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'Blind Side' makes her a fan again

Someone who left the game when the Colts left Baltimore has her heart tackled by a movie.

December 07, 2009|By MARY McNAMARA | Television Critic
  • Sandra Bullock in 'The Blind Side'
Sandra Bullock in 'The Blind Side' (Warner Bros. )

When I went to see "The Blind Side," I didn't expect it to heal the horseshoe-shaped scar I had almost forgotten. I went because I love Sandra Bullock; I had no idea Michael Oher, the subject of the film, played for Baltimore. I don't follow football anymore. I have not seen an entire professional football game in 25 years.

See, I was born in Baltimore. Which meant that I was instantly, unequivocally and possibly legally born a Colts fan.

When I was growing up, there was no escaping the Baltimore Colts. My parents were not particularly sporty, but that didn't matter. For as long as I can remember and longer, when the Colts were playing, the game was on.

Wherever you were, even if you had homework, even if it was dinner time, even it if was a dinner party, even if it was a wake.

My father loved to tell us of his friend whose wedding turned out to be on the day the Colts faced the Jets in the Super Bowl. The church had been reserved for months, the caterer paid; there was no shifting the date.

So the father of the bride walked his daughter down the aisle and left by the side door, taking all the groomsmen with him. The groom said his vows and tried not to look at his watch. The church cleared right after the kiss.

Anyone who grew up in Baltimore or, as I did, in its suburbs, has a story like that one. That horseshoe logo was on blankets and pillows and T-shirts and trash cans in every home. It was on the beach towels and cocktail tumblers and pencil sharpeners we got with a tank of gas at the Citgo station.

I had a Johnny Unitas Slurpee cup that I used until his face wore off in the dishwasher. On Friday nights, we all ate at Gino's, a successful fast-food chain owned by Hall of Famer Gino Marchetti and a few of his teammates. Oriole orange and black was popular too, but Maryland was the original blue, and white, state.

And then they left.

In the middle of the night on March 29, 1984. I can still remember the news footage of them heading toward the plane. It was snowing, or sleeting, and utterly unbelievable. They left us for Indianapolis, a city that had no harbor, no fort, no history. A city that was smack in the middle of Indiana, a state of little or no account. You probably couldn't even get a crab cake in Indiana.

It didn't matter that by then the grimy Inner Harbor had been transformed into a tourist destination or that the city was on its way to one of the more famous revitalizations in recent history. It didn't matter that the Domino's Sugar sign was still there or the Constellation, that the Orioles were strong as ever. The Colts were gone.

I was 20, a perfect age for heartbreak. After college, I moved through cities that had their own solid franchises, dated men who loved football. When a game went on, I left the room. Just the sound of it -- the helmets clattering, that restless roaring sigh of the crowd, the drone of the sportscasters -- made my stomach hurt.

Over the years, not watching football became more of a habit, its romantic roots forgotten. But just the other week, my 11-year-old son was practicing an oral report on "The Greatest Quarterbacks, Then and Now."

He opened with Unitas, because you have to open with Unitas, and there I was, back in my grandparents' overheated living room, sweltering amid cigar fumes and watching the Colts.

It didn't help that my husband is from Indiana.

Baltimore, meanwhile, moved on, got another football team. The Ravens. There is no bigger fan of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe than myself, but please. What kind of a name is that for a football team? Colts kick and run and frolic. What do ravens do? Caw and flap and act as harbingers of death. I was just grateful I lived in L.A., a city with no football team to concern myself with.

Then I went to see "The Blind Side" and wept and laughed and felt amazement when the photos of the real family, the real athlete, rolled across the screen. I came home and my husband remarked that he had just been watching the Ravens game and Michael Oher had been getting his butt kicked.

The next day, I picked up the sports page. Baltimore was not doing so well; among other things, their quarterback kept getting sacked. I felt for Oher, who is actually doing just fine for a rookie. After such a strange and painful youth to now bear the burden of the feel-good film of the year every time you miss a tackle. It seemed unfair.

Then that Sunday, the Ravens beat the Steelers, 20-17, bringing their midseason record to 6-5 and prompting playoff talk again. It occurs to me that 25 years is a long time to coddle a broken heart. Go Baltimore.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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