Bombers fans drown their sorrows


The enemy was in the house. Three accountants from Charlotte, N.C., employed by the North Carolina Department of Revenue, preparing to celebrate at Balls, a sports bar in downtown Baltimore.

Sitting at the next table, Chris Ergott was not impressed. Ergott was wearing her blue Colts Corral jacket and a black Baltimore Bombers T-shirt. Chris is a secretary for a federal judge. She was threatening to throw the enemy in jail.

"The marshal's lockup will be open all night," she said. "We'll take in the Charlotte people to be thrown into the magistrate's jail. We'll sentence them under federal guidelines. We won't even give them parole."

Chris was not smiling, and neither were any of the five other members from Corral No. 15. Shirley Norman pointed to Chris' husband, Butch, and said, "This guy'll jump in the harbor if it isn't good news."

The news wasn't good. After dragging out its decision, the NFL owners unanimously accepted Charlotte as one expansion franchise but delayed until Nov. 30 its decision on the second team -- expected to be either St. Louis or Baltimore.

The sign outside Balls said, "Football Vigil -- $1 drafts all day . . . if we get a team, free domestic draughts all night."

Alas, every beer was paid for.

It was a bizarre crowd -- the die-hards from Corral No. 15, the accountants from Charlotte, two prison guards from Ocean City, two members of the Baltimore Colts' Band, four television crews, a few dozen others guzzling dollar beer.

At one point, one of the prison guards asked a radio reporter for the scoop.

"The Berlin wall just went back up," the reporter said.

"Where the hell's that?" the guard shot back.

Yes, enlightened self-interest was the order of the day. The two members of the Colts' Band, saxophonist Jill Phillips and clarinetist Diane Bockmiller, were rooting hard for an expansion franchise.

"New uniforms," said Jill, a maintenance worker at Camden Yards. "If you've ever seen them, you'd know why. We've been in the same uniforms since the late '70s -- bell-bottoms, fringe, collars out to yonder."

Speaking of fashion, local T-shirt designer Dirk Sternad was in the crowd, selling Bombers T-shirts and giving away Ravens T-shirts. The backs of both shirts are the same -- a bull's eye over Bob Irsay's forehead, with the inscription, "Ground Zero."

Clever guy, that Sternad. If Baltimore never gets a team, he can design a third shirt -- again without changing the back. Heck, Irsay is such a worthy target, the design will work even if the Bombers fly.

At one point, Sternad found himself chatting with Spencer Barnes, the chattiest of the Charlotte accountants. Indeed, he was so chatty, he became something of a media star, taping one segment after another.

What was he doing here? Auditing Baltimore companies that operate in North Carolina -- harassing our local businessmen! Actually, he claimed to be rooting for Baltimore and Charlotte. Likely story.

"I'm a longtime Colts fan -- before Irsay, let's put it that way," Barnes said. "My college roommate at Carolina was from Baltimore, and I had a great affinity for the Colts over the years."

Barnes was hanging with his Charlotte buddies, Jeff Sugg and Ben Barbour. The accountants were making their second straight appearance at Balls. "We came in last night, and the guys were giving us a hard time," Barnes said. "We figured we'd come back tonight and see how it went." It went . . . and went . . . and went.

"It's been a real hard day," said Ed Norman, an accountant from Catonsville and a member of Corral No. 15. "I was listening to the radio. I heard St. Louis got new people, with more money than God. I've been nervous all day."

Ed's mom, Shirley, stopped at St. Alfonsus Church on Saratoga Street before coming to Balls. "I lit a candle 10 feet high," she said proudly. Bless you, Shirley: It's always wise to visit a house of worship before the local watering hole.

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