When men stand up to be counted, even if the votes are stacked against them, it suggests old-fashioned values. . . such basic qualities as loyalty-to-a-purpose, credibility and respect. Unfortunately, the ruthless National Football League, especially its commissioner, has a difficult time recognizing those characteristics.
It's this prevailing condition that has allowed Norman Braman, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, to emerge as a new folk hero in Baltimore. The fact remains Braman was the lone voice going down with the ship. He held on and supported Baltimore to the bitter end during the unsavory expansion process.
"I understand the sentiment in Baltimore," he said. "Let me emphasize there was no spite or malice on the part of the owners. The major mistake was they haven't been to Baltimore to see the city from the perspective I have and to view the extraordinary renaissance."
But the NFL didn't want members of its expansion committee to visit any of the cities. Braman admits, and he's right, that if a tour had been arranged, it had the potential of what he called a "three-way circus." The Braman attraction to Baltimore just didn't happen.
"I used to go there in high school when Philadelphia had the blue laws and there wasn't much you could do on Sunday," he recalled. "Baltimore has always been a place where you could have a good time. What happened with the harbor redevelopment has been fantastic. It's talked about all over the country, even around the world.
"I think the governor, mayor, Matt DeVito and Herb Belgrad, just all of them, made an exceptional presentation. Tell everyone in Baltimore to hold their heads high. I'm a philosophical person. I'm fond of saying, 'You can't put ketchup back in the bottle.' So forget, just for a moment, the great history of the Colts in Baltimore, and what happened in that sorry episode of 1984 when the team left. Baltimore, bottom line, deserves to be in the league without even considering any of those other elements."
Too bad that others -- mainly commissioner Paul Tagliabue -- aren't in accord. It's Braman's belief Baltimore eventually will have an NFL club. He isn't about to delineate how it might happen but, suggesting an impression of total confidence, predicted, "I think it'll come about in the next couple of years."
Braman's relationship with Baltimore goes back to his years of living in Philadelphia and Lebanon, Pa., attending Temple University and making frequent trips to Baltimore and its Chesapeake Restaurant. "One of my good friends married a girl from Baltimore," he said. "I've seen over the years what happened in the city, why it's a model for urban renewal. $H Because of a solid partnership between the city, state and business community it has turned around urban decay. Baltimore would have been a plus for the NFL.
"I felt terrible when the Colts left. I was living in Florida, but I read all about it and kept hearing the story. Baltimore did nothing to warrant losing its team. I see the Colts' Band at the Preakness every year and it has certainly kept the flame burning."
Talk that Braman might sell the Eagles, buy the New England Patriots and move them to Baltimore is dispelled. He was to be serenaded by the Baltimore Colts' Band last Sunday when the Eagles played the New Orleans Saints in Philadelphia but icy roads prevented the group from going there.
Other recognition awaits Braman in Baltimore. The Ed Block Courage Awards Foundation, which stages one of the outstanding pro football banquets in the country, has invited him to be one of its leading recipients March 8 at Martin's West. Sam Lamantia, director of the Courage Awards' fund-raising effort, said, "We hope Mr. Braman accepts. He has been our devoted booster through all of this and we in Baltimore feel extremely close to him."
Incidentally, the Block banquet, which has been instrumental in raising over $2 million in behalf of abused children, has been sold out for two months. Braman, if his schedule permits, will be here to hear the cheers that will emanate from the capacity audience.
There are cynics who say Braman had an ulterior motive. What he desired was a team in Baltimore so once-great NFL rivalries with Philadelphia, Washington, New York and Pittsburgh could be revived. Norman Braman, the record shows, is one of the best friends Baltimore ever had.