Super Bowl Sunday arrives, and Nate Smith has an important message for his girlfriend, Darlene Griffin. It goes like this: "Don't be wearin' my slippers."
That's a warning Nate uttered the other day, after cutting my hair in the West Baltimore shop where he styles and teaches the tonsorial arts. He seemed to be asking me to convey the message for him, though I'm sure he's delivered it directly by now:
"Don't be wearin' my slippers, Darlene."
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Those are Nate's 'Niners slippers, see, a gift from a customer. Nate is a native Baltimorean and San Francisco 49ers fan — more on that incongruity in a moment — and he's got a thing about wearing the red slippers on game day.
That's got to stop.
"We've been on a good path the last few weeks," Nate said of his relationship with Darlene. "But now it's gonna get serious. … Don't be wearin' my slippers.' "
Nate plans to wear red on his feet today, along with his 49ers wristwatch, also a gift from a customer, and one of his 49ers jerseys.
"Nate, what's your connection to San Francisco? Rice-A-Roni?"
That friendly trash talk comes from Keenan Powell, one of the student stylists in Avara's Academy of Hair Design, at West Pratt and Stricker streets. They're all Ravens fans here — Powell and Nate's other students, William Bond and Brian Green.
Darrell Gross is a bit suspect: He drinks from a Dallas Cowboys cup.
But there's no question that Ravens loyalty dominates among the cutters and customers in the chairs at Avara's.
It's only Nate who has this thing for the 49ers.
And why is that, given the Ravens' appeal and success?
The answer takes us back to a time that a lot of people around here would like to forget — when Baltimore didn't have an NFL team.
After the Colts left town for Indianapolis in 1984, there were all those years when this crazy-for-football town went a little stir crazy. Post-coltspartum depression was probably the formal diagnosis for the most serious cases.
People who liked the NFL started looking elsewhere.
Baltimoreans of a certain age — born after 1984 and before the Browns moved here from Cleveland and became the Ravens — grew up without a hometown team. During that time, many became attached to an out-of-town franchise.
Nate liked the 49ers because that was the Joe Montana era in San Francisco, and the 49ers won four Super Bowls in the 1980s, a fifth in 1994. Montana was the quarterback through most of that time. "He was the greatest quarterback under pressure," Nate says.