- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

BALTIMORE This is what the pencil necks, those guys who author economic studies downplaying the value of stadiums and ballparks to communities, never factor in.

This is what the number crunchers never take into account when they lay out their arguments against financing ballparks and stadiums. You can't find it in a calculator or a spreadsheet, and it's not under the category of revenues or expenses.

But the psychological value of a sports team to a community was on display yesterday on the streets of Baltimore, where more than 200,000 people stood in the rain to cheer their returning heroes, the Baltimore Ravens.

Both young and old alike, friends and strangers were united yesterday along Howard Street and Pratt Street and throughout the Inner Harbor and downtown Baltimore the largest crowd packed War Memorial Plaza in front of City Hall all to celebrate the Ravens' Super Bowl championship.

"The word team is really just an extension of the word family, and you all are a part of that family," Ravens coach Brian Billick told the crowd.

That is what you can't underestimate the tie that a sports team provides to bind people together. Those ties are rare these days, and we should value the few remaining institutions that people still rally around and feel good about.

We exist in a society that, with each passing day, lives more and more on individual islands instead of communities. We can eat, work and entertain ourselves at home without ever leaving. The more we are connected technologically, the less we are connected as a community. Sports are one of the few connections we have left.

There may never have been a community that was more connected to, and by, its football team than Baltimore and its Colts. There had been a hole in the psychic soul of this town since the Colts left in the dark of night in March 1984. And the city wasn't fully healed until yesterday, when people stayed away from school and work and filled the streets to watch the parade that honored the newly crowned Super Bowl champions.

"I think the healing process is completed now," Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said.

They stood for hours in the rain, waiting to get a look at the players as they passed by in Humvees and other military vehicles. Ray Lewis sat on the back of a Humvee, his feet dangling off, holding a video camera to capture it all for himself like so many other players did. Tony Siragusa walked down the street with his young daughter. David Modell walked with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and Billick walked with him, shaking hands with the crowd along the way.

"I cried when the Colts left," said Jimmy Bunnell of Bel Air, Md., as he held up a newspaper that trumpeted the Ravens' 34-7 destruction of the New York Giants on Sunday. "I grew up with football here, and it never felt like home anymore after they left. Now it feels like home again."

There will be some who are uncomfortable with such value being placed on something that, in the scheme of things, is really not very important. They are the same people who argue that schools should be built instead of stadiums.

They are right. But they are wrong, too.

Right or wrong, nothing generates as much passion in a community as its sports team. Right or wrong, no one shows up for parades for teachers. You might not like it, but you can't deny it to do so is often more costly than to recognize it.

"Aren't you all glad we didn't build a museum?" Mayor O'Malley declared as the crowd in front of city hall roared back in approval.

This city turned itself inside out for 12 years, spending millions and countless hours to get a football team before finally giving Art Modell an obscenely lucrative deal to move the Cleveland Browns here five years ago. It was a deal the rest of the world thought stunk to high heaven, but it smelled sweet to Baltimore fans.

As owner Art Modell began to speak, the crowd chanted, "Thank you, thank you," over and over.

The sight of Lewis, the game's MVP, dancing on stage with the trophy in his hand may turn the rest of the world off, but it raised the crowd in the plaza to a fever pitch.

Last year he was the scourge of Atlanta. They didn't want him in Disney World. Yesterday he was the toast of Baltimore.

Does it make sense? Of course not. But remember, when the Colts reigned supreme, Memorial Stadium was referred to as the world's largest outdoor insane asylum. A city needs that kind of crazy, and accountants never understand.

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