Call 'em the Baltimore Revenge. Make the name count for something. Make it stand for all those cities, Baltimore and Cleveland and all the others with football teams snatched away for reasons relating to money and arrogance when love and loyalty were supposed to have counted for something.
Baltimore Browns? Come on, call 'em The Revenge and make those low-lifes, the Irsays and the Tagliabues and the Cookes, read the name in the newspapers the rest of their miserable lives and be reminded of what they've brought to a business that once claimed to have some honor.
"Baltimore Browns," Gov. Parris Glendening said yesterday, taking bows for the pillaging of Cleveland, on a day that made Baltimore think of Mayflower moving vans and Indianapolis instead of season tickets and touchdowns.
Baltimore Browns? Come on, Baltimore Revenge stands for something. It tells the National Football League: You want to take from us, we've now taken from you. You want to remove the legacy of Unitas and Moore and Gino, and Loudy and the everlasting Baltimore Colt Band and the world's largest outdoor insane asylum? OK, then this is what you've brought upon yourselves 11 years later: Revenge.
Baltimore Browns? Forget it. Browns is a name that obviously stands for nothing. Once, it stood for Jim Brown thundering across a line of scrimmage, and Otto Graham picking apart a secondary, and it stood for 70,000 half-frozen people filling up a rickety ballpark every Sunday, and no matter that icy wind whipping off Lake Erie because their football team, these Browns, these Kellys and Grozas and Motleys, they were theirs the way Baltimore once embraced its Colts, they belonged to the community that gave birth to them.
Remember when communities gave birth to teams, instead of merely stealing them? You can call it what you will, proclaim that the citizens of Baltimore had nothing to do with this pilfering, tell the world that the details were kept from us, that we were as blind-sided by this business deal as we were by the Colts leaving.
It's all absolutely true, and it doesn't exactly matter. We're all part of the same business now, so if Art Modell and Alfred Lerner are waiting for us to do handstands, they need to understand that every city in America has figured out the con now. In the places like Los Angeles and Oakland, and in nervous New England and Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, too, the rules of the game as originally dictated in the Colts-to-Indianapolis move are now writ large for everyone to see: loyalty means nothing; money is all.
How is this different from the theft of the Colts? "It isn't," laughed an exultant William Donald Schaefer. He was giving a glib, shorthand answer, but the words touch a nerve. "I feel very sorry for Cleveland," Schaefer added. "They've been hit in the mouth. But this is the way the game is played."
It is now, and the NFL brought it on itself. But it doesn't make us feel much better about it.
"You wouldn't be a decent person if you didn't feel bad for the people of Cleveland," said state Sen. John Pica.
"I have a very profound feeling of guilt over this," said City Councilman Tony Ambridge.
"Our elation is accompanied by pain that we know so well," acknowledged John Moag, the Maryland Stadium Authority chairman, who is most responsible for cutting the deal with Art Modell.
"I know we're not unmindful of the hurt of Cleveland," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. "We share that legacy, and hope Cleveland gets a team."
A few feet from the mayor, Art Modell heard the words. He had his face partially hidden behind folded hands, and his body was bent forward so that he was nearly in a protective crouch.
"A very tough road for my family and me," Modell said.
Well, guess what, Art? We're all partners in pain and hypocrisy now.
For a community that spent 11 years groveling and begging for a football team to love, we suddenly find ourselves in the awkward position of a bridegroom at the altar in which the marriage was arranged while we were making other plans. We wanted love, yes, but who is this new mate? And why didn't anybody tell us we'd be stealing her away from her family, which still loves her the way they have for nearly half a century?
Yeah, it'll be nice to have football again. But it feels like somebody else's football. It's not a move to Baltimore, it's just a move to luxury boxes and $1,000 tabs to buy licenses for the right to buy season tickets. It's a cash deal, no heart involved.
And if they're doing this to Cleveland now, then they've learned nothing from Bob Irsay and Baltimore. The romance is over. The Revenge has arrived. Football may be back, but they haven't even kicked off yet and everybody's hands are already feeling dirty.