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C. Fraser Smith: Schaefer might have even smiled

An academic forum this week on how to make government work for the people focused on the legacy of William Donald Schaefer and, like everything else in Baltimore this week, the Ravens.

Panelists found themselves talking mostly about leadership: how to get creative people on your team, how to get an entire city on your team.

Will we have a better example than the parade Tuesday?

I give you a conversation to make the point. A group of men standing along Pratt Street waiting for the bands and the players. The crowd is maybe 10 deep.

“This is so great!” says one man.

“Yeah, there has to be a million people here.”

(Actually it was probably about 200,000, but who’s counting?)

“Yeah, look around at all these people. And they said we shouldn’t have built that stadium back when we had no team. Look around at all these people so excited.”

“You know, it was Schaefer. Schaefer did it.”

“Who?”

“William Donald! William Donald Schaefer did that!”

“Oh yeah. Mayor Schaefer. He was a good man. A good man.”

“That’s right. Best mayor we had.”

“And you know why? ’Cause he was for the people. The people. That’s what he cared about!”

“He’d be happy with all this, wouldn’t he?”

“Oh, he certainly would.”

Schaefer never gave up

Even the famously never-satisfied Willy Don might have smiled. He knew how important football was to Baltimore. To keep the Colts, he endured many small humiliations at the hands of Bob Irsay. Then Irsay sneaked out with the Colts and the trophies and the shoulder pads — and the city’s heart — in the notorious midnight Mayflower vans.

Schaefer said OK, we’ll get another team. He never gave up. And when Art Modell brought the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, then-Gov. Parris Glendening left Schaefer out of the official welcoming party.

All of that is simply to give credit where it’s due. And to show how leaders know the emotional needs of their people, how they rummage for motivations every day in search of animating policy and tactic.

The turnout Tuesday was a testament to Schaefer’s labors. Maybe the national media will see that Baltimore has redefined victory celebration.

In time, Baltimoreans will love to remember just where they were on Lombardi Day, the day their team came home with the big prize.

The parade was almost as exciting as the games that got us there. Has this or any other city ever been so excited? Has a team ever seen so much love? Have vendors ever been so delirious?

It was like being there when the Orioles won the 1966 World Series, when Brooks seemed to jump out of Memorial Stadium. It was like Lenny Moore catching a pass and disappearing in a crowd at Yankee Stadium. It was as if destiny had stayed around for one more day to see the excitement it — and William Donald — had created.

Despite the enormous crowd, there was a small-town feel to it. We feel like we know these guys. Out of uniform, they’re big, but they’re not gladiators. They were having as much fun as the fans.

Joe Flacco smiled warmly as if there really was a moment when he wouldn’t be preternaturally cool. Haloti Ngata, the iron man, was out there in a T-shirt, no jacket until he got closer to the stadium.

If you weren’t there, television gave you the wide-angle dimensions of Baltimore’s joy. The stadium was as full of people as the New York subway at rush hour — minus the pushing and shoving.

Venue for celebration

The Pratt Street parade route and the stadium seemed to challenge Fifth Avenue or Wall Street as the nation’s iconic venue for celebration. Ticker tape? So yesterday.

One of the revelers climbed on a military vehicle, joining Ray Lewis. The fan looked like a freedom fighter — with a camera.

And Ray? We don’t use his last name anymore, right? He’s up there with Brooks and Cal and Lenny. In the stadium, No. 52 seemed to be auditioning new squirrel dancers. It’ll always be game day with Ray.

Ray is Schaefer’s kind of guy.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR-FM. His column appears in The Daily Record, Fridays. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org.