NFL Sunday has meaning once again KICKING OFF A NEW ERA

September 01, 1996|By John Eisenberg

Finally, finally, a pro football Sunday.

The right kind.

No, not the kind with three downs, a 55-yard line and the Saskatchewan Roughriders on the visitors' bench.

No, not the kind that involves sitting on a couch in your den and watching the late game from Washington or Dallas or Chicago, as if you really cared.

Those days are over, if you can believe it, which I still can't.

But it's true; Paul Tagliabue wouldn't lie to us.

Today, finally, it's an NFL Sunday right here at home, the right kind, with a Baltimore team playing at Memorial Stadium.

It's a day of history and renewal, to savor like few others; a day to slow down, touch, smell and remember.

Today, it's all about a din, not your den.

The din of a home crowd in an old football town, expunging the pent-up frustration of 12 years of silent Sundays.

Maybe it doesn't feel different yet this morning, before you have finished your first cup of coffee.

Just wait.

It will be a different Sunday indeed, in so many ways.

Different because a major sports franchise hasn't planted a flag in Baltimore in 33 years, since the Bullets came to town.

Different because there is a home team kicking off today, for the first time since 1983.

A kickoff, a sold-out stadium, the beginning of a new history.

Where will it take us? Who knows?

And right now, who cares?

All that matters is that it is our history, again, at last.

For 12 years we tried on the idea of not having a team, grew accustomed to it, even reconciled ourselves to it.

Life went on, Camden Yards went up, Cal caught Gehrig, things were fine.

But we knew, always, that having an NFL team was better than not having a team.

We knew because we had a team that brought such joy to so many people for so long.

As much as we became accustomed to not having a team, it never felt right.

For years, I pointed my car elsewhere on these languid Sunday mornings, south toward a kickoff in Washington or north toward one in Philly or the Meadowlands.

For years, I slipped into the fringes of other cities' football Sundays, smelled the smells, heard the cheers, eavesdropped with envy on the water-cooler controversies.

What a shame, I thought, that Robert Irsay had taken all that

away.

Finally, finally, the cheers come back today.

The cheers, the smells, the around-town dialogue that an NFL team engenders.

It all begins again today, on a Sunday of rare history.

The Colts came to town 43 years ago, the Orioles 42 years ago, the Ravens today.

That time line says it all: These kinds of beginnings don't come around very often.

Maybe it feels like a regular Sunday this morning, before the kickoff, but it's a day with a message that will resonate for decades.

A new stadium is going up and a new NFL team is here to stay.

I'm not used to it; you're not used to it; none of us is used to it.

But it's the reality.

Sure, there are caveats attached to the kickoff of the Ravens era.

Cleveland's anguish is unjust and unfortunate, a blemish on this day and others to come.

The NFL game itself has gotten too big and fancy for the fans and players to connect as they did when the Colts were here. Don't expect those days again; they're over.

We're embarking on a different deal here, more shrill and colorful and scientific, not quite as personal.

Maybe it isn't the NFL that your father fell in love with, but it beats those silent Sundays by a mile.

Besides, the beginning of a new era means the beginning of new routines; new car pools to the game, new neighbors at the stadium, new memories.

It doesn't matter if you don't know most of the players' names yet.

It doesn't even matter if the Ravens win or lose.

That's for later.

What matters now, today, after 12 years without a team, is the simple experience of going to the game.

The thrill of waking up on a Sunday morning with a tingle in your toes, knowing there is a place to go to, a seat to fill, a cheer to join.

That's the essence of pro football; the joy of belonging, of sharing the team with your friends and neighbors.

The electricity of a pro football Sunday at Memorial Stadium.

It's back, at last.

Is that great, or what?

Pub Date: 9/01/96

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