The Colts won the AFC Championship. They’re going to the Super Bowl.
The Colts are going to the Super Bowl.
This is fucking awful. Goddamn it.
I remember, when I was 7, watching TV one snowy night. Like most snowy nights, even in the city it was exceedingly dark. I don’t, however, remember it being quiet as were most snowstorms. I don’t remember what was on TV when the news broke in with the footage of the Colts leaving town. I didn’t get it; how could a football team leave town? They were the _Baltimore Colts_. This was the team I saw on TV and billboards and whose memorabilia was in my friends’ parents’ dens. Sports teams were supposed to be permanent.
But the Colts left. That was strange. That was confusing. Sure, it could have been worse — The O’s were hot, with dominating pitchers like Jim Palmer and second-year player Cal Ripken, who was — get this — a _big shortstop who could hit for power_. Crazy. And we loved our Orioles more than we loved our Colts. This was not least because the Irsays, who owned the Colts then and now, instituted planned programs to destroy fan support for the team, such as charging players for autographs they gave fans; players, of course, signed fewer autographs. And, of course, the only remotely good QB the Irsays had managed to get on the team was Art Schlicter, who was himself a disaster. The Colts were by no measure a well-run team.
Of course, Baltimore was by no measure a well-run city. By ’82, most of the White people had left town and moved 5-7 miles in order to live in the suburbs and not have to pay school taxes for Negroes. Crime was rampant. Bethlehem Steel downtown was shutting down. We were an abandoned, rusting industrial center, and everyone made sure we knew it. “You live in _the City_?” my friends would ask, credulous even though we went to a private school in the City together. It was like I lived in some ghetto.
I was seven, and it didn’t make sense to me that people would disrespect my hometown. We had two “great”:http://www.thewalters.org/ “museums”:http://artbma.org/home.html/. We had one of the “first free public libraries in the country”:http://www.epfl.net/info/history/. We had a “top orchestra”:http://www.baltimoresymphony.org/, led by “one of the best conductors in the world”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergiu_Comissiona. We had “one of the country’s leading universities”:http://jhu.edu. What was possibly wrong with Baltimore?
All of the parents I knew who stayed in the City loved the place, thought it was a good home. I know my parents did. But I could feel what the adults thought about the Colts’ departure — that it was some sort of statement that the doubters were right, that Baltimore was a dead city. Not good enough for a pro football team, that’s what we were.
We loved and missed our Colts. The Baltimore Colts marching band — a private association not run by the team — stayed together through my whole youth, performing at all sorts of events around the city. That kept the flame alive, and everyone I knew hated the dastardly Colts. Later, when the Orioles became crappy and lost the first 21 games of the 1988 season, we were reminded how big a hole the Colts’ departure left and how much it appeared our city sucked.
During my senior year of High School, the NFL decided to add two more teams; the leading competitors to get a team were St. Louis, who had lost their Cardinals to Arizona, Baltimore, and Carolina, a football-mad part of the country with no team for hundreds of miles. It was generally agreed that Carolina would get one team, and that the other would go to St. Louis or Baltimore; all of us Baltimorons agreed that, while we hoped we won, St. Louis was also deserving and we could live with them getting a team. When the Rams moved to St. Louis, it looked like Charm City could welcome its new franchise.
Imagine our shock then when Jacksonville — whose ownership group appeared to actually be broke — got a team. Again, the powers had spoken: Baltimore wasn’t a real city. We weren’t good enough.
Well, screw you, we said, we’ll just get a Canadian Football League team. And we did! They were called the Baltimore CFL Team, because there was only one appropriate name for them and they weren’t legally allowed to be called that. However, before each game, the announcer would welcome “your hometown Baltimore… Football Team,” with a big pause between “Baltimore” and “Football,” during which the whole stadium would yell “Colts.” The CFL Team’s owners even tried to buy the Colts name off the Irsays, but they wouldn’t sell even though Colts merchandise was, at the time, dead last in sales of all NFL teams. That was a serious fuck you.
The CFL team left when the NFL Browns moved to our city. Sort of an instance of two wrongs maybe sometimes make a right, I don’t think Baltimorons would’ve accepted the Ravens-né-Browns if Cleveland hadn’t been guaranteed a new franchise, also named the Browns, which kept all of the Browns’ old records, which was fine with us because we only wanted the Colts’ old records, which they wouldn’t let us do but which was also fine with us because all of the old Colts’ stars supported the Ravens and disowned the Indianapolis fucking Colts those heartless bastards.
Of course, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, and in the 1996 ALCS MLB umpires decided Baltimore wasn’t good enough to make it to the World Series and so let that punk-ass kid Jeffrey Maier reach into the field of play and grab Derek Jeter’s easy out seconds before Tony Tarasco, who was standing there waiting for the ball, could get it. It should’ve been an out by interference but instead was a home run. Sure it was only the deciding play in Game 1 but the Orioles knew it was a statement that they, like all Baltimorons, just weren’t good enough in the eyes of the rest of the country so they folded like a tent in a windstorm. It was just another reminder.
At least the Ravens won a Super Bowl before the Colts did. And Bob Irsay died painfully and slowly, if I remember correctly. That was also an upside. But last week I had to watch my Ravens lose to the Colts at home in the playoffs in one of the most-hyped games ever in the city. Our great white hope was Tom Brady and his New England Patriots; although an out-of-towner rooting for the Pats is only slightly better than an out-of-towner rooting for the Yankees, there was really only one way I could root in today’s late game.
And the Pats lost in the last two minutes. And the Colts are in the Super Bowl. If Evil Rex shows up for da Bears, that’s a sure Lombardi Trophy for the hated Colts. And, let’s face it, if the super-clutch Pats can’t beat the Colts, it’ll take a lot more than Good Rex to beat them in Miami.
Now I know why my mother, who’s from Brooklyn, never reads the sports pages. Sorry, Mom, for that one time I wore that Dodgers hat. Someday, when I’m President, I’ll outlaw Indianapolis, raze it to the ground, and scatter salt over its lands. And Peyton Manning? I hope you step in front of a bus.
fn1. That’s not a typo, that’s how they write it. I’m not entirely against apostrophes in single-letter plurals, although I can’t say I think they’re right, either.
fn2. Seriously, back then pretty much every shortstop was like David Eckstein.
fn3. Pronounced “Aryuls”
fn4. Years before Eli Manning was drafted by, and thenrefused to play for, the Chargers, John Elway was drafted by, and then refused to play for, the Colts.
fn5. And I did, if ghettos are filled with retirees and the occasional college professor or young doctor, and have cherry trees whose pink blossoms coat the sidewalk after spring thunderstorms. Actually, the latter does occur in Baltimore ghettoes. And, in fairness, I did live close enough to the ghetto that you could run there carrying a TV. You’d run east if you were Black, and west if you were White.
fn6. And what kind of a little nerd must I have been to know all these things?
fn7. Except for Ben, whose family moved to Baltimore sometime while I was in high school. He once wore a Colts hat to school, and was told by several people that his fashion choice was “dangerous.”
fn8. My hometown’s nickname, somewhat contradicted by the common saying that Baltimore “has all the charm of the North and all the efficiency of the South.”
fn10. I’m comfortable with going to hell for that thought. I’ll see ol’ Bob there.
fn11. It was cap night, and it was free, and I didn’t have any other baseball caps. I’d throw it away now except I have an unnatural attachment to objects and a consequent unwillingness to throw away something which did nothing to deserve such a fate.