Bridesmaid Revisited as city is stood up by yet another team

January 18, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

It has taken 11 years, but, hey, I'm not a dumb guy. I don't have to be hit over the head. Not repeatedly, anyway.

I know the NFL's never coming back to Baltimore.

You know it, too.

We've all known it for years. And yet, each time somebody promises to bring a team here, we get as giddy as a schoolgirl -- back in the days when you could say schoolgirl.

This bothers me (not the schoolgirl part, the football part).

I know it's not about football. It's about civic pride, or something. But, even so, this civic desperation is, well, unseemly, especially when we lose out again to some second-rate town or, occasionally, a third-rate town. Actually, I'm not sure what rating Jacksonville should get.

This time it's the Tampa Bay Bucs who aren't moving to Baltimore. Next, it will be some other football team not moving to Baltimore.

After all these years, the reasonable course would be to quit, to say the heck with it, to get on with life. But what's being reasonable got to do with it? In Baltimore, we don't quit. If we get kicked in the teeth, we wipe off the blood and we just keep coming. Orthodontists love this town.

This relentless, Ellen Sauerbrey-like determination is either endearing and quaint -- or dumb and dumber.

You see, I've begun to fear this quest is not a Quixotic adventure, as the citizens like to believe, all noble and right and just. This is a punishment. What else could it be?

The Greeks foresaw this particular curse. There was a dude named Sisyphus, who, according to the myth, was condemned to keep pushing a big rock up a hill. When the rock would get nearly to the top, it would, inevitably and always, fall to the bottom. Whereupon Sisyphus would start anew.

This is Baltimore, inevitably and always. Apparently, we are unable to help ourselves.

We know rejection. We're the poster city of rejection. But obviously we can't get enough of it.

No sooner did we get the word about Tampa than a friend called to say, "What about Cleveland? I hear they're unhappy with their stadium."

Yes, I said. Someday the Cleveland Browns will not move to Baltimore.

"Cincinnati?" he asked. "They don't support their team. What about them?"

Yes, I said. Someday the Cincinnati Bengals will not move to Baltimore, too.

Why do we care? I believe it's to fight off that suspicion of inferiority, that maybe we live in Loserville.

We've got a great harbor, a great baseball stadium, a great hospital, a great fort, great Italian food.

And yet.

We lose.

We lose to Indianapolis, a featureless Midwestern town best known for rhyming with little green apples.

We lose to Charlotte, also known as the Automatic Teller Machine center of the South.

We lose, for God's sake, to Jacksonville, which, like Baltimore, has a light rail system. The one in Jacksonville is only two blocks long, though.

We lose as predictably and, as sadly, as Mudville.

Malcolm Glazer, once a would-be savior who would return football to Baltimore, is now keeping football in Tampa. He won a bidding war over the sainted Peter Angelos. But not only that. He also said: "I sure as heck would rather own a team in Tampa than I would in Baltimore."

Here's the galling part. Someday, Glazer, when he's trying to get Tampa to build him a new stadium, is going to threaten to move the team to Baltimore. And we will say: "Kick us. Kick us again. Please kick us again."

He'll kick us. And keep the team in Tampa. Is something wrong with us?

Oh, it's just football, we say when we get defensive. It's not really important. We've got art galleries that Tampa can't touch. The only kinds of bagels they have in Charlotte are frozen. Indianapolis? Get serious.

Why do those cities have an NFL team when we don't? That's easy enough to figure out. It isn't bad karma. It's bad geography.

In the eyes of the NFL, we are a suburb of Washington, a city already with a team. We might as well be re-named Arlington. We're not Loserville. We're Forgottenville. We're no longer on the map.

That's what we can't accept.

It's why we keep trying. If it weren't so pathetic, it would almost be funny.

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