Maybe it’s the calendar pages turning toward yet another year. Or maybe it’s the landmark 65th birthday I’ve already celebrated in early 2017. But my mind lately has drifted to thinking about how important it is to remember and honor people in our sports community.
This is a sticky piece of business because the money is in creating sports memories, not remembering these landmark people and events. That’s only part of the important work done by Michael Gibbons of the Sports Legends and the Babe Ruth museums.
I admit that a portion of the impetus for this missive is the decision by the University of Maryland to finally honor its great coach, Lefty Driesell, by hanging a banner with his name from the rafters inside the Xfinity Center at College Park. It has taken more than 30 years since he was pushed out at Maryland in the swirl of events surrounding Len Bias’ death for Lefty to attain an honor that would have seemed minimal back when he was stomping his feet on a hard court at Cole Field House trying to make Maryland the UCLA of the East.
Lefty’s problematic ending to his act at College Park speaks to the potential for risk in the honors game. Look at the angst and embarrassment surrounding the Jerry Sandusky situation at Penn State and how it caused that statue of Joe Paterno to be placed in hiding.
Much closer to home, there is the oddity of two Brooks Robinson statues within about 1,500 yards of one another, plus five other statues of Orioles Hall of Famers Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray.
The first Brooks statue, which was sponsored by longtime friend Henry Rosenberg, was originally dedicated Oct. 22, 2011. Rosenberg feared Robinson, who was battling cancer, might not live to see such an honor if he did not take the reins of a movement. Peter Angelos had his own vision about a Robinson statue being a part of his project that came into being in the summer of 2012 with the entire batch of retired, numbered players each getting a special game with a pre-game unveiling.
Outside of M&T Bank Stadium stand two great works, both designed by Fred Kail, that salute the two most famous pro football players who ever wore a Baltimore uniform — Colts QB Johnny Unitas and Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
The Unitas statue was unveiled on Oct. 20, 2002, just over five weeks after John’s death. The other statue resides at the University of Louisville, where Unitas played college ball.
The project for Unitas’ statue took two years and was greenlighted as a way for the Ravens and Modell family to show appreciation of the great tradition of Baltimore Colts football.
Ray Lewis played the last game of his illustrious career in the Superdome on Feb. 3, 2013. Just 19 months later, Kail’s second Baltimore football statue was unveiled to an adoring group of invited guests.
Since that time, thousands of Baltimore football fans make it a weekly pilgrimage to touch one of the statues or have a pre-game photo standing by one or the others.
So is anyone missing? As a PressBox cover story by Jim Henneman laid out in August 2008 (pressboxonline.com), Fred Kail has long had the idea of a Walkway of Legends where Baltimore’s other heroes — such as Boog Powell, Artie Donovan, Gino Marchetti, Wes Unseld and Lenny Moore — could be recognized. Kail’s idea is a great one, but unfortunately it’s been bogged down for years and may lose all steam.
To me, that leaves one of the most important figures in all of sports — Art Modell — on the outside of recognition. Here is a man who owned the Browns in Cleveland for 34 years and owned the Ravens in their first eight seasons in Baltimore.
He probably donated over $100 million to various causes in Cleveland, but the politicians there forced his hand and out of the hearts of Clevelanders.
Despite the great largesse he and his wife, Pat, displayed toward various groups and charities, there is nothing associated with sports that has his name attached.
All told, Modell, in his 16½ years in Baltimore, probably made donations well above $30 million. It just doesn’t feel right for Art to not have a spot in Canton, or a monument of any kind in Baltimore where he returned football.
Stan “The Fan” Charles is founder and publisher of PressBox.
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