Today honors those who kept football alive

Super Bowl Xxxv

January 28, 2001|By Michael Olesker

THIS ONE'S NOT just a football game -- it's a declaration of rebirth.

It's Baltimore and New York in the Super Bowl that was never supposed to happen -- and it's a dedication to all those hardy souls who held things together in the wilderness years between the departed Colts and the championship Ravens.

It's for John Ziemann, the leader of the band who simply refused to let the music die. In all the dispiriting seasons of waiting, it was Ziemann who gave Baltimore the only pro football band in America without a team to call its own.

It's for William Donald Schaefer, who heard the bad news over the radio the night the Mayflower vans pulled out, and vowed to bring football back. It was Schaefer who took the heat from all those state legislators who said Baltimore was finished in football. It was Schaefer who suffered the NFL's humiliating expansion turndown, who insisted the state create a Stadium Authority, who insisted on money to build a new ballpark -- and got stiffed the day Parris N. Glendening stood in the sunlight of southern Baltimore to announce the arrival of a new ballclub. Don't forget Schaefer today.

It's for Tom "Goose" Kaiser and the gang from the old Wishing Well and the Bay Cafe down in Canton, such as Jim Casey and Joe Beeps and Johnny Dee, who drove up the highway when the Indianapolis Colts played nearby -- just so they could flash Mike Ricigliano's great papier-mache Bob Irsay dummy in front of the TV cameras to remind everybody how Baltimore had been robbed.

It's for John Pica Jr. and Tommy Bromwell and John Arnick, Baltimore area legislators who brought not only political skills but some street-corner fighting instincts to stand up to the legislators and the lobbyists in Jack Kent Cooke's back pocket who thought Washington's football team should become Maryland's.

It's for a couple of generations of Baltimore Colts who were always there when the city asked for help reminding the NFL of the city's football traditions: not only the early guys like Unitas and Spats, and Artie and Matte, and Mutscheller and Parker, and Braase and Sisto Averno, but the next generation of Lydell Mitchell and Stan White, of Rick Volk and Bruce Laird and Joe Ehrmann. In the years between teams, we always had these guys to hold onto.

It's for John Steadman, whose newspaper columns helped generations of readers fall in love with pro football, and for Chuck Thompson and Vince Bagli, who did it for everybody who ever turned on a radio.

It's for "Loudy" Loudenslager, who would have led all the cheers today.

It's for Mike Gibbons and Greg Schwallenberg at the Babe Ruth Museum, who helped turn the Babe's birthplace into an open house for any football gathering and made it feel like a government in exile during the lost years.

It's for Herb Belgrad and John Moag, refusing to capitulate to Paul Tagliabue's insults and indifference, and it's for the business leaders such as Lou Grasmick and John Paterakis, and Henry Rosenberg and Bernie Manekin and Matt DeVito, who went the extra mile when help was needed.

It's for Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass, who gave it his best shot.

It's for Charlene Ziemann, John's wife, who never thought of herself as a football widow. She was always (and still is) at John's side. It's why their kids say, "Mom raised us, and Dad raised the band."

It's for Kurt L. Schmoke, whose heart was always in the right place, even when it was aching over so many setbacks.

It's for the gang at the old Golden Arm restaurant on York Road, who knew the right plaque to put on the men's room door: "The Robert Irsay Room."

It's for all those fans, 60,000 of 'em, who put up their money and filled Memorial Stadium that steamy August night in 1992 to watch a meaningless exhibition game between Miami and New Orleans as a sign to the NFL that Baltimore was hungry for football -- and then watched the corporate suits ignore the gesture when it was over.

It's for Mike Curtis, the old Colts linebacker. You want to talk about keeping the torch alive between eras? One gloomy night, Curtis dropped in at McCafferty's restaurant and remembered, "We were attached to this town at our very core. You understand what I'm saying? It felt like we were attached at our souls. You know what I used to do after games? I used to drive down to East Baltimore and find a bar and sit there with all those guys from Highlandtown and Middle River. They were our people, see? They were hard-working guys like us, and they loved us."

And now a new love affair has blossomed.

And this one's for all those who held onto the memory between embraces, and get a chance today to see the impossible: Baltimore fighting for a pro football championship, and the whole damned country realizing they never should have let us get away.

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