Hooray for CFLs, but does true love wait for NFL?

November 22, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Baltimore's exhilarating, death-defying, liver-chilling -- anybody got a few spare adjectives to throw onto the pile? -- victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Sunday to win a Canadian Football League division title is a fabulous gift from the gods of sport, which, unfortunately, not many people around here had particularly requested.

It's nice, it's nice, we assure each other, hoping not to appear ungracious while we find out from somebody exactly what it is we've won. A great victory, certainly. A championship, but of what? The Canadian Football League's Eastern Division, whatever that is, but whatever is it?

It must mean something important, because there it was, yesterday morning in this very newspaper, the news that the Baltimore CFLs, the Colts For Life, The Team With No Name, had beaten Winnipeg somewhere up in a place called Manitoba, in a frozen country called Canada, which is no place at all this time of year for human beings without great amounts of body hair to keep them warm, and apparently we should all be very happy about winning such a game, and we are, we are.

And yet. . . .

It's like being handed an engagement ring by somebody who's not quite the person we were waiting for, and we don't know whether to accept it whole-heartedly and get on with the marriage, or pat the giver on the head, offer warmest thanks, but keep scanning the horizon for somebody we really love, who carries the initials NFL.

So we don't mean to sound less than thrilled, even though we seem to be. From the moment this Baltimore team sprang from the brain of Jim Speros, his club has done everything in the world to endear itself to us, not only winning ballgames the way no other expansion team in the history of professional sports has ever won ballgames, but also by carefully linking the present with the past.

You want to hold onto the Colts? Great, Speros did what he could to bring back the name. You want to mock the despised Irsay? Great, we had cheerleaders emerging from the back of a Mayflower moving van. You want to feel like the team's a real part of the community? They had halftime ceremonies honoring the likes of Unitas and Parker and Donovan.

Did you see Speros' face yesterday? In yesterday's sports section, there he was, embracing his head coach, this fellow Don Matthews. Matthews is so stunned, he looks as if he's being roused from sleep, but Speros seems to be assuring him, "It's true, Don, it's true."

It's true, some guy named Donald Igwebuike, who was kicked off the team earlier this year and then brought back a week or so later, who's from Nigeria and finds himself playing for an American team in a Canadian league, kicks a 54-yard field goal with 3:20 left to win the game, 14-12.

That isn't enough drama? That isn't enough to ensure a lifetime of love and memories? Sure, it ain't Steve Myhra coming off the bench with 7 seconds left, the way the Colts did in '58, but so what? Isn't this the next best thing? Isn't this the almost-perfect ghostly echo whispering in our ears that these are the rightful heirs to Baltimore football fans' devotion?

Isn't it?

Well, sure, but. . . .

But it isn't the NFL, is it?

Help me, will you, because I'm looking for answers. I went to three CFL games at Memorial Stadium this year, and loved it. It wasn't just the winning, either, but the sense of being back home, of being inside this great womb of people, of seeing the Big Wheel leading cheers the way he did in the old days, of feeling part of a happy community with everybody pulling in the same direction.

So why do I sense a certain un-frenzy today about the Baltimore victory? Is it that, despite all the CFL efforts, we feel we don't really know these guys? Did everything happen too fast, minus any sense of struggle, any sense of tradition? Do we take note of Sunday's crowd of only 25,000 people and think, hey, if the Canadians aren't excited about their own league, then why should we be? Does it feel like we're a major league city watching a not-quite-major football league?

Yes, yes, yes and yes.

And yet, if we're holding our true love for an NFL team, keep this in mind: Getting one's still a long shot, and it might be years before such a team's very lovable.

So, in the meantime, give a cheer for your CFL champions.

And try to act like you mean it.

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