With O's, Ravens both coming up dry, Rahman quenches city's thirst for title

Boxing

November 10, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

There may have been other champions who entered their kingdoms through the back door, but not lately. Nevertheless, Hasim Rahman is not about to get picky about how he became heavyweight champion of the world for the second time.

His hometown shouldn't be picky, either. Not with a baseball franchise that yesterday, on the same day Rahman inherited his crown from Vitali "Quit-schko," got to revisit the biggest nightmare of its wretched season.

And not with an NFL franchise that's off to its worst start since 1998, the last time it fired its coach.

Baltimore used to have so much to be proud of with its sports heroes - used to. But now the city has something, someone to embrace. Once the WBC goes through the formality of voting in Rahman as its titlist, Baltimore will be the home of the heavyweight champion of the world - still, after all these years and all the frauds and all the nonsense, deserving of its fame as the most coveted individual title in sports.

When Mike Tyson (a previous perpetrator of the nonsense) wore the crown, it meant he was the "baddest man on the planet." The new "baddest man," Rahman, was raised in good ol' Charm City. Then again, are we still going by that slogan? Supposedly, we're in the market for a replacement. "The City That Reads," noble as that is, never caught on, and face it, it doesn't mesh with a sport predicated on rendering an opponent pretty much incapable of communicating.

(Whoever came up with the idea for the twist on that slogan, "The City That Reeds" - inspired by the Ravens' No. 20 - and slapped it on a bunch of T-shirts, deserves some credit. Unfortunately, even that's been tainted: Ed Reed has been injured and will likely miss his third straight game Sunday. It's been a tough year.)

Regardless, the way things are going now, City of Champions was not going to fly, not any time soon. The Orioles just completed Year 22 since their last World Series win, and Year 8 since they last reached the playoffs. The Ravens' January 2001 Super Bowl win is the only NFL championship for Baltimore in the past 34 years, and with all due respect to Brian Billick's faith in Kyle Boller, their 2-6 record pretty much means they're not going back this year.

As bad as the on-field showing by both teams has been, the off-field stories have been worse. Rafael Palmeiro is back in the news, and aren't you glad to have his name attached to your city again, after the sweet respite of the past couple of months?

At least the Ravens have mostly contained their misery to the field, which means that fewer people are thinking and talking about their Pro Bowl running back having spent time in jail within the past year.

Basically, there's nothing else for the locals to puff out their chests about. Or there wasn't, until now.

Rahman is the best Baltimore has to offer its sports fans. Enjoy him and his reign while it lasts. If all goes well, it will last longer than the last one.

It's too bad, of course, that his ascent to the throne wasn't nearly as dramatic this time as it was last time. Last time would have been hard to beat: Clocking Lennox Lewis halfway around the world, having fans here wake up to the unexpected news the next morning. Huh? He won? He's the champ?

Then he goaded Lewis into impromptu fisticuffs during a TV interview during the hype for the rematch, saying in essence, "That's how we roll."

Now, the honor seems sadly diluted. Only three other men have retired as heavyweight champ, but if you think Vitali Klitschko's name deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as Lewis, Marciano and Tunney, then you just flat-out hate boxing and need to go read something else. Klitschko is the Gerald Ford of heavyweight champs, never having won the title outright in competition, and even that belittles the ex-president.

But give Rahman his due. Other defeated one-shot champs disappear into the mist, never to be heard from again except for something bad. Buster Douglas, to name one, took his purse, went home and started eating.

Rahman, though, kept fighting, and put himself in position to step into the ring to try to take the title. He can't be blamed for having that chance taken away, or watching it crawl shamefully away from him.

"I took every step I needed to take," Rahman said yesterday.

He's 33 years old, and has had more than enough justification to ease up, even quit, and be content with his brief moment on the big stage. Instead, his perseverance was rewarded, even if the reward came via press release instead of having his arm raised in the ring.

Now that he has it, the odds are good, based on his history, that he'll represent the city and his title honorably, which is more than some of our stars around here can say.

Rahman has much to be proud of. So does the city he calls home. Baltimore was in desperate need of a winner, and now it has one.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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