Baltimore is an interesting town and its citizens collectively suffer from an inferiority complex. That’s not meant as a knock. That’s just the way it is.
I should know…I’m one of you.
Back in a day, Baltimore was viewed as a gas stop between DC and Philadelphia. Today thanks in large part to popular TV drama series like “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Street” it is seen by many as a cesspool of drugs, STD’s and violence.
Those of us who were born and raised here in The Land of Pleasant Living know otherwise. We see it as a metropolitan area of ethnic neighborhoods, rich with character; a mecca for exquisite culinary arts; a charm city by the Chesapeake featuring generation after generation that never leaves home.
Yet when we hear about our crime blotter it dents our civic pride.
Baltimore was often overlooked. Were we a small, unattractive city or were we just a big town lacking a true identity?
Then one day along came Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts to give the city a red star on the map and register an identity in the consciousness of our country.
The Colts flourished and soon thereafter so did the Orioles. We became a town of sports champions and as America noticed we embraced it to soothe our insecurities.
Predictably we attached ourselves to our sports heroes. Besides Unitas there were other Colts and then Orioles like Frank and Brooks Robinson. They were more than stars of their respective sports – they were and are Baltimore icons.
Now, fast forward to the modern day, and the state of sports here in Baltimore…
The Orioles are a train wreck and there’s no relief in sight. Nearly polar opposites of Peter Angelos’ money sucking machine, the Ravens are a finely tuned organization that continues to get better. And as we have in the past we gravitate towards those players with whom we can identify.
And THEY become our contemporary luminaries.
As a result of the Orioles struggles combined with a difficult economy and so many political uncertainties the Ravens have become a sanctuary – an escape from the insanity. They are an oasis in which to bathe in good news within the barren desert of bad news that envelopes us.
But along with that lofty perch the Ravens occupy here in Baltimore there comes pressure.
If the Ravens make decisions and act upon them in a way that confuses the fans, there is a backlash. And we’ve seen that over the past two weeks – two weeks during which we’ve witnessed the exodus of popular players like Willis McGahee, Kelly Gregg, Todd Heap and Derrick Mason. Those moves were for many the equivalent of dumping waste in our oasis.
McGahee was a touchdown machine with a boyish charm.
Gregg – a lunch pail blue collar overachiever and an underdog just like the town that embraced him.
Heap – a player who has been with the franchise for two-thirds of its existence.
And Mason, a player who stepped up as a leader on offense when the team desperately needed one.
Letting them go isn’t easy for this town. And that’s understandable.
But you should take comfort in the fact that those guys in the Ravens ivory tower have forgotten more about football and about running an NFL team than any of us will ever know. They have the short and long-term best interests of the team in the forefront of their minds.
And now they have determined that it’s time for some of the young guys to step up.
The league’s best teams do this all the time. We’ve seen the Colts let go of Marvin Harrison and the Steelers parting ways with Alan Faneca and Plaxico Burress. And let’s not forget about how Bill Belichick quickly says goodbye to the Teddy Bruschis and Mike Vrabels of the world.
Besides if the Ravens could have afforded to keep all of those players, would they have made much of a difference? Would all (save Gregg) have made the Ravens offense any better?
It’s often said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
Maybe it’s time to do things a little differently.
It’s ok to miss them – to be nostalgic and reminisce. Those players are ingrained in our civic souls. But to sustain excellence you have to be willing to change and adapt even if it hurts a little.
And that’s not easy, particularly for us Baltimoreans who are as loyal as rescued mutts.
That’s just the way it is.