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I LOVE YOU, MAN

The Baltimore Sun

Admit it. Even though you're a red-blooded, heterosexual male, you can't help idolizing Ray Lewis. Those massive shoulders. The seven percent body fat. The thrilling splat sound when he puts a monster hit on an opposing running back.

That, my friend, is a man crush.

With the NFL playoffs starting this weekend, the country enters prime man-crush season. Not that it's anything your girlfriend would object to, except for the part about sitting in front of the TV for four hours every time a game is on. Even she says Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is "really cute."

As Patchen Mortimer, 29, a Baltimore advertising copywriter and DJ, says about his man crushes, "I don't want to sleep with them. I just want to have a beer with them and have them like me."

His man crushes are Kai Ryssdal, the host of the nationally syndicated radio program Marketplace, and David Brown, the former host. He admires them for "their intelligence and conversationality. They can discourse on any level. As a professional, they are people to model my behavior off of."

Different strokes for different folks.

When Mike Myers presented the 34th annual American Film Institute Life Achievement Award to Sean Connery, according to the Los Angeles Times, he told the crowd, "You, Mr. Connery, were my Dad's hero because you are a man's man. And I admit I have a man crush."

Later, after showing photos of Connery when he came in third in the Mr. Universe contest in 1953, Myers added, "My man crush deepens."

Myers may have been kidding just a little bit, even if the admiration was real. There are only two kinds of men that heterosexual men can express affection for and know it's safe, say Geoffrey Greif, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work and author of The Buddy System: Men and Their Male Friendships, to be published this summer.

The first is war heroes. The second is sports figures.

It all gets back to Ray-Ray and Brady, doesn't it?

Of course, football isn't the only game in town. David Schwarz, vice president of communications for Spike TV, defines a man crush as "an incredible sense of envy. We want to be that guy."

The No. 1 show on Spike TV is The Ultimate Fighting Championships, and people at the cable channel get to hang with some of the fighters every once in awhile.

"It makes us feel good to be with the baddest guys around," says Schwarz. "If Chuck [Liddell, former Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight champion] says, 'Get me a beer,' I say, 'Yeah, man, glad to.' The toughest thing we've ever done around here is send a nasty e-mail."

You have to have a lot of self-confidence in your manliness to own up to a man crush, even in this day and age. One guy approached for this article refused to be interviewed because he saw what happened to a friend who admitted to a Ray Lewis man crush in a Baltimore magazine "Hot Singles" article. After it appeared, he was teased unmercifully.

It's OK to yell "Ray baby, I love you" in the heat of the game. Later, in print, not so much.

Sad to say, the term is used more often to embarrass another dude than to express admiration and affection for another man in an open, manly way. Take the Mike & Mike in the Morning show on ESPN radio. Mike Golic simply doesn't let up about Mike Greenberg's man crush on New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington.

And it's not just sports figures. The magazine The American Prospect published an article on its Web site entitled, "The Man-Crush Primary: Why are so many pundits enamored of the Republican candidates' manliness -- and so eager to equate 'presidential' with 'masculine'?"

Take men seriously

Naturally, any concept whose time has come will generate its own Web site. So it is that guys (and only guys) can now rank their man crushes at Mancrush.com.

"People take their men very seriously," says Eric Vecchione, 24, co-founder of the site with Sam Graefe. "They get very testy. I'm surprised at the vehemence of the e-mails we get."

Registered users of the site get to vote on the men -- living, dead, and fictional -- they most admire, discuss them in live chats and even buy products at the Mancrush store.

Vecchione says his own man crushes are John Adams and Ernest Hemingway, although, he adds, "I'm aspiring to be someone else's man crush."

At this point, the man-crush phenomenon has been analyzed, scrutinized, chewed over, kicked around, investigated and, of course, has an entry in the Urban Dictionary. Paul Levinson, a professor of media and popular culture at Fordham University, thinks it all goes back to the late '60s, when it first became OK -- and even cool -- for a man to express his feelings.

"Until then the ideal man was tough, macho. Men didn't cry," says Levinson, who blogs at infiniteregress.tv. "It was the beginning of a pretty profound evolution in pop culture."

"Still, it's a long way off from being [universally] acceptable," he says about one man admitting that he has a crush on another man. The word "crush" has a juvenile quality. It makes you think of a gaggle of 'tween girls whispering about, like, the cutest boys on the CW show Gossip Girl. The phrase "man crush," points out Levinson, is attractive precisely because of this oxymoronic quality.

The reciprocal crush

While Levinson says he would never use "crush" to describe his feelings, when pressed he does mention Dan Vassar, the character played by actor Kevin McKidd on NBC's recently canceled Journeyman, and Sean Connery.

In fact, Connery's name comes up frequently in man-crush discussions. Matt Schnugg, 24, who writes the content for Mancrush.com, thinks it all started with James Bond: "Men wanted to be like him, and women wanted to be with him."

Schnugg says his No. 1 candidate is Johnny Depp. "I'm absolutely crushed because of his body of work and because he's anti-establishment. His appeal goes beyond attracting women."

He answers questions on the Web site under the pseudonym "Artful Dodger" about such subjects as can two guys have a crush on each other, or is it a form of admiration where one is on a pedestal?

"I'm sure my parents would be proud that I've become an expert on the subject," Schnugg says.

According to the Urban Dictionary, two guys can have a crush on each other. One of the top definitions is "a man who has a crush on another man without sexual attraction."

An example of this locally would be Lasse Mertins, who was married this August to Rachel Urban in Linthicum.

The bride and groom put together a romantic slideshow for their rehearsal dinner, but neither knew which photos the other was contributing.

One of Mertins' pictures showed a close family friend planting a big smooch on his cheek. Mertins explained he wanted to make sure his bride knew about their "strong feelings of man crush."

OK, maybe the groom's contribution wasn't totally serious.

elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

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