Is there such a thing as Blue Collar football?

[This is an old post from another forum in response to someone saying that the idea of blue collar football was BS.]

It’s not. Although I do think that the tag has lost a lot (if not all)of it’s relevance. But it’s something that you inherently recognize when you’re from certain cities. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Oakland just to name a few examples. These were teams that had an ingrained toughness at one time that wasn’t necessarily found in other teams. Some teams were regarded as tough and others werent.

For example look at Superbowl XV — Oakland vs. Philadelphia. Philadelphia had a certain image under Vermiel. Everyone was expected to have a clean cut image, wear suits, have short hair cuts, no facial hair, no cussing, strictly held curfews etc. Oakland (a city of misfits if there ever was one) was a group of wild-eyed savages who would think nothing of shanking you and leaving you to die. The great Tooz, and the other Raiders THE NIGHT BEFORE THE SUPERBOWL, stayed out until 3am, took copious amounts of drugs and alcohol, were banging cocktail waitresses two at a time like Fredo, never slept and were still half in the bag DURING the game. The Raiders decimated the Eagles. A player, in an interview, looking back at that teams exploits said “We beat them with a bag of wrenches and walked over their dead bodies.” I only point this out to illustrate (hopefully) that there is a difference between the attitudes of some teams and their respective cities.

Historically I think the term comes from when football was not a viable paying job. The players were paid squat and had to take real jobs. So in certain cities certain images were cultivated. For that example I go closer to home. Johnny Unitas in Baltimore. Johnny Unitas is widely regarded as the greatest QB of all time, yet during his career he was a full-time steel worker at Beth Steel. This is a little bit mind boggling in the modern sports age. The best player in the league not only working a full-time, non-football job, but a highly dangerous one at that. Imagine —————–(fill in marquee name of choice) working as a roofer (or whatever). Johnny U was one of the guys. He lived in the neighborhood, worked in the neighborhood, he was, literally, one of the guys. Or as someone once said to me “Once you grew up in the Church of Johnny U you’re pretty much a Believer for the rest of your life.”

Here’s a quick story that kind of illustrates the difference. I used to manages a movie theater. Both Cal Ripkin and Johnny Unitas used to come frequently. Ripkin would pull of to the curb, let Kelly out, she would buy the tix and concession items then go into the theater. Right before the movie started, as the lights were starting to dim he would be let into the theater through the fire exit in the back of the theater. He wanted to avoid people. Johnny U on the other hand would come in with his wife, buy his own tix and concessions and wait in line just like everyone else. He’d talk to people, sign autographs, whatever.

There is also an economic component to this phrase, which is an off-shoot of the various historic aspects. Again I’ll use an example that I can speak on. The Orioles in the 70’s (yep, blue-collar baseball existed at one time also). One of the best teams in baseball at that time was The O’s, but Baltimore has always been a football town so nobody went to the games. O’s management decided to cater to the blue collar crowd, so they instituted certain policies to boost attendance. Some of those policies were general admission seating; lowered prices; BYOB; free, open gate admission after the 5th inning. In other words it was economically viable for an electrician (my dad) to take the kids (all of us) to a game with a $20 bill and still come home with change on a regular basis. Was the crowd drunk, rowdy, loud, vulgar and decidedly blue-collar (just like any neighborhood bar)?

You bet you ass it was and the ballpark was never livelier and more fun. Then the blue collar crowd was squeezed out as sports became big business and more money was to be made from middle class, upper-middle class suburbanites. Or as we in Baltimore call them “The D.C. crowd.” All of this coincided with larger economic shifts as certain types of jobs started not to exist.

But this type of scenario played itself out in other cities and other sports as well. Was it a viable term at one time? Yes it was. Is it any longer? Probably not.