Football ties that bind

Few annual events trigger over-the-top saturation media coverage like the Super Bowl, and No. XLVII has once again demonstrated its curious effects. When so much is said, written and broadcast about deer antler spray, you know you have either gone down the rabbit hole, inside the local hunting supply store or possibly into the French Quarter after a particularly bad bender.

Our favorite moments of high absurdity, however, have been reserved for the endless explorations of the Harbaugh family and any possible signs of sibling rivalry between brothers John and Jim. We won't linger on the obvious, but it's no surprise that the "Har-Bowl" or any of the other variations on the theme drew attention.


Never before have two NFL teams meeting in the Super Bowl (or the championship of any other major American team sport) been coached by brothers, and the Ravens' John Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers' Jim Harbaugh even have one inter-family game under their belts — the 16-6 Thanksgiving Day Ravens win in 2011 that cemented elder brother John's perch in the family pecking order.

Suffice to say that after all is said and done — from John's infamous player bear-hugs to Jim's purloining of a family catchphrase that John deemed too corny for the NFL ("Who's got it better than us? Nooooo-body") — Baltimoreans know two things for certain: first, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh raised a tight-knit family that will not be undone by one over-hyped game; and second, Charm City definitely ended up with the nicer guy.


All of which is to observe that the notion of a family torn by sport and allegiance is an instructive one for the residents of Maryland in 2013. We feel the Harbaugh pain. And not just because of a few out-of-towners living among us.

Maryland is home to two National Football League teams, and for the most part, fans of the Washington Redskins, who play their home games in Prince George's County, and supporters of the Baltimore Ravens have gone their separate ways. It's hard to say the proximity has even produced a tangible rivalry — although this season's nail-biter that ended up a loss for the Ravens but also produced a performance-dampening injury to 'Skins quarterback phenom Robert Griffin III may have been the start of one.

Here's the kicker. This week, a lot of Washington fans have been climbing on the Ravens bandwagon. That didn't happen when the Ravens won their first Super Bowl, in 2001. And it bucks the national trend (a recent Facebook survey of "likes" found most of the country on San Francisco's side, for some unknown reason).

Maryland, a state divided by two metropolitan areas, may actually be demonstrating a Harbaugh-like closing of the ranks. Former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry announced his support for the Ravens. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a rising star in the House Democratic ranks, said this week that he's betting the Ravens against Rep. Mike Thompson, with the Northern California congressman putting up wine to Mr. Van Hollen's crab cakes.

Art Modell

But maybe that's what being one Maryland family is like. One day you're working against the team up the street and the next your betting a case of crab cakes on them. Ravens fans believe that the late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke had a big hand in persuading the NFL not to offer Baltimore an expansion team after the Colts left town, but now they can welcome the recently retired Redskins "Hogette" super-fans into the fold, at least temporarily.

Would Baltimore be as thrilled had the roles been reversed? It's a little hard to imagine. But perhaps the day will come when it will be much harder to draw a line between the political spheres of influence in this state, and sports teams and their fans will reflect that détente. Nationals-Orioles, 'Skins-Ravens, the Wizards and — well, let's not open that can of worms. Like the Harbaughs, Marylanders have learned that professional sports is just a business; it's everything we have in common that truly counts.