Thanks to Sports Illustrated, we now know what we in Maryland think about sports.
For those of you whose weekend does not begin with the Thursday arrival of Sports Illustrated, let me explain. This is SI's 50th year. To celebrate, they are highlighting the sporting life of one state per week. There are three staples to the format: an article about a unique sporting obsession in the state; an essay by a native-born writer of note; and, looming over it all, like Dick Cheney over a sandwich, the SI poll on what YOU think about the state of sports in your state.
The sweet siren song of the poll overshadows a great article on Ocean City Lacrosse and an essay by Maryland's own sports writing icon Frank Deford. Deford pens a brilliant piece called "Jousting Anyone?" about what Maryland sports were like in the first half of the century, compared to today. I think he speaks for us all in his gratitude that jousting resides in the sporting dust bin.
Deford writes a story the way a Cape Cod fisherman guts a fish: full steam ahead with an ease so beguiling you think you can do it to. Then you try and lose a finger. But Deford and the warriors of Ocean City are not what will make the rounds of talk radio and bar room debate. It will be the poll. We know that polls can be manipulated, manufactured, and positively Mephistophelean.
I am regularly called by pollsters during dinner, and I usually take the time between bites to hang up. This leads one to the disturbing thought that the people who are answering these queasy questionnaires are probably the kind of folks who talk to pollsters. But the Sports Illustrated poll has unearthed results that are worth kicking around. Here are some of the main findings:
Favorite major league baseball team - Baltimore Orioles (49%).
Whoa. You take this poll twenty years ago and I bet this number is 69% at least. That is what selling off chunks of a franchise like a 1980s corporate raider will do for baseball fever. If Owner Peter Angelos owned Seabiscuit, he'd turn him to Elmer's Glue faster than you could say Giddy up.
Favorite NFL team: Washington Rxxxxxxx - 27%
Here is an eye opener. The Baltimore Ravens, a franchise that has been in existence for less time than the Olsen Twins, are second with 25%. I guess years of losing, rebuilding, and a brand name that should have gone out with the burning of witches, takes a toll.
Favorite NBA team: Washington Wizards - 21%
Could the NBA have had a worse summer? Could that have even been possible?
Attention commissioner David Stern: in the area that has given us everyone from Muggsy Bogues to Stevie Francis, the percentage of people without any favorite NBA team is 39%.
Enemy of the State: Bob Irsay, the late owner who moved the Colts to Indianapolis in 1984 received (16)% of this vote beating out Peter Angelos (15%) and George Steinbrenner (12%).
If Donald Rumsfeld strolled in downtown Basra reading a copy of the Satanic Verses, he'd have more friends than the late Bob Irsay in Charm City. The Colts - Johnny Unitas, Art Donovan, Raymond Berry - had roots in Baltimore as deep as any team in the country. When Irsay took the bucks in the dead of night, people were absolutely heart broken. No joke.
Favorite Sports Hero:
A dead heat between Cal Ripken and Johnny Unitas. Two true gladiators with no flash, no P.R., and no pretense.
Altogether, I believe the poll untangles the Maryland Sports Soap Opera very nicely. We are a proud community that doesn't like being taken for granted. We do not say "My Team Right or Wrong". We actually want to be appreciated as more than just butts in the seats. Our heroes, Unitas and Ripken, are what we are about. Not Angelos, not Snyder, not Irsay.
The Washington Football Team, the Orioles, and the Wizards are officially on notice. Treat us right, or go the way of the joust.
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