Froth of beer makes fray of football even better

September 04, 1996|By Mike Littwin

I WENT TO the Ravens' opener Sunday. It was an unforgettable experience, everything I thought it would be -- and yet, so much more.

For instance, I never allowed myself to dream that once again on a football Sunday, in the town that the NFL forgot, in a city hungry for the recognition that only pro football can bring, they could still stuff 65,000 drunks into one stadium.

You see, over the 12 wilderness years without the Colts, I had forgotten.

I was used to baseball, going to a game of a summer's night, the evening sticky warm and your shirt sweat-soaked as you live and die with your underachieving local nine. The game may be hard to stomach, but the beer goes down cool and easy.

If it sounds romantic, it's supposed to. Baseball is built on romance -- on romance and memory and, of course, more recently on sky boxes, which, paradoxically, have nothing to do with either romance or memory.

Football games are not romantic. Beer drinking at football games is definitely not romantic. In fact, it's the opposite of romantic. It's a one-night stand. It's wham-bam-thank-you- ma'am.

You go to football games for two reasons: to see people get hit, and to get hammered. You rarely hear any mention of pastoral fields. George F. Will doesn't yammer on about symmetry.

A friend who, by his own admission, drinks beer in much the way the Coneheads consumed it -- in mass quantities -- says that if you go to a football game and you can remember anything that happened after the third quarter, then you've had a bad day.

Why football? It could be that football fans drink in order to get in the mood for what's happening before them on the field -- a John Woo-like celebration of outsized men engaged in steroid-enhanced ferocity. Remember, this is a game where the players head-butt when they're happy.

The mood is violent and the fans join in. Even if you can't hear anything other than the guy next to you screaming something about killing the quarterback and everyone in his family, you can still recall the voice of the late John Facenda, who did the voice-overs for NFL films. Facenda made a football game sound like World War II: This is Green Bay.

It's a war, but with the sensibilities of a bar fight. Have another round.

By the fourth quarter, they cut off the beer in a bow toward civility and to save some lives on the highway. But that's like closing the barn door after the horse has headed down to his local pub.

Though there may be the odd fight in the stands at a baseball game -- in fact, at virtually every baseball game -- baseball remains fundamentally different from football.

You remember the old George Carlin routine? In football your objective is to march down the field while throwing bombs. In baseball, you go home. In football, you're penalized. In baseball, you make an error. In football, you wear a helmet. In baseball, you wear a cap.

In football, you have a two-minute warning. In baseball, you have a seventh-inning stretch.

And, in football, young men strip off their shirts to reveal the name of the local football team painted on their chests. (Try to imagine this in any other venue. You go to the local library, you get tanked up, you and your buddies strip off your shirts to spell out A-N-N-E T-Y-L-E-R.)

Carlin might add this one: If baseball has a designated hitter, football could use a designated driver.

One friend brought his 10-year-old son to the game. They left at halftime. The kid was scared to death of the people sitting around him. And this kid is a veteran of Camden Yards.

Of course, Camden Yards is a different place, even for baseball. The crowds are tennis-club polite. You half expect to see the fans holding opera glasses.

Even if the football ticket at Memorial Stadium is much pricier, the people at Camden Yards are far more likely to drive a sports utility vehicle. The Lexus they leave at home.

Will this change with the new football field? Will the crowds become Camden-ized?

It's an unknowable. But here's what I do know. At a recent Orioles game, there was this guy talking on the cell phone. He was talking to a friend in another part of the ballpark.

This is a sports fan? At a Ravens' game, they would have smashed this guy's phone and tossed him over the side.

And then, of course, ordered up another round.

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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