Last week, Baltimore turned out in a feverish football frenzy for a meaningless preseason game, trying to convince the National Football League that an expansion team would make tons of money here.
This week, we get to watch the real thing on TV.
That's as close as most folks here have come since 1984, when the Colts were stolen away by Robert Irsay. Still, parents and grandparents have managed to pass on traditions, lore and a love of the game. Here are a few books for young fans.
* For the youngest, check out "Snail Saves the Day," by John Stadler (Harper Trophy paperback, $3.95, ages 3-7). It's simple enough for the picture-book crowd and engaging enough for early readers. Dog is the quarterback of a team of cats, mice, turtles, snakes and other small creatures. They are decided underdogs against a squad of bears, elephants, hippos, rhinos and the like. William "the Refrigerator" Perry would be the smallest lineman on this defense.
Dog calls a pass play for Snail. He takes the snap. He drops back. As the pocket collapses around him, he yells, "Where's Snail?"
Turn the page, and you find Snail asleep in bed. Through the rest of the book, readers follow Snail's progress on the left-hand page (he wakes up, looks at the clock and rushes to get to the stadium) while the football game continues on the right-hand page (Dog scrambles, he fumbles, Rabbit recovers . . .).
It's great fun. If this book scores with your kids, follow it up with a baseball hit: "Hooray for Snail," also by Mr. Stadler (HarperTrophy paperback, $3.95).
* George Will and other baseball essayists contend baseball is the poetic sport, with its emerald diamonds and endless symmetry, blah, blah, blah. "Red Dog Blue Fly" by Sharon Bell Mathis, pictures by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Viking, $13.95, ages 6-10) proves that poetry isn't just for baseball snobs.
This is a book of poems about a midget league football team, and Ms. Mathis doesn't sugarcoat the sport. Here's a stanza from "Leg Broken":
I looked past my coaches
and what did I see
the eyes of my team
staring straight at me
brown eyes watching
brown eyes scared
saw two boys
bent on attack
slam my leg
to the side -- and back
there I lay with a broken bone
ball in the end zone.
All the players are African-American, including Ebonee, a running back who pulls her helmet down over her cornrows. In the poem, "Quarterback," a young boy lists his heroes: Randall Cunningham, Warren Moon, Rodney Peete and Doug Williams. A nice touch.
Other football books worth buying for elementary-school readers: "Miss Nelson Has A Field Day," by Harry Allard and James Marshall (Houghton Mifflin paperback, $3.95); "Kick, Pass, and Run," by Leonard Kessler (Harper Trophy paperback, $3.50); and "The Dallas Titans Get Ready for Bed," by Karla Kuskin, illustrations by Marc Simont (Harper Trophy paperback, $3.95).
* Football fans in middle school and beyond can get their fix in the daily newspaper (around here, it helps if you can stand the Washington Redskins) or in magazines such as Sports Illustrated for Kids -- (800) 992-0196 -- and KidSports -- (800) 388-1266. The non-fiction section in any public library should have plenty of biographies of famous players and coaches, as well as books on history and strategy.
And here's a novel worth checking out: "My Underrated Year," by Randy Powell (Sunburst paperback by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $3.95, ages 12 and up). Roger Ottosen starts 10th grade with big plans. After years of being a nobody, he thinks he'll hit it big by making the varsity football team as a running back and securing the No. 1 spot on the boys' tennis team the following spring.
But neither goal is easily reached, and Roger learns a lot about himself as he struggles. OK, so the theme is a bit cliched. The best parts are the football scenes. Your stomach churns along with Roger's as he lines up to return a punt, and you can smell the unmistakable mixture of sweat and Right Guard in the locker room.