On this historic weekend, with the underdog Ravens besting Tom Brady and the Patriots and President Obama holding court to his 2nd inauguration with one hand on two Bibles—Lincoln’s and Martin Luther King Jr’s, I finally accepted the harsh fact that we will never be a country undivided, nor ever, sadly, a world united no matter how many Coke commercials we listened to in the 80s. And like most epiphanies that come in the form of former classes in kindergarten, chicken soup for the soul, or specific Bruce Springsteen lyrics, mine started on a road trip from Baltimore to Pittsburg.
Like other countries and regions in the world, Baltimore comes with some heavy baggage and sensitivities that include stolen property given to another region. This gets chest thumps from any “Hon” readers who remember that morning in the early 80s when we awoke to be told that our beloved Colts had been hustled out of town overnight in several tractor trailers loaded with equipment that symbolically annihilated the concept of a horseshow ever representing good luck again in the land of Pleasant Living. That the Colts went to Cleveland to be renamed the Browns was of little consequence to us. They were our team, our name, our blood. No matter how many times we were told to just accept it and move on, we couldn’t. We wouldn’t. When that Browns team moved on to Indianapolis and again took on the moniker of Colts, most in the land thought we would have “gotten over it” by then. They thought we would have forgiven and /or forgotten the thrill of the seeing that horseshoe on the skyline, much like the bat symbol in Gotham City, and those crisp blue and white uniforms on a brisk fall day. We hadn’t. We wouldn’t.
We did eventually get another football team in Baltimore. We were not allowed to take our name back, however, because that was in use. We had to come up with something new, something unique in case it was ever stolen again in the night, it would have little meaning or connection. And with the hard echoes of Edgar Allen Poe’s nevermore whispering softly in our minds, we embraced the Ravens to fly high for our city.
It was initially a shock that we generated such animosity from rival teams. The most notable was the visceral hatred from the Steeler Nation. And why? Because we looked different and had something new to crow about? Because we followed a different religion—we worshipped at the church that preached Purple and Black, and not Gold and Black?
And like most opponents we didn’t try to find resolve, or try to find compromise. We just hated them right back. Called ‘foul’ for every cheap shot, called ‘vulgar’ on every misdeed. And of course, there is no ‘off season’. We are never ‘not in session’.
For my road trip, I debated pulling off my Raven’s magnet from the rear of the Murano. Should I just get in and out with no controversy, no excuse for bashing? Should I just let it fly, proud and bold? On the route, from I-95, to I-695, to I-70, to Rt. 68, to Rt. 40 north, I passed 87 churches that were visible from the highway (and one partially constructed Noah’s Ark). Steeples of all denominations and constructed of various materials; all sweeping skyward to capture the attention of and to praise either one or more Gods. Buildings inhabited at various times during the week by members who might accept the beliefs of the other 86, or not. Members who are pro-choice, pro-life, for gay marriage, against gay marriage, for female members of the clergy, against female members on the alter, some asking for tolerance, others saying the time for tolerance has passed.
In Frederick, there is a road that runs south, I-270, that is the super highway to the beltway that circles Washington like a metaphoric band of wagons. And Washington has two divided houses that have disciples all across the land as well as the plethora of folks who keep two jerseys hanging in their closets and wear whichever one brings the best pay-off for them. It seems like in Washington, we just keep paying for tickets for PSLs we can never sit in or hope to see a game. They just keep sending us the score at intervals and we don’t even know if their game has a half-time show.
At a Getty station in Uniontown, a thick man wearing a Steeler jacket and hat looked over at my Raven emblem on the tailgate as we both pump gas at 3.39 a gallon. Before he got back in his step-up he looked me straight in the eye and flipped me the middle finger bird. I could have called him out, told him his team didn’t even make the play-offs. Asked him why he couldn’t cheer on a team that has been doubted by a whole legion of sports experts at 9 points down for the last two games. Asked him how he could support Brady when he falls down when he brushes past a referee and stuck his leg up in a seeming cheap shot at Ed Reed. But I don’t. I just nod my head.
It’s just football I tell myself as I head toward the Eat-N-Park.
Until it isn’t.