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Wishing Out Loud: College Football Excitement In Baltimore

August 15, 2016
My 33rd birthday is coming up Sept. 6. Every year around this time, my wife will say something like, "Baby, what do you want for your birthday?" I don't think I've had an actual answer to her question the entire time we've known each other. We met when I was 25. I'm reasonably certain I've told her just to get me some nice cigars or some brie with some mango chutney or whatever. 

(If you're reading this, baby, I really would be totally happy if you just got me the cigars and cheese. "The Breakfast of Champions," as I call it.)

But as we approach the unofficial start of fall, I've realized that's not the only "wish" I have. It's just that my wife can't really help me with the other one. You see, the other item on my wish list is more of a concept than a tangible item. 

You see, I wish Baltimore was a college football town. 

Labor Day weekend marks the official start of college football season (Hawaii and Cal are actually kicking it off a week earlier in Australia this year), and it is probably my favorite weekend of the year. With the NFL still a week away, college football games are spread out over five days. There are massive matchups throughout the country this year, including more than 10 nonconference matchups between power conference teams. 

For any number of reasons, that excitement won't be the same here. At Maryland, they're hoping new head coach DJ Durkin's enthusiasm and recruiting efforts will be reflected in the win-loss record soon. Navy, which has been deserving of far more support and coverage in the Baltimore market than it's received considering the quality of their program on and off the field, will have essentially an entirely new starting offense. Towson has also proven to be worthy of greater interest, but fans have seemingly struggled to fully embrace the FCS level of football until the Tigers reach the playoffs. 

There won't be the same rabid tailgates, massive crowds, packed bars and crazy watch parties that will exist elsewhere. Maryland and Navy are playing lower-level opponents (Howard and Fordham, respectively). Towson's opener at South Florida is unfortunately not available on TV, instead only streaming via ESPN3. 

Of course, it doesn't have to be this way. Maryland and Navy provided the area an electric start to the college football season in 2005 and 2010 when they squared off at M&T Bank Stadium. While scheduling difficulties for both mean the game could never happen annually (and a lawmaker's suggestion a few years back that the two should be forced to was insane), it would be nice for the game to happen again ... sometime. 

In the meantime, perhaps the schools could alternate a kickoff game against a major opponent in Baltimore. The city and the Ravens are clearly dedicated to hosting college football games. One of the talking points public leaders offered after the demise of the Baltimore Grand Prix was that they'd like to keep Labor Day weekends open for major college football. There's still the matter of conflict with the Orioles' schedule (the Birds are home Friday-Sunday of Labor Day weekend this year), but with games being played from Thursday night to Monday night of the holiday weekend, presumably time can be found. 

And I don't want to minimize the significance of the major games that have been played and are being played in Baltimore in recent years. Army-Navy returns to Charm City this December and will be a significant boon. Plenty of Penn State fans stimulated our economy in 2015 when that school faced Maryland at M&T Bank Stadium Oct. 24, a game that saw the Terps battle before falling, 31-30, even though head coach Randy Edsall had been fired two weeks earlier following a poor start to the season.

Among the reasons Labor Day weekend games are so appealing is that everyone is bowl eligible. Everyone is still alive for a conference championship.

Making these games happen is not as simple as saying "OK, let's do it." If the two major in-state programs cannot feasibly schedule major games in Baltimore on Labor Day weekend, perhaps the city and the Ravens could host another kickoff event? Jim Harbaugh already owns a Cal Ripken Jr. jersey and is clearly interested in recruiting in the area. Maybe he'd like the chance to host a major nonconference game? USC is playing Alabama in Dallas this year on kickoff weekend. Notre Dame is playing Navy in Jacksonville and Army in San Antonio -- albeit later in the season. The former "Kickoff Classic" (which saw Maryland play Notre Dame in 2002 -- the final edition of the event) saw teams from all over the country square off in New Jersey. 

Point being, with commitment, games of this magnitude can happen, even without a natural "host" school.

It's not as easy as I want it to be. I'm well aware. But it's my birthday. Can't I just make a wish? 

Issue 224: August 2016