(Originally published as a prelude to the “Free The Birds” walkout in Sept. 2006, this is Part 5 of a 19 Chapter Series on How baseball, my father and the Orioles created WNST.net. We are planning some civic action on Thursday, April 5. Please plan to join us…)
This is probably the story that I hate to admit the most on the radio. It involves youthful ignorance, disgusting twists and turns and, ultimately, I think more than just a tad bit of old-fashioned adolescent rebellion.
I don’t think anyone could ever picture me as a rebel, right?
If what I really say about comparing the Baltimore sports scene is true — “the Ravens are my girlfriend, but the Orioles are my wife” and I DID warn you that I can find a baseball analogy for virtually ANY situation in life, or vice versa — then at one point I had a few “flings.”
A couple of those steamy, whirlwind romances that feel so good you don’t even feel GUILTY about it in the morning. It’s a “new” love, a satisfaction that only something “fresh” will give you.
My first one occurred back in the 1970’s, really the first day that the “fan” came out in the fanatic.
My Pop took me to my first Colts game on Sept. 23, 1973 to see “Broadway” Joe Namath and the New York Jets. No need to run you through the whys and wherefores of Super Bowl III (if I gotta do THAT, you probably shouldn’t be reading or hearing this!), but suffice to say this city had what my Pop would describe as a “hard on” for the Jets — to say the least!
I was three weeks shy of my 5th birthday, so I was technically 4 years old and off to a Colts’ football game we go. Unlike my memories of my first Oriole game being a little more cloudy and distant, my recollections of my first Colts game is so vivid it’s really kinda spooky.
The Colts lost that game 34-10, and even though I don’t need to look that up, I AM staring at the program from that game just six inches to my left. The fact that I can move my left hand and touch this program and, somehow, touch my father through it and touch the smell of the air that day is incredible — a powerful, powerful thing.
But that’s just how good sports can be and why The Rally on Sept. 21st downtown is important.
On that day in September 1973, Johnny Unitas had just left, the franchise was in a shambles and the embryo that would birth an exit from Baltimore, “Tiger” Bob Irsay and his drunken ownership hijinks, was gestating. Marty Domres was the starting quarterback and Bert Jones was a puppy, but the team had the key compenents to what would go on to be a fabulous team to watch from 1975 through 1977 — a team that gave Pittsburgh and Oakland a run for their money each year as a solid AFC East team. Lydell Mitchell, Ken Mendenhall, Joe Ehrmann, David Taylor, Mike Barnes — they were all there that day.
Stan White knocked Joe Namath out of the game that day and, 33 years later, I get to compete with him every day on Baltimore radio. I just think that’s kinda cool, even if he never has! Stan White was a hero of mine as a kid because he smacked Joe Namath in the mouth (or in the case, the shoulder).
My Pop didn’t think that sucked, either!
We sat in the middle of centerfield — or at least that’s what it was to me, the bleacher seats. I thought it was kinda nifty that we got to actually WALK on the baseball field. I remember how BIG everyone was and how gigantic the stadium looked from centerfield. I remember the band and I’m sure it was the first time I ever heard the “Colts Fight Song.”
At some point during the blowout, my Pop and I left, resigned to grabbing the No. 22 bus back to Highlandtown. En route, I wanted to stop and get a souvenir. I wanted to get something that had something to do with Johnny Unitas. I didn’t really know who Johnny Unitas was but I knew he was