Color moment purple, orange

January 11, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

When this week ends, after the Colts leave town either in defeat or with Baltimore's heart clutched in its fists (again), it's going to be a little sad. There has never been a week quite like this in the city, and it's hard to imagine anything quite like this happening again.

This is the week of the Charm-onic Convergence.

The celestial spheres of the city's sports history have lined up simultaneously, and the infrastructure can barely stand the shock waves. All in one week, all in one place, Cal Ripken is voted into the baseball Hall of Fame and the Colts return to Baltimore for a playoff game.

Cal, Colts, Ravens - past, present, future, glory and legend and legacy dripping from everything in sight. Orange and black, purple and black, blue and white, horseshoes and black birds, high-tops and clouds of dust, Mayflower vans and sparkling new ballparks by the harbor, victory laps and the Ray-Ray dance.

What were the odds of it all happening in one week? The date of the Hall announcement was set long ago and counted down by Ripken's most rabid admirers. But at this time last year, no one thought the Ravens would be in the playoffs now, much less hosting a game, much less facing the former owner of the city's soul.

The passion aroused by that unexpected development threatened to drown out the Ripken celebration - for a couple of minutes, about as long as it took to remember exactly what he, and the Orioles, did and do mean to this city. Somehow, everyone would have to share the space, even if the surge of nostalgia (and every other emotion) threatened to burst the city, and the brains of the fans, at the seams.

This week, despite all evidence that the Ravens have taken over Baltimore, it's clear that this still is also an Orioles town - and a Colts town.

Somehow, everything remained intact Tuesday evening after a crazy collision of memories, joyful and bitter alike, stretching all over the metropolitan area, but concentrated at the warehouse downtown and at the Castle in Owings Mills.

To the north Tuesday, Ravens players and coaches talked publicly for the first time since the grudge match was set. To the south, a couple of hours later, Ripken sat with his family in a packed room, donning his Hall of Fame cap.

To get from one to the other Tuesday - and a mob of reporters, local and national, did just that - one passed City Hall, dome lit in purple and with a banner up high proclaiming itself as a chapter of the Ravens Roost. It also sported a smaller, simpler, more direct and instantly recognizable banner on the railing near street level: RIPKEN 8.

Then, entrance into the warehouse for Ripken's Hall of Fame news conference took one past the Camden Yards MARC station - itself sporting an advertising banner for a sports drink, featuring a certain very recognizable linebacker for the current local football heroes.

BOTTLED FURY, reads that sign.

When it comes to the Ravens' predecessors, the fury isn't bottled, of course. Actually, little of any emotion has been bottled in town this week. It was no surprise that when Ripken entered the room to talk about his entrance into Cooperstown, many in the assembled media committed a minor protocol breach and broke into applause. Same thing when he left the podium.

Hearing Ripken talk about his playing days, all that was missing was the background music from Field of Dreams and James Earl Jones' soliloquy.

When Ripken was asked if one day he might return to the organization in some capacity, and he replied, "You certainly never rule that out," you could almost hear all the eyebrows in the room raise in anticipation.

Overall, though, there still was an undercurrent of melancholy, even before Ripken talked about missing Cal Sr. and his old teammates and the highlights of his career. The thoughts of a once-proud and beloved franchise run aground, starting when Ripken's days were coming to an end, were unavoidable.

As if to drive that feeling home, the 2,131st game was rebroadcast that night. Uh-oh, I got something in my eye again.

All of which, of course, ties that story to the other monumental sports story in town. The demise, the departure, the return and rebirth, but still the wound, reopened and rubbed raw again this week.

Give the Ravens' players credit, by the way. They don't have first-hand knowledge of the angst-fest of the last two decades here (Not that they're supposed to, all right? Cut them some slack already), but they have a firm grasp of their own place in this city's psyche - and of Ripken's. They might not have been very clear on Unitas, but they get Cal.

"What he did for baseball, putting baseball on his back when baseball wasn't popular, that's why he's the man," Bart Scott said. An impressive testimonial from him, considering that 1) he regularly wears baseball throwbacks, but insists he isn't a baseball fan, and 2) earlier on the same day, he essentially put a hit out on the Colts' Joseph Addai and aimed his bottle of hot sauce at Peyton Manning.

In all seriousness, though, Scott understands the Ripken aura. "He brought the fans back. He was huge for baseball. He gave fans a reason to respect the game," he said. "He's one of the greatest Baltimore heroes ever."

Added Gary Stills: "This is big, and Cal Ripken is big. One can't overshadow the other. You can be a fan of both and celebrate both. This is a big city, it can handle both."

He's right.

But admit it, Baltimore, it's a lot to handle. You're not sleeping, you're not dying, but this week, your entire sports life really is flashing before your eyes.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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