Bill Burton on the Bay

Vol. 9, No. 5
Feb. 1-7, 2001
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Nothing Mattered But a Game

We are the Ravens, they are us.

-Dr. Paul Shepard, associate professor of psychiatry, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, as quoted in The Sun

o thanks, Dr. Shepard, permit me to abstain. I am not the Ravens of Baltimore, and surely they are not this writer. Color me anything but purple.

At the risk of being considered a spoilsport or even worse, I am not among those fans who came out of the woodwork in the waning days of '00 adorned in purple, waving pennants of the same color and professing the unexpectedly red-hot Baltimore Ravens as my team - though to my dismay, the politicians of this state, in their curious ways, saw to it that I helped finance the team.

Nor am I fan of the New York Giants, though I must confess I rooted heartily for them from the opening kickoff to the very end of Super Bowl XXXV played in Tampa, the city in a state where some other peculiar things have occurred of late.

When the game finally ended with the team from the Big Apple in shambles, what better example could there be of the unjust rewards of greed? I'll answer that: None.

But the football aficionados of Baltimore loved it. As Vince Lombardi and so many coaches and others put it in one way or another, winning is everything. The bottom line is the only thing that matters in our society of today.

The fans, so many among them late-comers, hail Art Modell as a savior, the man who - after a drought of 30 years - brought a Super Bowl trophy to Baltimore's pigskin addicts. It matters not how it came about - only that the Purple reigns.

Ethics, principles and morality be damned, the scoreboard read 34 to seven - and for years to come, the trophy will be displayed in the purple stadium in Baltimore where adoring fans with short memories can gloat over the dominance of "their" team.

One wonders whether alongside the big trophy, encased in plastic or glass, in the purple monstrosity that litters the entrance to Baltimore from the south, there will also be a copy of the front page of The Sun dated Monday, January 29, 2001.

One word - "Glorious!" - blares the headline, and there are only three stories on the entire page, all three hailing the football team. A reader has to wade through all that blather to page 10 to learn that the earthquake toll in India jumped to the tens of thousands or to catch up on the latest ominous news from the volatile Middle East.

The city, including the once staid Sun, went crazy. Nothing mattered but a game, a game of football. It had been 30 years since the Big B had a world's champion on the gridiron, so I guess the boosters were entitled to paint the town purple as horns blared and firecrackers crackled and people danced in the streets.

Real Glory Days

But let them not forget the real glory days of the Baltimore Colts, a team with class - a hometown team virtually born in the city with the likes of Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, Freddie Miller, Billy Ray Smith, Ordell Brasse, Jim Parker, Bobby Boyd, Bill Pellington and so many others. They're not just ancient history; they're the solid base of football tradition in the big city on the Patapsco.

The Colts were truly a Baltimore team. They played at a time when teams were pretty much the same season after season, and so were the coaches. The teams played in the same cities year after year and in stadiums the teams built. The average family could afford season tickets or at least a game or two a year.

Back then, the biggest scandals were by the standards of today not much more than boyhood pranks, like when Alex Hawkins got tangled up in a late night card game - and in a barber shop as I recall. Blue and white were the colors of the city, the horseshoe was the emblem and the team had class. So did the city.

When later by darkness of night and in a snowstorm, the late Bob Irsay stole the team from the city, taking it to Indianapolis and a new stadium, from their rooftops Baltimoreans cried "thief," which is about the only of the many descriptive words bemoaning the loss that can be printed in this paper. You'd have thought everyone in the city attended each and every game, when in truth there were empty seats aplenty in Memorial Stadium.

Ah, Memorial Stadium where real memories were made. As Super Bowl XXXV was played, former governor and mayor William Donald Schaefer was involved in last-minute finagling in an attempt to save the shrine dedicated to World War veterans from the ball and chain of demolition crews.

Alas, it appears he has about as much of a chance as the Giants did in Tampa, where tickets started at $325, and our current governor, lieutenant guv and key legislators didn't have to cough up their own cash to root for the home team. Back about 40 years before the words Super Bowl were ever spoken, and the Colts beat the Giants in the finale, a good seat sold for five bucks.

In a Purple Haze

In this year's big game, those in the stands had a curious advantage over those who watched the Ravens mop-up on the tube. They weren't subjected to the triple profanity broadcast when teams were introduced: Three times the "F" word was clearly heard as players galloped onto the field, which speaks for the World of Sports in these times.

But the 71,921 in Raymond Jones Stadium missed out on the biggest surprise of the game, which wasn't the back-to-back kickoff runbacks for touchdowns. Those who saw the multi-million-dollar Bob Dole commercial know of what I speak. For this Giants rooter, there were few other high points in the broadcast.

Back in Baltimore, everything was purple including my friend Al Freedman's hair and usually white beard. Even beer, chips, tortillas, chicken wings and I'm told, potato salad. Had the potatoes and mayonnaise been purple in daughter Heather's Crofton home, where I suffered through the game, I'd have hastened to the kitchen to check the expiration date on the container.

As the game was winding down and the outcome was obvious, I thought of the folks in Cleveland, who had supported their team with packed stands only to have it stolen from them by the same Baltimoreans who hung Bob Irsay in effigy when he and Indianapolis played Jesse James with their Colts.

Baltimore and Maryland were not only shamelessly aggressive in the heist but anted up hundreds of millions of bucks needed for so many other things hereabouts, including Chesapeake Bay restoration projects, to build them a purple stadium.

Then I got to thinking, maybe out there in Cleveland where they finally got their replacement team, the populace might not be so upset. They didn't get all the baggage that comes with the Ravens, including - among other things - an MVP who immediately following Super Bowl XXXIV was involved in a double murder, later pleading guilty to charges of obstruction of justice in the subsequent police investigation.

In Cleveland, they will get their Super Bowl one of these days, but perhaps until then, they will appreciate that winning isn't everything. Other things count, a lesson that most Baltimoreans have yet to learn. Enough said ...

Copyright 2001
Bay Weekly