Football practice was over, and 9-year-old Norman Stumpf broke into a joyful sprint, helmet in tow.
"He's our halfback," his father said, smiling.
This was last Friday night at Brooklyn Park Middle School. The autumn air was crisp. Spalding was playing Friends on the upper field. The Baltimore skyline sparkled in the distance.
The NFL owners should have seen it.
A football night in a football city.
"To this point, the best I can do is take my son to a high school game," the elder Norm Stumpf was saying. "I'm not able to do for him what my father did for me."
On this day of reckoning, a day nine years in coming, a day that will decide Baltimore's NFL future, Norm Stumpf speaks for thousands of former Colts fans.
In the end, the expansion derby isn't about club seats and luxury boxes, sold-out preseason games and glitzy PR campaigns. It's about the simple desire of a father to revive his family's Sunday tradition -- about people, not process.
"My father's been going since '56," Norm Stumpf says, as if there's still a home game every Sunday. His mother still keeps an autographed picture of John Unitas hanging in her den. "Been there forever," Norm says.
Norm Stumpf is 37 now, a supervisor in a general-contracting firm co-owned by his father. He coaches his son's 75-pound Little League team. He watches NFL games at the Curtis Bay Athletic Club. And he remembers what it was like when Baltimore was a football town.
It was a family thing, see? On football Sundays, the Stumpfs always went to church early. At least twice a season, Dad secured extra tickets, and Norm and his younger brother Mark tagged along.
Otherwise, the boys sat at the kitchen table, listening to the game on the radio with their mother. "We wouldn't watch another game," Norm says. "That's all it was in my family. There was no other team."
It is different, of course, now that Norm has his own family. Little Norm is the oldest of his three children, and the only boy. His father hates the Redskins. Needless to say, he has never been to an NFL game.
"He also hates the Redskins," Norm the elder says proudly of his son. "He knows about the Bombers. He knows this week might be the week we get a team. He asks me all the time about how it was going out with Pops -- that's what he calls his grandfather."
How was it?
Norm can remember tailgating as a youngster, "hanging around the older guys, listening to 'em tell stories. It wasn't a Colt Corral thing, but it could have been. They were fanatics."
Then, when Norm was in 11th grade, the Curtis Bay Athletic Club purchased about 40 season tickets, and his father bought in, and the brothers began going more regularly. "I'd rather have had that," Norm says, "than a car."
How was it?
Well, remember the famous overtime victory against Miami in 1975? Norm was down on the field with his buddies afterward, tearing foam rubber off the goal posts.
Later, after a long night of celebration, the Brooklyn Park boys were driving home from a friend's house when they were stopped by a police officer.
"I really honestly believe we got out of it because we said, 'Look, we were at the football game, we've even got a piece of the goal post,' " Norm says. "Somebody crawled up from the back seat and the cop said, 'OK, you can drive home.' "
Things are so different now, so quiet. Mark adopted the Dolphins after the Colts left, but not Norm. Together, they've attended the past six Super Bowls. But where's the fun, without a home team?
"Sundays are still big at the club, but it's nowhere near the same," Norm says. "Nobody cares. Nobody has anybody to root for. We're all football fans, but nobody gives a damn who wins or loses."
Yet, even if Baltimore gets a team, Norm isn't sure he can afford season tickets, which should average about $330 for two preseason and eight regular-season games. The new stadiums are for making money, not family outings.
"I hope, financially, they'll let the average working guy go," he says. "I read the papers, it's almost scary. We sat in section 12, on the 40-yard line -- some of the best seats in the stadium. I can't imagine what those seats are going to cost."
But that's a worry for another time -- a pleasant worry, all things considered. Sunday nights, Norm sits at home with his son and watches ESPN highlights.
"How come the Colts had to leave?" Little Norm asks. "Are we going to get a team?"
Norm Stumpf is tired of explaining.
He just wants to take his son to a game.