Just having pro teams is enough thanks

November 24, 2005|By JOHN EISENBERG

As you sit down to eat a Thanksgiving meal today, your inner sports fan might wonder, "OK, exactly what do I have to be thankful for this year?"

It's a fair question.

The Orioles are coming off their eighth straight losing season, a whopper that included steroid busts, drunken-driving arrests and the airing of organizational dirty laundry in Congress - a run of ugliness that might never be surpassed.

The Ravens were expected to provide relief this fall, but they, too, have fallen hard, losing 11 of their past 16 games going back to 2004. It's clear changes are in the offing.

Elsewhere, the football Terps might not be going bowling again, the basketball Terps are looking up to Duke, and hey, there are even rumors the Preakness might move unless the state gets slots - the kind of doomsday threat that revives chilling memories of moving vans plowing through the snow.

There's not a lot to be thankful for, but operating in the holiday spirit (and on the theory that things could always be worse), I'm using today's column to suggest reasons for you to be appreciative of your sporting lot. They do exist.

For starters, the heavyweight champion of the world is from Baltimore. True, Hasim Rahman earned the title when his most recent opponent retired rather than fight, but let's not quibble. In boxing, we rule.

Another thing to be thankful for is Terrell Owens being someone else's headache. Can you imagine blending all the trouble he's caused in Philadelphia with all the cracks in the Ravens' foundation that have surfaced this year? Whew.

You can always take solace in the fact that Gary Williams' basketball Terps are consistent winners who could take off again if talented sophomore James Gist emerges. And as for the Preakness' rumored departure, it's really just a scary thought more than a serious threat at this point. Magna, the company that owns Maryland's thoroughbred tracks and controls the event, surely understands the race would be diminished in many ways elsewhere. I will believe it when I see it.

Beyond that, it's a challenge to come up with many other reasons to be thankful, other than the fact that B-12 is legal, and the fact that pitching guru Leo Mazzone knew Sam Perlozzo years ago in Cumberland.

But let's not forget the one reason that stands tall in all times, good and bad - the very fact that Baltimore has the Orioles and Ravens.

As much as they make us crazy and angry sometimes, we should be thankful they're here. Having a major league baseball team and an NFL franchise gives us something to share, keeps things endlessly interesting (no argument there, huh?) and surely beats the alternative.

In 1988, there was no NFL team here, and the Orioles were looking for a new ballpark. Autumn Sundays were as quiet as falling leaves, and there was a chance the Orioles could follow the Colts out of town if the state's political winds blew errantly. The city's professional sports life was flickering.

But the winds blew the right way and the Orioles signed a 30-year lease to play at what evolved into a splendid downtown ballpark. Baltimore became a desired sports destination, and the Ravens played their first game here in 1996.

No one should take it for granted. Baltimore is one of the smallest markets with both an NFL and a major league team, according to Nielsen Media Research. Only Kansas City, Mo.; San Diego; Milwaukee; and Cincinnati are smaller. Meanwhile, Sacramento, Calif.; Orlando, Fla.; and Portland, Ore., are all bigger than Baltimore but don't have either an NFL team or a major league team.

Our shoulders are a little bigger than we deserve, in other words. Markets around our size generally have one team, and as often as not, it's an NBA or an NHL team. The Portland Trail Blazers. The Columbus Blue Jackets. The Baltimore ... Rhinos. (Ha! Remember those days?)

If we didn't have the Orioles or Ravens, we would be, let's face it, a Washington suburb as a sports town, stuck with various tenuous allegiances. The Wizards? Eh. The Redskins? I'm kidding; please don't throw anything.

But you know what? Not that long ago (January 1992), when the Redskins were on their way to winning a Super Bowl, I wrote a column about Baltimore rooting for Washington, quoting the late Jim Parker, the Colts Hall of Famer, who told me his Northwest Baltimore bar was now filled with Redskins fans on game days.

"When you don't have a team, you adopt a team," Parker explained.

That is no longer an issue around here, and if that's not something to be thankful for, I don't know what is.


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