You can say Cleveland's loss is Baltimore's gain, isn't it?

November 06, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

THEY DON'T make it easy for us, do they? They steal the Colts. They turn us down for expansion teams. Whenever they can, and apparently just for the entertainment value, they humiliate our town.

We groveled. We begged. We implored. We used the whole thesaurus.

And, for our troubles, they laughed at us.

Now, when the football gods relent, and they finally give Baltimore a team, what do they do? They give us the Cleveland Browns. In other words, they make us accessory to a terrible crime.

For years, we tried to do it the right way. Instead, they make us do to Cleveland what Indianapolis did to us. They make us dirty our hands. They make us humiliate ourselves.

They're still laughing at us. Listen carefully and you can hear them.

(OK, you don't even believe it's going to happen, do you? You think it's another ruse, another ride on the NFL torture circuit. You think NFL commissioner and head executioner Paul Tagliabue, the man with the I Hate Baltimore bumper sticker, will step in. You think Jack Kent Cooke will throw up another roadblock, and not just to rein in his fast-driving wife/ex-wife/girlfriend Marlena. You don't believe it's going to happen, but it is.)

And they're laughing - because Baltimore is Cleveland. Cleveland is Baltimore. Look what we've done.

We're the same. We're the same size. We're the same people. We both have lost blue-collar industries, but we've kept blue-collar attitudes. We've both got great baseball stadiums (they also have a great baseball team). We've each been memorialized by Randy Newman. We both struggle each day to try to keep our cities together, and we don't always make it.

Baltimore is Cleveland. Cleveland is Baltimore.

And we're taking their team. No wonder nobody's happy about this. If it were Tampa Bay or Arizona or L.A. or someplace else where the roots aren't so deep, where football is, say, just a game, it wouldn't be so bad.

But the Browns draw 70,000 madmen (and women) a game, and they have for years to a stadium that was built during the Depression and looks like it. They've got the Dawg Pound, only the most famous rooting section in the league. They've got wind and snow and huge brown chunks of ice blowing in off the lake, and still young men - well, only if they're drunk and/or stupid - rip off their shirts, as if to say, "It may not be much, but it's ours."

Like the Colts, the Browns have a storied history. Former coach Paul Brown virtually invented the game. They have Jim Brown to our Johnny U. And now they're leaving home. Bye, bye.

Why? It isn't because of the noise from the nearby Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It isn't because

the Cuyahoga River once caught on fire. It isn't even because it's, well, Cleveland.

It's - watch out, Cleveland, another rock reference - money, honey, that's what they want.

Cleveland citizens are voting tomorrow to raise tens of millions of dollars to do some rehab work on the stadium. That's not good enough anymore.

Owners want brand-spanking new, publicly funded, thousand-bucks-just-for-the- right-to-buy-a-season-ticket stadiums, with sky boxes and club boxes and rich-people seats all around. It'll be a yuppie haven. It'll make adjoining, lawyer-filled Camden Yards look like Highlandtown.

Like many others, I said this day would never come. Most people didn't say it in print, however. Last January, after the Tampa Bay Bucs didn't move to Baltimore, I wrote these words: "Yes, someday, the Cleveland Browns won't be moving to Baltimore."

Today, we'll no longer be the kick-me city. Now, the kicking season is over, unless we're kicking ourselves for being a party

to this. We've waited so long for this day. For too long, we were the Miss Havisham of cities, just sitting around in an old bridal gown. We suffered humiliation (Indianapolis!) after humiliation (Jacksonville!).

Art Modell - remember that name; the Browns' owner is Bob Irsay with charm - finally decided that he could make so much money in Baltimore that loyalty (what a concept) didn't seem to matter so much.

Of course, in time, we'll get over the fact that Cleveland was done an injustice. We'll embrace the Browns. We'll sell the stadium out. There will be waiting list.

Meaning, Modell will get rich. The team may or not be any good. We'll support it anyway.

Eventually, we just won't think about how the Browns got here. We'll just be glad to have football Sundays again.

Except in Cleveland. Which is Baltimore.

Which is Cleveland.

Which is Baltimore.

Yep, they're still laughing.

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