Touchdown, Teacher!

I grew up in Baltimore, went to school at Pimlico and Western High and attended the University of Maryland. I left town in 1979 to work as a writer in Los Angeles. My first day at the Disney Studio, a secretary looked up from my paperwork and said, “Baltimore? That’s a good place to be from.” Frankly, Baltimore doesn’t get a lot of respect in L.A., with the exception of David Simon’s gritty crime shows.

In 1966, I watched the Orioles’ victory parade down Howard Street while leaning out of a window at Western. That was fun, but I was never into sports. At Western I had an exceptional English teacher, Michael Franko. His classroom was an open door to the world. Before Google, there was Franko. He was not into sports either. However, one day Franko explained why sports — particularly football — so strongly grabbed the public’s imagination. He said that life is full of conflict, often never resolved. But when watching football, one can safely see a conflict acted out and brought to its resolution. This provides a satisfying catharsis. He referred to the players as “our gladiators.” I never forgot that fascinating insight.

Still in California, still not interested in sports, I caught the end of the Broncos-Ravens playoff game. Suddenly, I was dancing around the room! I flashed on the tragedies that had occurred in our world. I flashed on Franko. Yes, we do need those warriors. We need to see somebody get to the end zone because he never, ever gave up, no matter how terrible the odds or how horrible the weather. The English teacher was right.

Where was he now? I searched the Web, found a phone number and called. Decades and miles dissolved instantly. Michael Franko was as bright as ever and at 77 teaching at Johns Hopkins. I was not one of his best and brightest students. It took him a while to remember me. This didn’t diminish the joy of our reunion. I had been a teacher, too. I know that the students you remember best may not be the ones you influence most. You never know when a random bit of wisdom tossed out to a class is caught and — perhaps years later — becomes a “Hail, Mary” for a kid you never noticed.

I told Franko that I remembered him while watching the Ravens game. He laughed, as he still is not a sports fan. However, in one of those moments when the universe conspires to draw unlikely people to the same cosmic space, he also saw the “miracle” game in Denver. Franko is delighted with the way the game galvanized the residents of Baltimore. He described how strangers were spontaneously chatting with one another everywhere — proud of their purple gladiators. His love for Baltimore shone through his words.

Our soldiers are marching on to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. Winning that contest would be sublime, but for me that miracle game in Denver was a personal tipping point. Joe Flacco’s incredible 70-yard pass kept on going — traveling 3,000 miles to reconnect a Baltimore native with the best of her past.

In 1966, in Michael Franko’s Western High English class, I first read Emily Dickenson’s words, “Hope is the thing with feathers … ”

Now, fly, Ravens, fly!

Susan Amerikaner was born and raised in Baltimore. She now lives in California. susanamerikaner@roadrunner.com

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