. On another wall hung a full-color, framed blueprint for a championship ring Frey designed. The raised gold letters on the ring stated, "CFL Benefit Game. Orange Bowl. Miami Manatees." It was the kind of ring associated with a victory.

Manatee Central was up and running. Frey left a message for the owner of the Baltimore CFL team. He took a phone call from Commissioner Smith in Toronto. He told his assistant to order 100 Miami Manatee caps, each an award to the first 100 people who reserved season tickets.

So far only 75 people had qualified for a hat, and Frey needed to sell 10,000 season tickets before the league would even consider awarding him a team. Make that 12,500 tickets: Commissioner Smith called to bump up the total. Frey pleaded with the commissioner to be reasonable, to be fair, and not to make it easier for other cities such as Hartford or Columbus to get a team instead. Smith replied that Miami was a unique situation; with competition from the Dolphins, he said, "All bets were off."

In front of Frey's desk sat a television monitor playing a videotape of the exhibition game. At one point the camera scanned a relatively crowded section of the Orange Bowl. "Look at that! Look at that! Stop the tape!" he shouted to his assistant, who scurried to press the VCR pause button. "No, rewind a little. Forward. Okay, stop it there. Look at the crowd. And they said there was nobody there. Just look at that."

He appeared tired. His trademark tan seemed to have drained from his face. After five intense weeks of planning the game, the postmortem was unsettling. With October the vague deadline for winning or losing the opportunity to purchase a team, Frey said he planned to meet with Miami Herald publisher Dave Lawrence in an effort to ensure more favorable press coverage. "Then," he added, "I'm going to personally knock on the doors of every corporation in Miami to get them to buy some season tickets.

"I think in this town it takes a long while until everyone believes," he continued, exhaling and slowly rubbing his cheeks with his palms. "I believe right now. I'm going to get a team. It's going to happen.

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