Next generation of fans wants team, too


You'd have thought there was a professional football team in Baltimore.

The fans were out early, tailgating as if there was no tomorrow, which there isn't -- and as if they had just done it yesterday instead of eight years ago.

Beer-can tops popping, smoked sausage hissing, footballs flying. Blue-and-white jerseys with the Nos. 7 or 19 on them just about everywhere you looked.

Except many of these fans might have been no more than 7 when Bert Jones was wearing that number, and they might not recognize John Unitas if he hit them in the chest with a spiral.

NFL owners, meet Baltimore football fans -- the next generation.

Twenty-five bucks for a preseason game between two out-of-town teams was nothing to these twentysomethings. Not if it means they might have their own team soon.

"I love pro football," said Chris Lind, a 27-year-old sales representative from Owings Mills. "I think it would be great to be a part of a new franchise and support them from the beginning until, well, whenever."

While many among the 60,021 at Memorial Stadium last night remembered the glory days of the Baltimore Colts, there was an equal number of young, upwardly mobile pro football fans.

"I went to an occasional Colt game when I was a kid. But I'd be a season-ticket holder if we got a team," said Lind.

"I was here for a Colts game in 1981," said Scott Wilson of Sykesville, who said he was just a kid then. "It was the Steelers and I think the Steelers won."

Actually, the Steelers weren't here in 1981. But while these fans might not pass the "Diner" football test, they probably would be willing to use their Diner's Club cards on a handful of season tickets.

"We're huge football fans," said his wife, Denise, who said she was attending her first game. "I'm learning fast."

Chris Reda, a 25-year-old from Parkville who works for UPS, said he drives to Philadelphia eight times a year with his buddies to get his pro football fix.

"It is hard to root for Philadelphia," he said. "The enthusiasm just isn't there. Not the way my parents describe it. They used to sneak into games when they were kids. It's never been like that in my life.

"I want pro football like that back. And that's why I'm here. I don't care who wins or loses this game. We just want to show the world Baltimore deserves a team."

Adam Morgan and his friends from Cockeysville still qualify as teen-agers. Unitas? Raymond Berry? They want to talk about Jones and Curtis Dickey.

"I was here for the Broncos game right after John Elway signed with them. Remember? He said he wouldn't play for Irsay," said 18-year-old Eric Branger. "I remember the night they snuck out of town," said Kristin Bachran, 17.

Mocking quarterbacks and moving vans. Painful first memories, indeed, for a whole generation of Baltimore sports fans.

"I remember the losing. Our parents remember all those good times," said Morgan, 17.

He said it was the mother of his friend, Kathy Cavolo, who bought the tickets as a Christmas present for her and her friends. Kathy was just 8 when the Colts left town.

"I was so little when I came to a game here, all I remember is how cold it was. I want a pro football team I can remember now that I'm old enough."

Teri and Bob Dabis of Salisbury brought 9-year-old Patrick and 11-year-old Andrew to the game.

"We wanted the kids to see this, here at Memorial Stadium," said Teri Dabis.

"There is a certain flavor here that is missing. You can't seem to get it at a Redskins game or by going to Philadelphia," said her husband. "It is just something about Baltimore."

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