Like a lot of people my age, I was introduced to NFL American football when Channel 4 started its Sunday evening magazine programme. Despite the poor quality to start with, it developed into a live weekly match, and a must watch. Although I had no real team to follow, like most kids, the Dolphins seemed to be the ones to watch. Many years later I shared a student house with an ’86 Bears fan. He introduced me to radio coverage on the US Armed Forces Network, but as there was no real TV coverage, and the 49ers seemed to win the Super Bowl every other year, my interests were elsewhere – mainly in playing Rugby (League and Union).
Following graduation, I eventually got the money to go and see a mate of mine, Chris, who lived with his wife and son, close to the town of Westminster, Maryland. I had a great time and met a lot of nice people both in Baltimore and around the area.
Early on in my stay Chris and I were in a bar. Being English and both rugby players (Chris also boxed for England as a boy) I guess we stood out. A couple of locals started a friendly conversation that quickly moved onto sport. They complimented us on the fact that rugby is played without padding and I asked if they had ever played. The bar hushed and I assumed I had said something out of place. Far from it. “I’ll level with you. I played tight end for the Colts in the Super bowl,” said one of the guys – Tom. His left ring finger was half-missing but on it was a magnificent Super Bowl ring. With no second thought he took it off, and asked us both to take a look and to put it on. We had a great evening, and I counted myself as very fortunate to have worn a ring of that type.
I never found out who he was but I’m 99.9% sure it was Tom Mitchell, who played for the Colts between 1968 and 1973 before his career took him to the 49ers. Sadly, he died last week, aged 72.
One night, in another bar (the American Legion in Westminster, I think), I passed a comment supposing that most folks in the area were Washington fans. I was tapped on the shoulder: “We ain’t stinking Redskin fans in this town sonny!!!” In the ensuing conversation I was brought up to date with the story of the Baltimore Colts. I recall feeling the pain they felt, and the dilemma of being a football fan in Baltimore with no team to call your own. There was still some loyalty to the Colts, and they know who they don’t like! I promised that if ever Baltimore got a team again I would give them my support.
After returning to the UK, I became good mates with Phil. Amongst other interests he considered himself to be a passionate fan of the Cleveland Browns. As I enjoyed the NFL, I started following the Browns with him. They were a solid blue-collar team, which so nearly found success. Although he chooses not to recall, I did recount the promise to him that if Baltimore ever got a team I would support that team as well.
For a time I was a committed Browns fan but I remember the disappointment when Baltimore was passed over for an expansion franchise in 1995. I thought it a great injustice that the once great football city was passed over for Jacksonville and Carolina – the logic failed me then, as it does now.
I would be lying if I said I remember exactly when I heard that the Browns were moving to Baltimore. I was overjoyed – the players I had followed would play for a Baltimore team. That decision was easy – I was a RAVEN!!! Although Phil was best man at my wedding, there will always be a rift. I gave him my Browns flag, caps and other bits in good faith. His choice was to stay with the new Cleveland franchise that the NFL mysteriously found (where previously there was no room at the inn!).
Winning the 2001 Super Bowl was the best two-fingered salute we could give the NFL. Phil and I had watched the previous 10 together but I watched that one alone. If the Browns ever get there I will not watch.
- Dave Cressey was one of the founders of the UK Ravens in 2003.