- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2001

BALTIMORE — To gain a little perspective on what Friday, Aug. 31, 2001, meant to the city of Baltimore, consider this: 10 years ago, on Aug. 31, there was no PSINet Stadium. There was no NFL franchise. There was no Camden Yards yet it was in the process of being built. The Orioles were playing out their final season at Memorial Stadium. And ESPN barely knew where Baltimore was.
Yesterday, the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens played the team they beat in that championship game, the New York Giants, at noon in their preseason finale at PSINet Stadium. They drew a pretty good crowd (about 45,000) for a Friday afternoon exhibition game on Labor Day weekend. Later in the evening, next door at Camden Yards, Baltimore fans got their first look at Ichiro and the record-setting Seattle Mariners against the Orioles. And capping off a remarkable day of sports in Baltimore, ESPN2 brought its Friday Night Fights show to Du Burns Arena.
Three major sporting events over one day, and that's not all. Last weekend and this weekend, just outside the city at White Marsh Mall, a major extreme sports event has been taking place the Aggressive Skaters Association Pro Tour series, featuring pro skateboarding, BMX biking and other extreme sports competition also to be shown on ESPN.
Did I mention that Baltimore is also home to the heavyweight champion of the world?
What about Washington? I think there was a badminton tournament on the Mall today.
Yesterday was a prime example of how far Baltimore has come as a sports town not just from 10 years ago, but nearly 20 years ago. The Colts had left town, and everyone feared that Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams was going to move the team to Washington.
"For a while, it looked like we were dead in the water," said Baltimore sports talk show host Stan Charles, who has seen the bad and good times in his 20 years on the air.
No more, baby. Baltimore was center stage yesterday. There were, of course, logistically problems getting traffic out of the Ravens game during rush hour and while some people including players were arriving early and trying to get into the same parking lots for the Orioles game.
But those problems don't diminish what Baltimore's sports presence means to the community, according to Mayor Martin O'Malley. After all, a crowded town is better than a ghost town. "The greatest value is not so much in the recognition it gets us outside of the city," O'Malley said. "As important as all of that is, I think the greatest value is what it does for the psyche of the city and the people here."
Baltimore may never get over its inferiority complex compared to Washington, but in the athletic arena, right now Charm City holds a decided advantage over the District, whose next big sporting event will be herding IMF protesters (though it could be a big-time winter in Washington with the arrival of Jaromir Jagr and Michael's comeback).
How bad is it? They were making Washington Redskins jokes outside PSINet Stadium before the Ravens-Giants game yesterday to warm up the crowd. As people started playing catch with a football in the parking lot, one guy with a bullhorn invited more people to play. "Hey, I hear Danny Snyder is looking for a quarterback in Washington," he said. "Give it a try. You know you can do better than Tony Banks. We remember him, don't we?"
Ouch.
Even Robin Ficker knows where the spotlight shines these days. Yes, Washington's best known and most obnoxious sports fan was outside PSINet Stadium, putting in his two cents. The political gadfly was handing out pennies, two at a time, to illustrate his call to cut the Maryland state tax from 5 percent to 3 percent and said it would save taxpayers two cents for every dollar they spend. "Governor Spendglening won't give you your two cents," Ficker said.
We can't even keep Robin Ficker interested in Washington anymore.
Inside the stadium, Ravens fans enjoyed a virtual replay of their 34-7 Super Bowl victory over the Giants, this time defeating New York 38-9. In case anyone had forgotten, this was a football town before the Colts left and it appears to be a football town again, thanks to the combined championship rise of the Ravens along with the fall of the Orioles. The fans gave a standing ovation yesterday to a block thrown by third-string quarterback Chris Redman.
"It was great to hear the fans getting into that," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
That's a football town.
After the game, the Ravens' marching band played its way from one stadium to the other, stopping at the B & O Warehouse, where Ichiro, followed by his traveling Japanese media circus, was making his Baltimore debut, and baseball's best team, the Mariners, with their 96-38 record, were making their first stop in Baltimore this year.
Maybe it was even too much sports for Baltimore fans. You might have thought that Ichiromania and the Mariners, on a Friday night, would have packed the house. But I guess the Orioles, with their 54-79 record, are too difficult a hurdle to overcome. There were quite a few empty seats at Camden Yards, which again could be an indication that Baltimore has transformed back into a football town. The Orioles are making it easy.
Over at Du Burns Arena about 1,500 fight fans watched the sad end of a local fight legend, former International Boxing Federation junior middleweight champion Vincent Pettway. Pettway was stopped in the sixth round by Luis Rosado. Pettway looked so bad that Dr. Steve Mannekin tried to stop the fight twice, but referee Kenny Chevalier refused to end it until the sixth. Commission officials said they are investigating why the fight was not stopped sooner.
Thankfully the national television audience didn't see that fight, but they did see a rising local legend, junior middleweight Jimmy Lange, of Great Falls, Va., score his 15th win when he stopped Sam Harvey in the second round with two powerful body blows and a devastating right hand.
It's difficult to believe that Baltimore had nearly become a minor league town years ago because yesterday it was certainly big league.


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