It's time to seize a Ravens moment

January 18, 2001|By Barry Rascovar

TRY AS HE might, Parris Glendening just couldn't muster much emotional fervor at his Tuesday budget briefing for the upset victory of the Baltimore Ravens over Oakland that put them in the Super Bowl.

He's not the football sort who cheers on a sports team at the local watering hole. He's an intellectual, academic type.

Yet even nerds understand the importance of that Ravens win to the psyche of this state, particularly in the Baltimore region.

The best of athletic events can be surprisingly riveting, tying people from diverse walks of life together emotionally. We are witnessing that now, as the state's home football team prepares to participate in America's biggest sporting event of the year, the Super Bowl.

Suddenly, everyone around here is a Baltimorean. The Ravens have brought folks from widely divergent communities together to support a common cause. We feel connected.

It occurs at an opportune time. Baltimore, having been declared down and out, is on the way back. The Ravens' climb from pathetic mediocrity to the top of the National Football League mirrors this local turnaround.

Indeed, you can pretty much date the beginning of Baltimore's decline to the time when the beloved Colts of Robert Irsay, an irascible and drunken owner, snuck the team's belongings out of town on a snowy night 17 years ago.

It was a crushing blow to local morale and confidence. Baltimore's worth in the eyes of the nation plummeted.

Just as the dastardly move of baseball's Dodgers from Brooklyn in 1958 to the West Coast signaled the decline of that great New York borough, the Colts' stealthy exit from their Owings Mills training camp sucked much of the charm out of Charm City.

The replacement team, the Ravens, arrived five years ago. Its slow rebuilding effort seems to have paralleled the city's far slower turnaround.

What makes the club so appealing is the blue-collar, working-class ethos that permeates this bunch of high-paid athletes.

These guys don't drive Jags and BMWs, but SUVs and Jeeps. They don't live out of a suitcase for the season, as do most Orioles. The majority of these football players live here year-round.

They don't just show up for a few, well-publicized community events. Instead, most of them quietly devote lots of time to numerous charitable causes and actually commune with the local folk around town.

They win games the old-fashioned way, with hard work in the trenches. It's back-to-basics football in a town getting back to the basics, too.

The enthusiasm is infectious. It's as though Baltimore annexed all of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties, most of Anne Arundel and Howard counties, and segments of the rest of Maryland, all the way to Cumberland and Ocean Pines.

Presiding over this raucous constituency in his Ravens jacket is the mayor of this new, Greater Baltimore, Martin O'Malley.

He wisely is using the team's winning ways to galvanize support for his city. Baltimore is back. So are the Ravens.

It makes Mr. O'Malley's job so much easier in the State House.

In a world where we suddenly are all cheering madly for Baltimore, supporting financial aid for the city is a no-brainer. All the region's county executives lock arms with the mayor in a show of unity. They're preaching cooperation rather than competition.

Even in the tony Washington suburbs, where it is politically correct to root for the overpriced Redskins (the team that buses its players to Maryland for its home games, then buses them back to Virginia, where they all live and pay taxes), Purple Passion is the rage.

Politicians from the Washington region know that Ravens reigning triumphant in Tampa in 10 days would boost the state's allure as an economic development site.

Quality of life is a prime motive for corporate moves and expansions. For CEOs and site-locators -- many of them sports fanatics -- a Super Bowl team like the Ravens gives Maryland cachet -- and a leg up on rival states.

Persuading companies to consider the Baltimore-Washington region now gets easier. Selling the notion of a "Digital Harbor" on Baltimore's waterfront to tech executives -- and to state officials -- gets easier, too.

Yes, sports can be more than a game. The Ravens' triumphs have propelled the city they represent into orbit.

Baltimore's second renaissance of the post-World War II era may have taken a giant step forward. Now it is up to the football players, and the city's leaders, to seize the moment.

This belongs in the "small world isn't it" category. The Jan. 7 column on Janet L. Hoffman and Louis L. Kaplan tied the two recently deceased Baltimoreans together through their commitment to public service.

They were united in other ways, too, according to one of Ms. Hoffman's daughters, Constance H. Baker. Ms. Baker's husband's great-grandfather was the first to welcome young Lou Kaplan to Baltimore when he arrived by train to run the Board of Jewish Education in the 1920s.

Dr. Kaplan presided over the marriage of Ms. Hoffman's daughter, bar mitzvahed two of Janet's grandchildren and named them.

And finally, Ms. Baker reports that Mayor O'Malley intends to name the city's legislative office building at 88 State Circle in Annapolis after Janet Hoffman. It would be a fitting way to remember the legendary lobbyist.

Barry Rascovar is deputy editorial page editor.

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