Memory can be a real bitch.
For all the good, happy things we recall, there’s always, always the counter-balance of painful, ugly things we’ve lived through.
As pleased as I was watching Barry Levinson’s “The Band That Wouldn’t Die” the other night, there were moments that brought back what true agony and heartbreak felt like. It was alternately uplifting and tremendously saddening. Anyone reading this who was old enough to remember those days from 1972 to 1984 knows what I mean.
It’s way beyond time that someone with local roots chronicled the city of Baltimore’s journey through the NFL. Levinson was accurate and pointed and fair to all the parties involved. One touch I really enjoyed was the lack of former player’s commentary. The story was told through the memories of the people who lived it most painfully, the fans.
Which led me to thinking one question: After all this city and its people endured under the mismanagement of Robert Irsay, why were we so anxious to court a league, and a group of owners, and a commisioner, who so clearly didn’t care that we were without a team? It’s a question I’ve asked myself since 1984, really, when I watched despondently as the Indianapolis Colts hosted the New York Jets in the Hoosier Dome. And I don’t know that there’s any answer, right, wrong or indifferent.
Nobody ever interceded on Baltimore’s behalf. Not as they watched Irsay ruin a relationship between a town and its team, not as they watched the Mayflower vans pull out of Owings Mills, not as Baltimore tried every method conceivable to lure the league back. It never happened. Was it cowardice? Apathy? Greed? Simple neglect?
I imagine we’ll just never know.
One image, among so many from the film, really stuck with me. It was a simple shot of two men outside Memorial Stadium prior to a Baltimore Stallions game. On the front of their shirts it read “Screw The NFL”. On the back, “We’ve Got The CFL”. As inane and ridiculous as that notion seems today, it summarized perfectly my feelings that had accumulated over a decade or so without the league here. I think all of us would be wise to remember our contempt for the league during our “orphaned” years.
Perhaps the most important scene to remember was Irsay at a podium saying, “It’s not your team, it’s not the city’s team, it’s my team. I paid for it with my money that I made.” While Irsay was obviously a callous, blowhard drunk, those words echoed more to me than even the infamous press conference at BWI that was so well chronicled. Because, like it or not, it’s the truth: It’s not our team. Doesn’t matter what sport, what city, what time. Loyalty in professional sports is always strictly a one-way street.
I’m not writing to bemoan the loss of the Baltimore Colts. I’m perfectly content with the realties of being a fan in these times. What is done is done. Nothing and nobody can change that. And maybe now, after numerous regular season games and one truly excruciating playoff loss, it will be easier to accept that they were never our team. But I somehow doubt it.
Because I see that horseshoe, and it still means something very special to me. It symbolizes a part of my life that was cherished and meaningful. It’s a part of my life I’ll never get back, just like youth. And it brings back pain too. Of a snowy night when the reality of being a fan in a rich man’s game hit home permanently.
As I said, memory is a real bitch sometimes.