So let me see if I've got this right. The city of Cleveland loses its pro football team and in less than three years not only gets a new team, but gets one that bears the same name, wears the same uniforms and plays in a shiny new stadium. On the other hand, Washington loses its baseball team in 1971 and 28 years later hasn't even a whiff of a replacement?
How, exactly, does The Mistake By The Lake matter more in the cosmic scheme of things than The Nation's Capital?
That's easy. We're a bunch of wimps. The day Art Modell took the Browns to Baltimore, the city of Cleveland declared war. They screamed bloody murder, from the poorest streets to the mayor's office. They didn't covet thy neighbor's team, they didn't slink down to Cincinnati and beg, "Take us in, let us root for your team." They fought. They petitioned the NFL, they threatened, they promised there would be hell to pay if they didn't get their blessed team back. Lo and behold, it worked. When the Cowboys visited the Browns Monday night in Ohio, it was a triumph of the spirit.
What have Washingtonians done? We drive to Baltimore.
At least the behavior around here is consistent. We don't fight for or through much of anything. It snows one-half of one inch, we close the schools for two days. We have the second-worst traffic situation in America (behind L.A.), yet there is no mass outrage about it. What are we passionate about? What do we go to the mat for? We're wimps, that's what we are. Orioles owner Peter Angelos knows it, which is why he continues to call our bluff. He's home free and knows it. We're the kid every schoolboy bully wanted to pick on. You think if The Powers That Be in this city -- government and private interests -- mobilized and whispered in Bud Selig's ear, "Give us a team, or we'll make life awfully uncomfortable for you on Capital Hill," that it wouldn't carry some weight?
If, instead of supplying Angelos with 25 percent of the fans that fill his stands, folks in the District, Prince George's, Montgomery, Fairfax, Alexandria, Arlington and Loudoun counties had boycotted the Orioles' games for a couple of months, this metropolitan area would have demonstrated long ago that Washington and Baltimore are separate places.
Every D.C.-based company that owns box seats or club seats, every media outlet that treats the Orioles as "the" local team -- and that includes The Washington Post -- bears some responsibility.
Obviously, the fact that this metropolitan area is composed of so many transplants makes it difficult to build a passionate consensus about anything. Still, there are enough folks who have been around here 20 years or more for that to have become an unacceptable excuse. I'm reminded of what kind of folks we have here at virtually every D.C. sporting event when Orioles geeks scream "O" during the national anthem. If I had my way, they'd be escorted out of Redskins/Wizards/Capitals/ United/Mystics/Georgetown/ Maryland games and banned for life.
You think Browns fans would serenade the Cincinnati Bengals? Or even try to get tickets to see their games? They'd rather die. And I don't want to hear that lame excuse about how many years it's been since the Senators left. The Colts left Baltimore after the 1983 season, yet 15-year-old kids in Baltimore never bled burgundy and gold, even though they were never old enough to root for the old Colts. Civic pride, I think, is what they call it. And it wasn't just because they couldn't buy tickets. They don't race to the papers to read about the Redskins in Baltimore, don't die to watch them on TV. They kept repeating "We Want Our Own Team" for 13 years until the Muckety-Mucks went out and got one.
Everybody senses our weakness, which is why Major League Baseball doesn't take us seriously. It isn't that Selig and his cronies aren't acutely aware of the per-capita income here, or the market size. It's that they don't much care. We haven't made them care like Cleveland made the NFL care. Charlotte scares baseball because the banker boys live in Charlotte. If the Expos leave Montreal, you'd better believe Selig and Major League Baseball will give every consideration to Charlotte first. They fear the consequences of crossing Angelos more than the consequences of crossing us. We don't bite.
I'm glad to see pro football back in Cleveland. Pro football ought to be in Cleveland. And the team ought to be called the Browns. Before another season starts, the NFL should engineer a deal by which the Ravens and Colts swap nicknames and uniforms. Who cares what the team in Indianapolis is called? Just before I turned on the game Monday night to watch the return of the Browns, I thought of my Uncle Cecil in Cleveland. He's been going to Browns games, living and dying with them for 35 years. When you grow up in the Midwest, in Chicago and Detroit and Cleveland, you lose yourself in your teams in a way I've never seen on the East and West coasts (except for Boston). So there were two times when I wanted to call my Uncle Cecil just to say, "Hang in there." One was after Earnest Byner fumbled at the goal line in Denver, keeping the Browns out of the Super Bowl. The other was the day it became official, that the Browns were leaving for Baltimore.
It took me weeks after the Byner fumble to call him. When the Browns left, I called immediately to offer condolences. And I remember him saying, "We'll have a team within five years." When my response reflected skepticism, he said, "Boy, you've been in D.C. too long. You know, we fight back out here."