The legion of Colts-for-life hard-liners will tremble with anger at the news, but here goes: The Redskins have a sizable constituency in this town. Baltimore is cheering for Washington. Don't believe it? You're stuck in the past.
"The way I see it," said Jim Parker, the Colts' Hall of Fame offensive lineman, "is they've expanded all the way through Maryland now. They've got just about everyone rooting for them except me."
That's an exaggeration, but as the Redskins pounded the Detroit Lions in the NFC championship game Sunday, there were numerous sightings of Redskins fever around town. Maybe XXTC low-grade fever, but a fever nonetheless.
In our town. Redskins fever. Yes, Unitas-to-Berry-breath, it is true.
Remember when NFL-owner-wannabe Tom Clancy said he would sell his children to the Gypsies before rooting for the Redskins? It appears a lot of kids are for sale.
Just ask Parker. His Northwest Baltimore bar was filled Sunday -- with Redskins fans.
"I was the only one for Detroit," he said yesterday. "I rooted so hard I got a sore shoulder. But everyone else was crazy for the Redskins. It's like that most Sundays."
Most days, period. "All last week, I never saw so many Redskins hats and shirts," he said. "Everyone who came in had on a Redskins cap or shirt. One guy had three or four hats. The young people wear jackets. There's just a lot of Redskins fans around here."
In our town. Redskins fever. "I never thought it would happen," said Ordell Braase, the sturdy, old Colts lineman, "but it is. No one I talk to has that hatred for the Redskins. I even see it in myself. I never cared for the Redskins at all, but now I like to watch them. I appreciate their excellence."
He is not alone. The local TV stations get complaints from the hard-liners for showing the Redskins every week, but the truth is the Redskins outdraw every other team. Their local ratings are far better.
"All I know," said Emerson Coleman, WBAL's director of broadcast operations, "is someone sure is watching them."
An example: On Nov. 3, the Redskins' game against the Houston Oilers outdrew a Lions-Bears game -- a good draw -- by almost a 5-to-1 margin. The Redskins routinely draw audiences double or triple that of the competition, and a good 20 percent higher than the game of the week.
"It's not the numbers a home team gets," Coleman said, "but there's a clear pattern of choice. Of course, we'd all rather have our own team. But the Redskins are very popular in town."
It's a detached support, certainly, in a ticket-less town. And it doesn't begin to qualify as genuine hometown support, the kind an expansion team would get. One city just doesn't adopt another's team. Especially when the cities have such a bitchy history.
Perhaps, in the end, the prevalent attitude is ambivalence. And yes, there are plenty of boos from the hard-liners with their horseshoe-shaped hearts. But the cheers are there, too. A lot more than you think.
"From our business, I'd say a good portion of Baltimore is for the Redskins," said Jim Kolmansberger, general manager of Balls sports bar downtown. "We had the usual anti-Redskins people Sunday. But more Redskins die-hards. A lot more."
At the risk of indulging in amateur sociology, the Colts have been gone for eight years now, long enough for new attitudes to arise -- along with an entire generation of young fans who never knew the Colts were here. Maybe they don't daydream about Art Monk like they do Cal Ripken, but they invest.
The hard-liners will never change, and bless them, they're beautiful. They make up a sizable anti-Redskins lodge. But it appears their attitude is increasingly dated. People just don't care as much anymore about the Redskins' intrinsic smugness.
It comes down to this: You can't still cheer for the Colts -- not in your right mind -- and you can't mope forever, so what do you do? Cheer for the Seahawks?
"What you do is adopt a team," Parker said, "and there are the Redskins, right down the road. I see a lot of black people picking the Raiders because of Art Shell. But people everywhere around here have been picking the Redskins for a while."
Is there an element of fair-weatherishness? Sure. There would be little support if the Redskins were bunglers. And until we get a team, we will never be guilty of the car-honking, wild-in-the-streets mania a home team engenders.
"We didn't have one Redskins-related incident Sunday," said police spokesman Dennis Hill. "From what we can tell, the people were pretty nonplused about it. I'll tell you what, though. I sure loved it."