Could city handle another NFL loss? Psychologist says mood swing possible


How much will it hurt if Baltimore -- with its rising murder rate, crumbling infrastructure and other big-city problems -- ends up a bridesmaid in the great NFL franchise contest?

Can a whole city feel depressed or suicidal?

Just ask Philadelphia and its Phillies fans, said James P. McGee, director of psychology at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital.

"Yes, a whole city can get depressed, at least the fans," said McGee, who also has been a psychologist for the Orioles and the Washington Capitals. "I do feel if you're not a fan, you're probably going to be somewhat indifferent. The fans are more likely to see broader implications."

But the fans' feelings may affect others, according to a recent study that suggests moods are contagious. McGee said you see this phenomenon in a household where a disappointed fan becomes so angry or disconsolate that spouse and children tiptoe around in terror.

Sports aren't the only thing that affect a city's psyche. Towns in South Carolina and Tennessee were bitterly disappointed this fall to lose a sought-after Mercedes-Benz plant to Alabama. Proposed military base closings have sent entire states into shock.

Meanwhile, some cities are enjoying the elation that comes with winning. Philadelphia's funereal mood is Toronto's joy, as the city celebrates the world champion Blue Jays. The Braves may have lost in the National League playoffs, but Atlantans are still giddy over the 1996 Olympics.

Yet some Baltimoreans seem reluctant even to contemplate a happy ending.

"It's politics, all politics," moaned Betty Loomis of Ellicott City, who along with her husband, Robert, once had Colts season tickets. "I think we deserve it, but we're not going to get it. They ought to sue the pants off them [the owners] if we don't."

Gina Anderson, an accountant at Legg Mason, is similarly pessimistic, but she prefers conspiracy theories.

"I think they purposely made the decision not to give Baltimore the team," she said of the owners.

Her colleague, Larry McCormack, agreed: "Charlotte is booming, you'd want to go there. I don't see why anyone would want to put a team in Baltimore. We're not going anywhere."

Three IBM workers, enjoying a pizza lunch in The Gallery at Harborplace, were sharply divided over Baltimore's chances. Dan Heigl, an optimist with a passion for the Buffalo Bills, is ready to buy season tickets. Bob Merkle, a self-described realist, said the city can always look for a team to steal.

And Larry Booth, the cynic in the group, said all he cares about is not spending any more public money on sports teams: "I keep looking in my checking account for that money they said we were going to get from the Orioles."

But all three agreed that Baltimore will be crushed if it doesn't get a team. "It's a big little town," Merkle said. "And big little towns like these need sports teams."

McGee has these words of comfort if Baltimore does lose: It won't be a referendum on the city, or its crime rate, or its school system, or its residents. It will simply be a financial decision made by 28 people intent on making the most money they can.

"We could have the worst violent crime in this galaxy, but if you could put the butts in the seats and get the TV revenue where they want it to be, we'd get the team," he said.

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