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Incredible lightness of being winners


LATE AFTERNOON on Nov. 30, those benched on the north side of the football stadium at Camden Yards were in the early stages of a rare late-autumn sunburn. They and many others in the stands or in front of their televisions also suffered from an emotional heartburn.

The Colts were in scoring territory with enough time to produce a tie that, to almost everyone in the stadium, spelled disgust and embarrassment far surpassing the sports-radio sarcasm Baltimore's football fans had been heaping upon a coach, an ineffective offense, a non-existent general manager and the first NFL franchise owner in our town since Bob Irsay. But the Colts' drive meant more than that. A touchdown by the Colts would have done deadly harm to our self-esteem and fueled a communal self-deprecation. But it didn't happen. Thousands poured from the new stadium smiling, holding hands and smacking each other on the back.

The Ravens won.

It was only a game, but it was that game. In the context of the educational issues in our city, a visiting New York artist murdered, and retreating businesses and homeowners, it meant very little. I didn't see the last drive of this game because I was pacing on the upper concourse, unable to watch. Then a purple-and-black-faced fan approached me. "The game is over; in fact, it is all over," he told me. I finally relaxed. The "it" the fan spoke of, I suspect, was not only the bottoming-out of our football self-esteem but of the death of some larger demons within us.

Americans, and those elsewhere in the world who have experienced Baltimore, look enviously at Camden Yards, the Inner Harbor, the universities of Maryland and Hopkins, residents' friendliness and accessibility, our history, neighborhoods and food. Visitors' overwhelmingly positive view of Baltimore and Maryland is, I think, justified. While they may not see a rotting school system and struggling neighborhoods, they must implicitly know that we carry the urban baggage of most cities. We, however, seem to possess a proclivity to underestimate ourselves, our assets and our ability to overcome our deficits.

When the clock ran out, the Ravens had secured a come-from-behind victory against a team that for 14 years symbolized our community's loss and defeat. That small and short-lived sports victory provided thousands of people with a rush of pride that just may be and ought to be fertilized into more productive undertakings.

Can a sporting event inspire and motivate? You betcha! The movie "Diner" illustrated how the culture of the Baltimore Colts' winning tradition translated into familial and community expectations of excellence.

Those who left the stadium after the Nov. 30 game giving high-fives to each other were celebrating much more than Ray Lewis, Jim Harbaugh and Art Modell. They celebrated the four-story SmartVision image of an older John Unitas basking in the glory of a new generation's success. More important, these people from Pigtown, Parkville, Roland Park and Highlandtown were pretty pleased with who they were, where they were from, and what they were about. In fact, these football fans -- our neighbors -- were looking a lot like Green Bay's Cheeseheads, whose pride extends far beyond Lambeau Field.

Now that we have that game under our belt, and "it is all over," we have a lot of other issues to deal with, even if we are behind at the half on some of them.

John A. Moag Jr. is chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority.

Pub Date: 12/09/98

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