Boogie's bruises are also Baltimore's in the football race

MIKE LITTWIN

November 17, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

Now, they've really got us mad. When the NFL boys said our problem in the expansion race was geography, we didn't like it, but we sort of understood.

We can read a map, and, sure enough, Baltimore does appear to be unalterably squished between Washington and Philadelphia.

But now, it's personal.

Because of Boogie.

You see, Boogie is Baltimore. OK, he lives in Aspen, probably knows movie stars and he's got that goofy ponytail. But he's still Baltimore.

He's so uncalculatingly un-smooth that he's got to be Baltimore. Here's a guy who's self-made rich and still dresses and thinks like the kid in the movie.

What Boogie has is this uncompromised identity that just reeks of his hometown -- the unsophisticated but also unpretentious Baltimore of our imagination.

In real life, of course, at least half the Washington lawyers we hate for buying up all the seats at Camden Yards are actually Baltimore lawyers. We've got Yuppies. We've got coffee bars. But that's not how we like to think of ourselves. We think of ourselves as people who went to high school with Boogie.

We love the fact that he's so emotional. So Baltimore ethnic. Did you see his primal-scream press conference the other day? Everything Boogie says comes right from the heart. Not only doesn't he think before he speaks, he rarely thinks even after he speaks.

And when he's hurt, he howls.

He's hurt now, and we're hurting -- also howling -- right along with him.

We hurt because when the NFL boys say that Boogie is not good enough for them and that we should find a new owner, they're saying the problem is us, and not simply a presumed geographical gap.

You know owner types. Al Lerner, the man who now heads Baltimore's official, governor-sanctioned, expansion-team effort, is an owner-type down to his Allen-Edmonds wingtips. Part owner of the Cleveland Browns, Lerner used to run a bank, for God's sake. Maybe you remember the bank. It was our own Maryland National, which Lerner handed over to hated NationsBank of Charlotte fame.

Boogie, more comfortable in Nikes, is the anti-owner. He's not bureaucratic D.C. He's not banker Charlotte. He's not button-down Madison Avenue. He's lovably eccentric, which is why the NFL boys don't like him and why we do.

He's Boogie, Baltimore's version of Kramer.

What especially hurts is that it wasn't actually the NFL that dropped the bomb on Boogie. Those guys are too shrewd for that. There was a lot of winking and nodding and nudging until finally even the Guv got the message that Boogie wouldn't do. Neither, of course, would the Glazers.

Now, admit it, you don't care about the Glazers, who have about as much connection to Baltimore as they do to Bangkok. They're just some rich out-of-towners who got dumped on. Let's be honest. This is not about honor. It's about Baltimore.

If anyone is more Baltimore than Boogie, it's the Guv. He knows the romantic, crowd-pleasing thing to do here. He could call the NFL the same thing he once called the Eastern Shore and say, if he had to, he'd go down in flames with Boogie and the Bombers while wearing a personalized Boogie Bomber jacket.

There's a lot of sentiment that way -- just to tell the NFL what it can do with its expansion franchise. Then try to set up NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue on a blind date with Lorena Bobbitt.

At least, if nothing else, we'd have our dignity. The Guv would suggest we might do well to study the "if-nothing-else" dimension of that certainly noble concept.

The Guv is not noble. He wants a football team. It's his belief that Baltimore is not Baltimore without a football team, anymore than it's really Baltimore without, well, him. He'd like to be a mayor again someday. He'd like to be mayor when there's a football team, just like in the old days when folks actually liked him.

Here are the twinned questions he has been forced to answer: Would you rather have a team owned by Lerner or not have a team owned by Boogie?

The smart, and pragmatic, answer is to back Lerner. The emotional, and honorable, answer is to stick with Boogie.

And so the Guv dumped Boogie. It probably won't matter. St. Louis is still likely to get the call on Nov. 30. But if it's the Guv's job to do all he can to secure a team, he had little choice.

But, just like Boogie, we don't have to like it.

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