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November 21, 2006

A Ravens' Sunday Treat

Roy Meachum

Every father should get a summons like my eldest child delivered last week. The not-unsuccessful attorney called with an invitation to Sunday's Ravens game.

As noted, I took him to his first NFL encounter. Who was playing the Redskins at Tommy's first NFL excursion I can't remember. It was a gray day, a stutter step from December. It was chilly, as you can imagine. The annual freeze had yet to appear; five-year-old Thomas Moore Meachum was sent off by his anxious mother with a coat, promptly discarded at the first chance.

Even at that age, my eldest child showed little interest in the Redskins. We moved back into the baseball stadium where there were seats to be opened and closed and lots of room to run in.

For reasons I never fully understood, team owner George P. Marshall gifted me with season tickets, which involved the bleachers, presumably made of Tinker Toys. There were no backs to the benches; they were completely open, and sitting in line with the baseball field. The lack of protecting structure made Sunday games sometimes chilling to the bone. Unabashedly, whiskey pints and coffee laced with booze were freely passed about.

There was never a ruckus that I knew about. Part of the solution lay in the manner of dress. I wore a tie, topped by a tweed jacket and my wife put on her girdle. It was an era of short haircuts when shirt sleeves were relegated to neighborhoods, beaches and the back yard.

At one stage of my life, I was prone to brag about the total absence of sports shirts in my wardrobe. In any event, Brooks Brothers was still more popular for games than Levi Strauss's jeans. As behavioral scientists long noted we are how we dress.

And the National Football League fans were trying very hard to emulate the leading colleges, in style at any rate. Colleges played the "real" game, but the pros were charging on the scene.

Clicking memory very hard, I still cannot remember if hawkers brought beer to our seats. I think not. Baseball had its beer garden over in the left field bleachers. The District of Columbia, thanks to blue-nosed congressmen, played moral police for residents of the National Capital. Prohibition was one way.

Sundays' restaurants and dives could not sell booze; they were limited to wine and beer. The drinking situation was even worse across the Potomac, as I had discovered when returning from Airlift Berlin. The public's guardians in Virginia made booze almost impossible to find on the Sabbath.

In the event, I cannot recall seeing anyone the slightest bit tipsy during the two seasons I regularly showed up for Redskins games. We were a sober crowd that took our football very seriously; maybe because the baseball Senators were working hard to justify the saying: Washington, first in war, first in peace and last in the American League. We wanted a winner!

That was the era of Eddie "Little General" LeBaron and that year the Skins went 8 and 4. The tickets were so hot that I can remember Chester, the team's administrative assistant, coming into the office. His boss looked up. "We've sold about 30,000 season tickets," he said.

"Cut it off there," George Marshall said, "we need to save some for single ticket buyers." That conversation happened, I was there. Can you imagine any NFL owner taking that attitude today?

As you might know, the late Redskins founder and owner pioneered show-biz in the football business. Watching the Ravens marching band Sunday, I remembered Mr. Marshall's musical organizations in those early years, after World War II. He dressed cheerleaders as Indian maidens, complete with long dresses and pig tail black wigs. In M&T Bank Stadium Sunday, the young ladies with the pom-poms wore fewer clothes and were considerably more athletic.

As part of the treat, my son holds seats on the club level, which means the excursion is more civilized, at least. When we ducked down the stairs from our seats, we wound up walking on carpet. The variety of food and choice of drinks are unbelievable. The people in Tom's corner of the stadium are familiar to each other, and that makes the games into reunions of friends.

At a higher level, the game played out not literally at our feet, but damned near. I've never seen a live-action sport so easy to follow. Monitors helped: giant screens at either end of the field make the turf battle as easy to follow as on television. It was a blast! And all during our time, Tom insisted on paying for everything.

As you may recall, the afternoon started out mild and converted to windy and brisk as the game danced along. It was, in short, perfect football weather.

By the way, in case you missed the story: the Ravens won, coming on in the third quarter to score points every time they touched the ball. In the first half, all the breaks seemed to go to the Atlanta Falcons, producing their 7-0 lead going into halftime. The visitors seemed out of gas in the fourth quarter when the hometown team took about eight minutes off the clock, while racking up yet one more touchdown. Outstanding!

"Well," as the Man said, "All's well that ends well." Sunday's game wound up as a smashing victory, with my personal enjoyment the whipped cream on top.

Go, Ravens!

Yellow Cab
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