The want ads this week scream desperation and greed, from the steroid-enhanced fonts to the 800-numbers to the clip-art footballs. Future anthropologists, perusing the fine print for clues to our culture, may see nothing more than a shameless display of Need and Want in a society whose guiding principle is $$$ for TIXS.
Granted, it's not easy to communicate sincerity, loyalty and familial love in a box of type the size of a postage stamp. Maybe that's why these ads caught our eye. History might judge them clever gimmicks, but we prefer to think otherwise.
The question was posed strategically early in the season.
"Dad, if the Ravens go to the Super Bowl, can we go?"
This was not the parental moment of truth. That came later, after the Ravens had won the AFC Championship, and Stuart Sherbs reminded his father what he had promised on a forgotten Sunday when a Super Bowl bid didn't seem possible.
Brian Sherbs, being a stand-up dad (and one who didn't exactly weep at the thought of going to Tampa), immediately started working his contacts.
When some people dismissed the idea of taking Stuart to the big game - come on, a kid so young? - the elder Sherbs had a ready answer. When Brian was only 7, his father took him to Memorial Stadium to see the Orioles play the Dodgers in two games of the 1966 World Series. Brian's father died of a heart attack when Brian was only a teen-ager, but the vivid memories of those games have lasted forever.
The day before this want ad was first published, Sherbs, who lives in Glenwood and owns a commercial construction company, went down to PSINet Stadium, where season ticket lottery winners were picking up their tickets. Sherbs felt like a lone fish in a sea of sharks with cell phones, and though he approached a few people, he was unsuccessful.
Then he met The Man.
The Man - Sherbs will only identify him as a young professional, recently married and hoping one day to have children - said a conflict at work prevented him and his wife from going to the Super Bowl. He wanted to sell the tickets, but not to a broker. Sherbs, who just happened to be carrying Stuart's soccer team trading card, showed The Man the boy's picture. The Man asked Sherbs what he was willing to pay.
"I brought $2,500 with me," Sherbs said.
Just then, a broker approached and offered $4,000 for the pair.
The Man took the $2,500. And kept Stuart's picture.
Yes, Brian Kiley assured the callers. There really is a pregnant wife. A pregnant wife, airline tickets to Florida, hotel reservations and everything else a couple needs for a last-hurrah-before-the-baby trip to the Super Bowl.
Here's what didn't fit in three lines of type: Christine and Brian Kiley have been season ticket holders since the Ravens came to Baltimore even though the couple has been living in Pennsylvania - first Pittsburgh, now outside Valley Forge - the whole time. For each home game, the couple has driven to Baltimore, where Christine's family includes three generations of season ticket holders and two Colts/Ravens Marching Band members.
But so far, the pitch has made no difference. As of midweek, none of the callers offered anything close to Kiley's $500-per-ticket budget. And only a couple of them even brought up the pregnancy.
"It was definitely mentioned [in the ad] to invoke a sympathy response," said Kiley, a corporate account manager for a global travel management company. "That's why the guilt kicked in the last couple days."
His guilt, that is. In the interest of full disclosure, Kiley began telling callers a few days ago that Christine, feeling rundown and deluged with work from her job as a high school biology teacher, had decided to pass on the trip after all. Instead, Brian planned to make the trip with her cousin's husband.
"Even if we can just stand outside the stadium and cheer them on, we'll be happy with that," said Kiley.
And don't worry, he says. Since Christine is only three-and-a-half months pregnant, there's still time for that last-hurrah vacation.
Afew years ago, after a heart attack, John Robinson lost both his plumbing business and his home. He and his wife were forced to move from Laurel to a rental in Charles County.
Recently, the couple found a house they could afford to buy. The catch was that the rambler wouldn't be habitable without months of renovation. Short on resources, Robinson asked Robert Thomas and Brent Henderson, his son-in-law and son-in-law-to-be, if they would be willing to donate their labor.
The men said yes, and for more than a month have devoted their weekends to helping Robinson rip out walls and remodel rooms.
A trip to the Super Bowl seemed to Robinson like the perfect way to reward the young men for their hard work. He placed the ad, prepared to spend about $1,000 for two tickets. But the best offer he had gotten midweek was about $3,000 for a pair.
"It's all about money, and it really shouldn't be like that," says Robinson. "It does put a damper on things."
Last weekend, Robinson took his daughters and their partners out to dinner. He gave each man a Super Bowl T-shirt. Then he gave them a letter. "In appreciation for all your unselfish hard work during the past month, we have arranged an all-expense paid Super Bowl trip. Below you will find a brief itinerary."
Barring a last-minute ticket deal, they won't be watching the game in person. But they'll be together in Tampa, where they'll attend the carnival-like "NFL Experience" and watch the game together in a bar.
Then they'll drive back home, where the renovation of the house will probably continue for at least another month.
"It's a whole lot of work, but it don't bother me," says son-in-law Robert Thomas. "I know that he would do the same for us."