Leave envy on sideline, Baltimore, we won...

September 23, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

The color of this game is not purple or brown. The color of this game is green.

Not green as in money, the Ravens' founding principle.

Green, as in envy.

That's the reason for all this misdirected anger toward Cleveland fans and the latest appearance by Baltimore's old friends, inferiority and insecurity.

We're jealous.

Jealous that Cleveland went three seasons without an NFL franchise and Baltimore 12.

Jealous that Cleveland retained its name, colors and history, while Baltimore lost everything to Indianapolis.

Jealous that Cleveland remains the darling of the national media, while Baltimore's plight remains largely ignored.

Jealousy is a powerful emotion. But even when justified -- and it is entirely justified in this case -- it's unbecoming.

Know what Sunday should be? A celebration of football in two cities. Cities that are more alike than different. Cities that refused to accept their banishment from the NFL, and scratched and clawed their ways back.

Baltimore did it by stealing one of the NFL's most treasured franchises after repeatedly getting sand kicked in its face by duplicitous owners and league officials.

Cleveland did it by taking advantage of a new media age, screaming long and loud on the Internet, talk radio and cable sports television until the NFL could stand the pressure no more.

It is the success of the Cleveland campaign that burns so many in Baltimore. But times were different when the Colts left in 1984, with fewer outlets available for fans to voice their discontent. The circumstances were different, too. The Colts weren't drawing sellout crowds of 70,000.

Given the same opportunity in '84, would Baltimore's fans and politicians have made their case just as vehemently as Cleveland's? Of course they would have.

Frankly, anyone accusing Cleveland of excessive whining and anti-Ravens sentiment should remember Baltimore's own whining and its anti-Colts sentiment, which continues to this day, in the Ravens' fourth season.

The frustration over how all this played out is understandable, and not simply because the outpouring of sympathy for Cleveland resulted in a backlash of antipathy for Baltimore.

The NFL guaranteed Cleveland a new team three months after Art Modell announced his plans to depart. Baltimore's uncertainty lasted more than 11 years, with the league offering only harm and no help.

Whatever, it's all in the past now.

On Sunday, the two worlds meet.

Adam Meister, 22, is organizing "Diaper Day," encouraging Ravens fans to wave diapers to demonstrate that the Cleveland fans are babies. Meanwhile, as many as 10,000 Browns fans are expected to invade PSINet Stadium, with the goal of creating a Baltimore Dawg Pound.

Some of this is good, clean fun, and Meister is asking fans to bring extra diapers for charity as he seeks the moral high ground. But, in truth, the fans shouldn't be angry with each other. They should be angry with the owners who broke their hearts. And in Baltimore's case, with the national media, too.

It was not unfair to label Baltimore hypocritical for stealing the Browns -- many in town shared that belief. But from Bob Costas' holier-than-thou essay on Opening Day '96 to Bob Trumpy's spiteful wish list for the Ravens, few in the media bothered to recount the events that led the city and state to turn into vigilantes.

A mere glance at newspaper archives would have revealed a city deceived by restless franchises, betrayed during a rigged expansion process and insulted by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, whose advice was to build a museum or plant rather than a stadium.

But then and now, all anyone wanted to talk about was Cleveland.

To which the only appropriate response is: Who cares?

It's one thing to be upset when Time magazine mocks Baltimore in a story about the city's mayoral campaign, for such a portrayal could damage tourism. But it's silly to be offended when Sports Illustrated picks the Ravens 5-11 or ESPN gushes over the new Browns. There's simply no impact.

Yet, from Frank Robinson's wearing a Cincinnati cap during the All-Star festivities to John Elway's thanking the Colts for trading him during his retirement ceremony, Baltimoreans can always find a conspiracy lurking somewhere.

Natives like to remind out-of-towners that they can't possibly understand the pain of the Colts' departure, as if this were the first city to lose a franchise. Actually, what out-of-towners can't understand is why Baltimoreans care so much about what outsiders think, when the natives' pride in their hometown is justified.

You want to feel cheated, feel cheated. You want to be angry at Cleveland, be angry at Cleveland. But remember this: The Colts' departure provided the impetus for the construction of two stadiums that have made Baltimore the envy of the nation.

Instead of thinking about all that was lost on Sunday, why not think about all that was gained?

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