To truly appreciate why cities spend millions to lure and keep a professional sports team, check out Barry Levinson's loving documentary The Band That Wouldn't Die. That's not the purpose of the film, but that's definitely what you take away.
This documentary, made for ESPN as part of its 30 for 30 series celebrating the network's 30th anniversary, introduces us to the Baltimore Colts Marching Band, a group that kept playing long after their football team packed up the Mayflower vans and headed for Indianapolis in 1984.
"Baltimore's marching musical ambassadors" wept, but they refused to quit. Whether it was civic pride, community unity or just plain stubbornness, the members persevered through 12 years of failed attempts to land an NFL franchise and ultimately rallied public and legislative support to land another team.
Then the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, the Browns became the Baltimore Ravens, and the band changed its name to the Baltimore Ravens Marching Band. So this manic-depressive story of high-highs and low-lows ends happily.
Levinson, the Baltimore native whose credits include the movies Diner and The Natural as well as TV shows Homicide: Life on the Street and Oz, shows us both sides. That means the Colts' win in the 1958 championship game - which is not only considered the greatest football game ever but the one that jump-started the NFL's popularity and gave Baltimore a sense of identity - as well as the heartbreaking day when the team moved.
He neglects to mention that the Colts played their final game in Baltimore in front of 27,934 fans, so clearly not everyone in Charm City was devastated. But that may have had something to do with team owner Robert Irsay, who once taunted the fans: "It's not your ball team, it's not our ball team, it's my family ball team. I paid for it and I work for it." (Jim Irsay, who took over the ownership from his father, doesn't make excuses for his dad. He says simply and warmly, "He was something before time and alcoholism wore him down.")
On its face, the idea of pledging allegiance to a football team makes no sense. Yet in a fragmented society where people have less and less in common, having a team is one of the few unifying factors a city can offer. It certainly seems smarter to spend limited tax dollars on the best schools, police and fire protection, road repairs and other services. But here's the question: Can you name the cities that have the best of these?
Probably not. But most everyone knows which city is home to the defending Super Bowl champions. That would be Pittsburgh, a city that may or may not have good schools. I don't know.