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Edelman: Major sporting events important on several levels — like bringing us all together

“That’s life, I suppose, you go along, and then … poof.”

Instead of a dead monster, Harry Potter’s Professor Slughorn may as well have been thinking about the Baltimore Ravens’ postseason. After storming through the best of the National Football League, earning the No. 1 seed in the American Football Conference, and establishing themselves as odds-on favorites to win Super Bowl LIV, the team and its Most Valuable Player candidate, Lamar Jackson, threw in their worst performance of the year. And just like that, poof! All their dreams, and all their fans’ hopes turned to dust. All those plans for a trip to Miami, poof! Superbowl parties, poof!

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By the end of the third quarter, we had gone through all five stages of grieving in just a couple of hours. “This can’t be happening! We’re down 14 to zip!” Then, “What was Harbaugh thinking with that stupid play?” Eventually, “they aren’t going to win this, are they?” And finally, “Sigh-o-nara, Ravens. It was a nice season.”

My wife commented that the people at her school were “completely bummed out” by the loss. A lot of us share those strong feelings, win or lose. When a local team makes the playoffs in any major sport, or when a local university plays in the postseason, the entire community becomes involved. People invest a lot of emotional capital in their teams. Even though it had been eight years since I’d retired from teaching at UMBC, I became a Retrievers fan when they earned a lowly number 16 seed in March Madness. You can imagine how elated I was when “my” team became the first No. 16 to knock out a No. 1 seed. Sports evoke strong emotions, and not only among fans.

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The local economy enjoys the benefits of major sports events. Let’s be honest, the Inner Harbor just isn’t that much of a midwinter tourist attraction. But put a major postseason event there, and the cash registers (or credit card readers) sing.

Hosting a game next week would have put several million dollars into local businesses. Out-of-towners would have occupied hotel rooms that would otherwise have been vacant; reservations at local restaurants would have been harder to obtain. Even more than the cash infusion, when a city hosts such an event, it gains. Baltimore stood to gain favorable publicity on national television, which in turn would have made it a more attractive destination for other events such as conferences, conventions, and more general tourism. The city would also have had a competing image for the negative publicity coming from a presidential smear last year. And a bump in Baltimore’s economic outlook has positive impact on neighboring communities — like Carroll County.

And what might be the best thing about a postseason football game in town is that for a day or two, we’re all football fans, not partisans. Somehow, we manage to be on the same side, at least until the game is over and we have a chance to celebrate our team’s victory or grumble about their defeat.

I might be more of an optimist about such things than some, but I hold the opinion that if we can find common cause in something that isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things, we can bring that same sentiment into more meaningful matters.

Partisans across the political spectrum still pledge allegiance to “one nation indivisible.” If those words still ring true, it’s time to put them into practice.

A big football game is still a game. Bridging the political divide isn’t.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com

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