City's streets do not lead to NFL's elite club


In the movie "Diner," there's a scene where the characters Boogie and Fenwick drive to a sunlit place that looks like Green Spring Valley, where they spot a rich young lady riding her very own horse.

"You ever get the feeling," Fenwick says, "that there's a whole world we don't know about?"

At the Senator Theatre on the night "Diner" opened, the real-life Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass watched that moment -- the rich girl on her horse, the lush valley, the character on the screen bearing his identity -- and turned to a guy sitting next to him.

"That can't be me," he said. "I was never north of Belvedere Avenue in my life."

Understand what he was saying: This wasn't the man of wealth talking; it was the street urchin from Baker Street below North Avenue, the desperate teen-ager from Violet Avenue off lower Park Heights. It was a man successful beyond his dreams declaring that he still remembered the boy written off by the rest of the world, a man with homes in three different states recalling a time when he never even imagined a world beyond the city limits.

The other day, when the governor of Maryland endorsed someone from Cleveland to own a Baltimore football team, Boogie Weinglass publicly exploded. One of his minority partners, John Paterakis, did the same.

Paterakis, a graduate of the streets of East Baltimore, threatened that if his money wasn't good enough for football, maybe it wasn't good enough for city projects, either. Weinglass angrily announced he'd been fouled and yesterday ran a full-page advertisement in this newspaper which read like a fighter down on points who's trying to throw a knockout punch.

Both men were reacting from the same instinct, something for the shrinks to think about, which reflects not only Boogie Weinglass and John Paterakis, but also this city and its notions about itself.

It's about validation. It's about all the money in the world, all the effort and emotion of the last two years, all the good will created in business and charity still not qualifying certain people, those like Boogie and Paterakis, to enter the elite men's club of professional football.

The men's club is still somewhere out there, somewhere beyond Belvedere Avenue.

And the richness of this city's football history: Same thing. It's no longer valid. Whatever happened long ago with the Colts, whatever giant steps the city has taken to make itself a big league player among municipalities, we are still judged as some backwater burg unqualified to re-enter the world we helped build.

Can anyone still remember? A long time ago, when the Colts won their first NFL championship, it wasn't just the title itself. It was that we'd beaten New York. It was that out-of-town people who never even thought of Baltimore's existence now considered us wonderful, and people who lived here could bask in that glow.

And so, attempting to restore our sense of validation, our sense of being big league, in order to squash our underlying municipal inferiority complex -- in other words, to get a football team -- the governor of Maryland now embraces his vision of true class.

A guy from Cleveland.

Let's get something straight here: A football team is just a football team. It does not define us as a big league city, which is a thing that comes from the people who actually sink roots here, and believe in each other, and make something of the community.

"This made me feel like an outsider," Boogie Weinglass was saying yesterday of Schaefer's endorsement of Cleveland's Alfred Lerner.

"For somebody to do this, it's like they'd sell out their own mother."

Maybe Lerner will bring us a football team, and maybe he won't. But what's lost is already lost: a sense that this really was a singular community effort.

When Weinglass got the news declaring him a loser, he looked at all the authority figures in the room and said:

"I grew up on Baker Street below North Avenue, and guys did a lot of things to stay alive. It was tough down there. But I'll tell you, there was more honesty in that neighborhood than in this whole NFL process."

That was the street fighter talking, not the millionaire. And it was the man who once saw a character named Boogie in a movie about Baltimore, and still remembered how it feels to be an outsider.

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