- The Washington Times - Friday, February 2, 2001

I'd like to go bonkers celebrating the Ravens' triumph in Super Bowl XXXV. Nothing brightens a dreary winter day like going out of our gourd about a team, your team.

I'd like to, but I can't. First of all, I keep thinking about how the Redskins and their fans were supposed to be the ones reveling. I mean, if a $100 million payroll can't buy a championship, what hope is there for mankind?

Second, I can't celebrate because I keep thinking about some people who weren't in Tampa last Sunday: the two murder victims in Atlanta following last year's Super Bowl and the 70,000 or so fanatics who used to fill old Cleveland Stadium week after week to watch the original Browns play.

Leave us make no mistake, as they used to say in Flatbush: This championship team doesn't belong in Baltimore. Five years after the sorry fact, I'm still bothered that the NFL let Art Modell move the Browns and I'm no Clevelander or Browns fan.

I'm sure Modell had logical financial reasons for making the move. Cleveland shouldn't have refused to build him a stadium and then construct one for expansion team owner Alfred Lerner, who needs money the way you and I need a hangover. Regardless, the Browns should have stayed put while Baltimore got a new franchise. The temporary euphoria of a Super Bowl title doesn't change this hard fact.

That brings us to Ray Lewis, whom everybody is hailing as the greatest player on the greatest defense in NFL history. The question is whether he deserved to be there at all, from a moral standpoint.

No one can accurately judge Lewis' conduct in the hours following Super Bowl XXXIV last January in Atlanta. All we know is that he was charged with murder in the deaths of those two men outside a nightclub in the wee, small hours. He was eventually cleared before pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice and thus was freed to wreak havoc on hapless offenses from September to January.

Was Lewis less guilty than Rae Carruth, the former Panthers receiver who has been convicted of conspiracy in the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend? Or did he just have better lawyers?

I almost choked on a potato chip during the trophy ceremony that separated Sunday's game from "Survivor II." I'll give Jim Nantz of CBS credit for asking Lewis to describe his life over the last year a more penetrating topic than TV interviewers usually put out but the answer was sheer gibberish.

"One thing about the Man Upstairs he doesn't put you through tragedy without bringing you the crown," Lewis said. "That's why I'm here now… . I had a higher pilot that said everything would be all right."

Now I'm no theologian, but I've known a lot of people who experienced tragedy without receiving a crown, at least on this mortal coil. Usually, it only works that way in movies. If Ray Lewis wants to believe otherwise, it's his right. That doesn't mean we have to.

Generally speaking, I'm tired of athletes who invoke or credit God on behalf of things that the "Man Upstairs" presumably couldn't care less about. I'm not questioning their sincerity, but I was taught that faith is a private matter not something to be displayed by pointing a finger skyward or kneeling while millions of fans watch.

As one jock pointed out to me in an interview years ago, "If we pray and they pray before a game, where does that leave us?"

Unquestionably, too, we take all this too seriously. Even if you live in Baltimore and wear purple and black underwear, has your life improved substantially since 10 p.m. Sunday evening? If you're a Redskins fan, did your bankroll, job or personal relationships improve dramatically after Joe Gibbs brought home any of his three Super Bowl trophies? (Or decline dramatically after this season's flop?)

Of course not. What championship teams do is make us feel better because we are associated with a winner. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as we don't partake injudiciously of strong drink and then get behind the wheel, set cars on fire, or attack people who supported the other team.

As evidence of the latter, consider those Maryland fans who pegged bottles, cups and other debris at Duke boosters and parents after Saturday night's game at Cole Field House. Never mind that the Terps blew a 12-point lead in the final minute or so of regulation and lost to the dratted Blue Devils again. That's not as important as the fact that their behavior demeaned Duke's victory, Maryland's strong effort for the first 39 minutes and the idea of sportsmanship itself. For shame.

Sports events provide a welcome diversion for most of us, but sometimes the circumstances that surround them take precedence over the contest itself. As far as the Ravens and Ray Lewis are concerned, I just can't rejoice. And perhaps you shouldn't either.

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