- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2000

This space is no longer devoted to the local NFL team.

This is hardly a significant development in an area that bleeds burgundy and gold, and hardly a quality of life issue, because win or lose, the power company's bill arrives on the appointed day each month.

The loss is mine, not the team's, and like a lot of relationships, and marriages, too, the end did not come in a cataclysmic rush. It was not one thing. It was a series of things that accumulated until one day the passion, the game day anticipation, was gone.

Passion is the lifeblood of sports, indifference the malignant alternative. In the case of the local NFL team, the passion goes back to the boyhood years with Bill McPeak, Norm Snead, Don Bosseler and Dick James.

Those were not good years from a won-lost perspective, as the back pages in the team's 2000 press guide remind, but that is not what pulls on you nearly 40 years later. They were our team, our guys, even if they weren't the best, even if then as now, the business of winning and losing was an element of the process.

Change is inevitable, of course, and some changes are more appealing than others. The local NFL team comes with an ultimatum in neon lights: $100 million in player salaries. The stakes are high, results imperative, and the trickle-down effect is obvious. It costs $20 to park in Abe Pollin's old lot.

Fair or not, the team is viewed in this $100 million vacuum, and in a way that is almost understandable, money has come to permeate the operation. The so-called NFL experience has become a big, big business. Somebody has to pay, and being creative is necessary.

It is just a thought, but what would it be worth to you to watch game film with the coaching staff?

Trying to buy a championship is not a novel concept, and not easy. If it were, Peter Angelos would be the toast of baseball instead of a tired target, and what was once a model baseball franchise would not be down to two old guys and one bad guy

in the field.

The new economy is exciting, the spillover to the ballfields, stadiums and arenas a mixed element at best.

These are, after all, merely games, joyous nonessentials that become less delightful if the Benjamins, yours and theirs, become one of the defining aspects of the relationship.

Juwan Howard understands this dynamic all too well. He has been found guilty of two offenses by the public: He accepted a $105 million contract, as anyone would have done, and he dares to be a solid, not spectacular, basketball player.

As it is with the local NFL team, Howard can't escape the charge of failed expectations, precipitated by a staggering dollar count.

The sports business flourishes because of age-old fantasies. No one imagines himself to be a bank president making the day-saving transaction. So no media herd is there to chronicle the bank president's daily insights.

The line between a bank and team is sometimes slight, their commonality reflected in their bottom-line energies. The line, however slight, is important, essential to a team.

Money is not what draws people to a team. Most people have a considerable amount of practice with their finances not to be intrigued by it.

Yet the implied message from the local NFL team is that it is all business all the time, and the team is perceived accordingly. There are no innocents, in the stands or on the field, and the loss is everyone's.

Deion Sanders embodies the new NFL and this ownership. He is a businessman who is collecting different team jerseys as he makes his way to Canton, Ohio.

Copyright laws being what they are, the decision to refer to the local NFL team as the local NFL team is only a precaution.

This is in keeping with the team's financial spirit. You would not like to be hit with a nominal surcharge each time you employed the team's name. That then would be a quality-of-life issue, another bill, win or lose, demanding to be met.

And know this: This space hates bills.

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