Lust was the current that ran our years-long infatuation with NFL expansion. Lust for another home team. Lust for another experience as joyful as the Orioles playing in Camden Yards. Lust for a reconjuring of our vivid football memories.
So powerful was the lust that, even in the final hours yesterday, after a process as demeaning as any ever perpetrated by a pro sports league, we still wanted their ball. Their suffocatingly arrogant ball.
Today, after another jilting, this time in favor of a minor-league town that once tried to steal the Colts, I feel safe in speaking for an entire angry city: We don't want it anymore. The lust is gone.
They can have their ball.
Go get someone else's team? In anger, I suggested that course a month ago in Chicago. Sorry, but today I can't summon even a single palpitation of the heart over such a possibility. The expansion process has been that distasteful in the end, that off-putting.
Do you really want the slipshod, institutionally mediocre NFL of Paul Tagliabue? Do you really want a team? I'm sorry, I'm not sure I do anymore. And I know I'm not alone.
Understand what has happened here, people. Recognize it when you have been taken. The NFL has used us, abused us, skinned us for all we were worth. They never wanted us. Our hopes were their charade.
There was never a reason for us to set even a single toe into the expansion pool. It didn't matter who owned our team, what our lease said, how perfect our new stadium would be. The league wanted "growth markets." We weren't one.
Meanwhile, the owners are going to make millions off our involvement. We were the ones who upped the per-game payout to more than $1 million a game. We were the ones whose sound, stable presence made Charlotte nervous enough to give up extra millions in early October.
Each of the owners stands to make millions because we sought a team. Yet we never had a chance. Wrong market, wrong location. We were, simply, an earning device for the 28 owners.
So, do you still want one of their teams? Do you start to see why I feel like I do? You should only take so much before rebelling.
Back in early October, when we were driving hard, it was easy to get caught up in the moment. Easy to close your eyes and remember what it was like on all those wonderful, emotional Sundays at Memorial Stadium. Easy to want it back.
But the problem with emotion, as any formerly lovestruck teen-ager can tell you, is that it sometimes clouds reality. Such was the case here. Our emotions wanted those shared Sundays back. The reality was that, sadly, that kind of experience no longer exists. If the expansion endgame has succeeded at anything, it has been at driving that point home.
NFL football is a shark pool today. It isn't a soulful, hands-on joy for an entire community to share, not often at least. It's a sterile, vicious game played on carpets and in boardrooms. Big money has pretty much ruined it. The owners price everyone but the rich out of the stadiums. The players take steroids to earn bigger contracts. Many of the games are low-scoring nap-inducers.
They can have it.
There will be another round of expansion in a few years (the owners made too much money this time), but we're fools if we do anything other than scoff. That round is for Mexico City and Toronto. Sure, we'll have a shot -- if we move to London.
And, of course, in the coming months there will be much talk about teams such as the Rams or Patriots moving here. It's tempting stuff, but understand something: We're just their leverage. They don't want to move. And they won't. I'll bet you.
There was a day, not too long ago, that such a bleak football forecast would have cast a pall over the city. But why is there such relief today? Why did so many people just shrug and continue to go about their business yesterday?
Because we've been made to look foolish, and we're just glad it's over. Because the NFL, led by Tagliabue, has skinned us, and who wants that? Because the NFL owners make the baseball owners look like charitable uncles. Who wants to be in business with such deceitful, avaricious jerks?
It's just not worth it.
So, what do we do now? Well, there's only one choice. We'll just take our little jewel of a ballpark, and our 3.6 million fans, and our contending team in the city of the baseball monster, and we'll keep on doing what we've been doing for the last decade: Throwing one hell of a summer-long party.
It's enough for me.
As a matter of fact, as the first day of December dawns, I find that I can't wait for that warm touchstone of our ongoing sports lives: The first pitch. It can't come soon enough.