I had a great conversation about Baltimore, touched off by watching the Barry Levinson-directed, 30 For 30 documentary about the Baltimore Colts Marching Band called “The Band That Would Never Die”. I would call it required reading for sports fans, Baltimoreans and those who want to understand Baltimoreans.
I have to say I remember living through that era in time and a couple of things come to mind. I remember being nonchalant, thinking: The “Indianapolis Colts?”: “That’ll never stick!” Wrong. Isn’t this illegal? Wrong. Wait, teams don’t move! Wrong. (I remember checking the late history of baseball in the exodus of teams from the east—Dodgers, Giants, Athletics, etc. and being like, “Oh!” So, once again, wrong. Once the NFL finds out, won’t this be overturned? Wrong. The Colts in my lifetime up until then were a heap of futility. Never put into my own personal memory was the team that beat The New York Giants in the 1958 Championship, or later, ever seemed to be reasonably competitive. I paid attention—apparently just after the Unitas era. Despite the consistently terrible showings, I did think that they were my team to root for though, regardless of how embarrassing they really were.
The Colts’ actual leaving Baltimore opened me up to a whole new plane of thinking about the role of sports, when suddenly without a team that I cared for, I was left without a team at all, a point that Steve Bisciotti, the current Baltimore Ravens’ owner made in the documentary. But for me, being in those formative teen years, that twelve-year absence was an open barn door away from football where, while I could never say I don’t like it or follow it, I’ve always done so with a measured distance. I understand how much of a business it really is because it happened to me then.
That documentary was a launchpad for my Dad and I sharing different points of view on sports where we went back and forth on a number of different tangential conversation related to sport. One of those came under the topic of how often really talented players don’t recognize the true value of their playing time, whether it is through wasting their time, money or talent in some way or another. Just good conversation.
This ultimately is a main arena for bonding with my Dad, because while we were never professional in our given sports (him, basketball and me, baseball), sports, and an understanding of its dynamics have become the staging ground for an understanding of life for us. To me being an athlete is important beyond what/where one has played because it is a mentality that men and women can adopt and reflect on aspects in life.
Those conversations turn into conversations about how we relate to the world. How great a player might have been in any given moment in time is a real thing that cannot be bottled or just shown on tape and fully understood. I can’t show my kid a tape of Walter Payton and have that be the description of what one the best running backs I ever got to see meant, not only to football, but to his team. There’s a scene in Spike Lee’s movie “He Got Game” where the father (Denzel Washington) explains to his son, Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) why he was given the name “Jesus” and it turns out to not be because of religion.
It’s because he was named after Earl “The Pearl” Monroe and in the movie there is a really emotional scene where Denzel’s character discusses having witnessed Earl play (just like my Dad), when he was really in his moment, and to the extent possible, I could only say the moment was like that with emotion poured into the description of Earl’s playing.
My Dad says “… he had a crossover that made it look like he was gliding on the floor …” He went on to say, “Well, to make a long story short …” And this moment caps it all, when I said to him: “Feel free to make a long story long.”
In my Dad’s mind, Earl had a specific moment (playing with the Bullets) and when he signed with the Knicks subsequently it just wasn’t the same. The thing being to appreciate that present moment and appreciate its realness.