A hometown's more than a place to hang a helmet

MICHAEL OLESKER

August 30, 1992|By MICHAEL OLESKER

In Section 8 of Memorial Stadium's upper deck, with a hallelujah chorus of 60,021 souls ringing in his ears, Malcolm Glazer opens his mouth and sings off-key.

"Out-of-town?" he asks, syllables snapping at right angles.

Well, yes.

"I'm from out-of-town?" he asks again, over the din of this crowd packed onto 33rd Street Thursday night, hooting to the heavens despite all appropriate disinterest in the football action on the field below.

Well, yes.

"Let me tell you about out-of-town," says Glazer.

"Dad, wait a minute," says his son, Bryan Glazer, putting a protective hand on his father's shoulder. The father shoots the son a withering glance and shrugs him off. He's heard enough of this nasty carpetbagger business.

"Let's set the record straight about out-of-town," Malcolm Glazer says now, each icy syllable knifing through the summer humidity and the upper deck cheering. "I'm as much a Baltimore resident as Boogie Weinglass or Barry Levinson or Tom Clancy."

Glazer, the money man for one of the three groups wishing to buy a new football franchise here, lives in Palm Beach, Fla. He was born in Rochester, N.Y. Through no particular fault of Glazer's, neither of these places is in Baltimore.

The attitude, however, is not only Glazer's fault but also his chilling insensitivity.

We are now -- hopefully -- heading toward the home stretch in this community's bid to bring professional football here, and the story comes with a subplot. First, Baltimore wants a franchise. Second, Baltimore wants to keep its franchise.

And this is why, despite all of Malcolm Glazer's barely concealed anger, the subject of his roots, and his loyalty, hit a sensitive button in a community that once knew Robert Irsay.

"Boogie Weinglass," Glazer says now, leaning forward in his front-row seat, "lives in Aspen, Colo. Tom Clancy lives a hundred miles from Baltimore. We're as much a Baltimore resident as they are."

"Dad," says Bryan Glazer, who sees the lack of profit in this line of talk.

"Boogie left town when the team left," Malcolm Glazer goes on, brushing off his son. "If a person's been away for 10 years, it means he's no longer a resident. We have a number of people we know here, so we're not strangers."

In fact, Weinglass lives in Aspen most of the year, but he says he spends three months of the year here. He runs a business that employs 1,500 people here. Most of his partners in this football venture live and work here year-round.

(The one who doesn't, Barry Levinson, lives in California when he isn't coming here to shoot movies that have made him the celluloid poet laureate of Baltimore.)

Clancy, too, has roots that are deep in Baltimore. Though he lives in Calvert County now, he's a regular at Orioles games, and his big money man has his roots in Dundalk. When Clancy talks of bringing football here, he has his head in the future but his heart in his own Baltimore past.

Does any of this matter?

After Irsay, absolutely.

For that matter, after Edward Bennett Williams and Eli Jacobs, absolutely.

And that's what Malcolm Glazer cannot -- or will not -- understand.

This is a community that lost its football team because an out-of-town owner had no feel for Baltimore and drove a wedge between the team and the community, which had once embraced it like no other franchise in football history.

It's also a community that heard blackmail threats from one out-of-town baseball owner, Williams, and gets the cold shoulder from absentee owner Jacobs, who puts the Orioles on and off the market while simultaneously wrestling with outside financial problems.

Thursday night, in Section 32 of the upper deck, Boogie Weinglass and Barry Levinson sat side by side and wrapped themselves in the moment -- not just a football exhibition but a romance.

"All these people who made the Colts their lives," Weinglass remembered. "I get choked up thinking about it. There'll never be another city like Baltimore."

Levinson nodded his head and looked across what used to be deep center field, toward a collection of people wearing Colts blue and white.

"That band," he said, voice full of wonder. "What other town has a band with no team? The team's gone, but the band's still playing. It takes your breath away."

They go back to a gladder time, which they wish to re-create here. Pro football is OK, but for a lot of people its return is based on more than ballgames. It's a desire to re-create a relationship, to remember what it felt like to be young and roaring to the heavens with your neighbors all around you.

Boogie Weinglass has been able to communicate that desire better than Malcolm Glazer because he has an honest geographical point of reference. Tom Clancy, though lower key, still touches the right emotional chords when he talks of his home town.

And on Thursday night, in Section 8 of the upper deck, Malcolm Glazer opened his mouth and tried to fake it.

"My roots," he declared, "are just as deep in Baltimore as theirs are."

At that precise moment, one section over in Section 7, a funny thing happened. The crowd took up a spontaneous chant. It went:

"Give Boogie the ball. Give Boogie the ball."

Malcolm Glazer quickly changed the subject.

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