Baltimore turns purple in the fall

I never liked football.

It reminded me of my father who, it’s fair to say, was a bit of a brute. It was my experiences with him during those changeover months when the soft liberation of summer gave into the strict routine of school days that made me develop visceral reactions to the sound of commentators and cheering crowds on TV.

I watched my macho brothers bond with him over the sport while my sensitive brother sat on the outside without any sign of camaraderie coming his way and I blamed the sport for indoctrinating boys into the idea that aggression and domination is the ultimate expression of what it means to be a man.

I developed elaborate theories about how football was being used as a tool by the government to cultivate the mentality of nationalism and the taste for war.

Throughout most of my life I refused to participate.

Nothing like a tailgate party. (Joseph Odum)

When I got married (another lifetime ago) my husband introduced me to his friends who were all young, healthy, straight men who had played and had grown together since grade school.  They were all handsome and funny like my husband and they all loved football so I started going to pubs with them to watch the games and it was great fun for a while. But the drinking was excessive and there was very little awareness of the risks of getting behind the wheel.

One Super Bowl Sunday, maybe 25 years ago, we lost a friend to a DUI and I was, once again, sure that football was the root of all evil.

I held fast to this belief and it wasn’t challenged again until I had a conversation with my brother-in-law some eight years later. He was a unique combination of man’s man with a sensitive side and he understood my reticence toward embracing the sport.

He wanted me to see it through his eyes so he described it in words that I could relate to. He knew that I was an actor at the time and so he described the game in terms of theater. The fans were audience members who came, not to bellow and fight, but to be carried away to another experience beside their ordinary workday.

He showed me the plot twists and dramatic arch of the game and he made me realize that, much like theater, football gave repressed people the opportunity to experience and express intense emotions as they put themselves in the place of those who were on the “stage.”

Much like we theater people root for the star of a show and sneer at the villain, the fans of football root and sneer for their players. In that light I began to understand the appeal of the game but it wasn’t until I came to Baltimore that I saw the power of it.

I was working as a real estate agent when I moved here and it became clear to me very early on that if I didn’t know something about the Ravens then I ran the risk of losing potential listings. They just didn’t trust that you loved Baltimore if you didn’t love the Ravens and if you didn’t love Baltimore how could you possibly sell it to a stranger.

Joe Flacco. I got his name down. (Wikipedia Commons)

There was a sound logic to that. What with  “The Wire” being all most out-of-towners know of Baltimore, it was important to be able to sell the finer points to a potential buyer.

So I tried to get up on my Ravens knowledge but I made a lot of mistakes.  Most recently I called the quarterback Falco, who is the quarterback of the fictitious team in the film, The Replacements, which a lot of my actor friends were in.  It was obvious that I knew nothing and that I cared less but the generous nature of Baltimoreans appreciated the fact that I was trying.

Then something happened to create a shift in me – two things actually.  The first was when I was strolling down by the Inner Harbor.  There, where high-rise corporate towers loom over the homeless in the street, you can see the best and the worst of this beautiful city. On the day in question I wasn’t looking for a reason to love people despite their obvious failings, I just stumbled on to one.

An unfortunate soul was sitting on the curb in everyone’s way and in obvious distress when a man in an expensive suit came out of his building and offered to help the poor guy get to his feet and over to a nearby church that might help him.

I heard their fumbling conversation – how they groped in chasm of their differences for some way to relate to each other and I saw them find it when one of them mentioned the Ravens.

Captain Defense has got you covered. (Joseph Odum)

Suddenly they were not the rich and the poor – the healthy and the ill. Suddenly they were teammates.  They walked with even strides as they engaged in a heated discussion about their beloved team.  The suit patted the man on the shoulder as they parted ways. “Take care of yourself, man,” he said and the other man answered, “you too.”

The second thing that happened was on a Friday when I was coming home from the D.C.  area.  I pulled onto the 395 ramp and took in the view of the Baltimore skyline. I noticed that my city was purple – buildings were lit up and flags were hanging from windows.

As I drove up Charles I saw that the streets were filled with people who were wearing purple and I remembered that the Ravens were playing. I wanted to be a part of it all. I wanted to look at a stranger and smile because we both were rooting for the same thing.

I wanted a beer and chicken wings. I wanted my city to be happy and I knew that, at least for a little while, they would be because of a silly game that has come to mean so much more to me than I ever imagined possible.

Now, as the summer wanes and the fall begins I look forward to joining the fun.