URBAN COMMENTARY:

Football Thoughts, Then and Now

by Jesse Fask
March 1984
Baltimore, Maryland

       I was awakened and shaken on the top bunk of my bed by the words of my father.

       “The Colts left town. They moved.”

       I was seven years old with one full year of allegiance to the Colts under my very small belt. I knew of a mediocre quarterback named Mike Pagel and a pair of equally average running backs, Curtis Dickey and Randy McMillan. My favorite player was a small Latin place kicker, Raul Allegre, mostly because I liked his name and he scored most of our points. My favorite team won seven games and lost nine, which was seven more games than they’d won the year before.

       Their home games were often blacked out because they would rarely sell out. The fans booed a rookie quarterback on an opposing team named Elway because he’d snubbed Baltimore, who’d chosen him first in the draft but he would not play for the man who took the Colts away, Bob Irsay.

       I never even knew what Irsay looked like. I just pictured him with a pitchfork and a Frank Purdue-William Donald Schaefer kind of mug (today I still don’t know what he looked like) residing in this fiery inferno called Indianapolis. I was forced to watch my second-rate heroes play in the Hoosier Dome as Channel Two mercilessly continued to broadcast the games.

       And as the years went by, I got used to the idea of Baltimore not having a football team.

January 1986
Roslyn Heights, New York

        We were packing up our old Toyota station wagon for the four-and-a-half-hour journey from my grandparents’ home on Long Island to my family’s old brick house on Greenspring Avenue. It was about nine A.M. on Super Bowl Sunday. Again, I remember my dad’s words, this time to my mom.

       “We gotta hurry up, Gaby. This kind of thing only happens...” he pauses, thinking back on a lifetime of New England football lore. “This may be a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

        After the Colts left, I became a New England Patriots fan. It was logical because my father, being from Massachusetts, was one. I bought Patriots posters, a Patriots calendar. I even had a new favorite player because of a new cool foreign name, Mosi Tatupu. I suppose there will always be a special place in my heart for those bright red uniforms and helmets of what looked like Paul Revere looking angry and happy at the same time with a red face hiking a pigskin.

       And in my first real year as a Patriots fan, they came out of nowhere and beat out a highly favored Miami Dolphin team to make the Super Bowl. I was in a hurry to leave New York too that morning, I wanted to watch all the coverage. We must have gotten there relatively early because I remember watching a pre-game segment in which Bill Cosby compared the Bears’ William “The Refridgerator” Perry to his own creation, Fat Albert. But, the game was painful, as Chicago embarrassed New England, 45-10. At school, the next morning, everyone was talking about the Super Bowl shuffling Bears, while I had to admit to rooting for the Patriots.

        But there was no home team. Rooting for the Patriots seemed so arbritrary. It was just me and my dad and some of my uncles and cousins who I didn’t see that often. There was no home team.

October 1995
Beloit, Wisconsin

       I was in my midwestern college dorm, during halftime of a Green Bay Packers football game. The Packers had become my new favorite team, going to college in Wiscinsin. What was not to like about them? They were a hard-nosed, fun-loving football team from a small town, and their rivals were, in my opinion, the bad guys of football, the Dallas Cowboys.

       It was Brett Favre, the Packers’ quarterback who symbolized the Packers charismatic carefree style. I became friends with a huge Packer backer named Sam, and we’d watch the games every week and I became a fan. But it wasn’t the same for me as it was for Sam. Over a year later, when the Packers won their first Super Bowl in a quarter-century, I didn’t really care that much. I rooted for them during the game and then after that, it was over.

        On this day, while watching another Packer victory in the mid-nineties, I watched a halftime story about how Art Modell might move his Cleveland Browns franchise to Baltimore. Sam looked at me after hearing the news and asked what I thought. I shrugged. I was ambivalent. I don’t really care, I said. I was in Wisconsin. That’s where I’d be at least the next three football seassons. I didn’t care about these new Baltimore Browns.

January 2001
Baltimore, Maryland

       Each week, the crowds increased—people getting hooked on the Ravens in this ecstatic euphoria. I had come back to Baltimore for good in ’99. At my new job, there were Ravens fans—fanatical Ravens fans from Arbutus and Hamilton. I didn’t know there were such fans of this three-year-old franchise. Every Monday, I’d come to work eager to discuss the previous afternoon’s game. They had a surprisingly good year, almost made the playoffs. It was becoming apparent that they had a very talented young defense.

       My roommates and I got tickets to three Ravens games early in the season and become lost in the madness.

       Before the games, I ate my lucky pit beef sandwich purchased on the corner of 34th and Elm.

       I began to feel the way Sam did about the Packers. He always said the best year was ’94 when they came out of nowhere to make and advance in the playoffs. That’s what I wanted. That’s what I expected of this year. It was the first football season that I was single, independent, and girlfriend-less from start to finish since high school—and I felt I could totally concentrate on the season. And through the playoffs they marched. All those years of watching “Sportscenter” and “NFL Primetime” and now they could talk of nothing but the Ravens. Each playoff game, more people came. Friends entered our house without being Ravens fans and they got caught up in our excitement.

        Over the years I’ve come to identify with Baltimore because it is my home. This team and its fans represent to me what is great about this city. Caught in the middle of larger fancier metropolises, this is our moment in the sun. When the Colts left and I was forced to root for teams like the Patriots and the Packers, I never thought I’d experience this feeling.

       I’m a romantic, and when I watched “Diner” again this week, part of the romance of it is that they were my age and they had a great new football team and Eddie walks down the aisle at his wedding to the Colts fight song. Now, it’s my turn, and I believe it won’t get any better than this—the first good year after so many bad, and we made it to the Super Bowl. It’s those dozen years without a team after that terrible morning in my bunkbed. And now I can smile—even though, in most respects, my life right now makes the least sense. I can still enjoy Super Bowl Sunday like no day ever before in my life.


Jesse Fask, a graduate of Baltimore City College and Beloit College, recently moved from Hampden to Charles Village.

 


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This story was published on January 31, 2001.