There are people who live for the Super Bowl. They arrange house parties; they make sure there's plenty of food, cases of beer or boxes of wine. For many of these people, ordinary life stops on Super Bowl Sunday. So be it, although I've never been one of these people.
In fact, in years past I've tended to criticize how people can put so much energy into an event that's just a game. But this year is different. This year I find myself hoping that one team comes out on top: the Baltimore Ravens.
The reason for this change of heart is simple: Steve Bisciotti, the majority owner of the Ravens, is a second cousin of mine, or more specifically, the son of my godmother, Patricia, who hails from my mother's side of the family, the Irish Muldoon-Kelly-Tyrone County, Ireland-side.
Of course, random talk about Steve Bisciotti and the Ravens has been making the rounds in family circles for years. It began in the year 2000 when Bisciotti purchased 49 percent of the team. It then catapulted somewhat in 2004 when he purchased the remaining 51 percent and became majority owner. While these developments struck me as interesting, because our family is so large, I don't think I met Steve until three months ago at the family funeral Mass for Patricia's sister, Connie Davis, in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. It was there, in Saint Anastasia's church, that I was finally able to put a face to the name.
Interestingly enough, this was about the time when Ravens linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo was being castigated by a conservative Maryland legislator, Emmett Burns, Jr. (D-Baltimore Co.) for his open support of same-sex marriage. Ayanbadejo, who is straight, has not been shy about talking up marriage equality every chance he gets. This fact bothered Burns, who wrote a letter to Bisciotti and Ravens President Dick Cass asking that Ayanbedejo be silenced. The conservative legislator, according to Baltimore's Metro Weekly, wanted the Ravens to "inhibit" Ayanbadejo and "take the necessary actions," to have the linebacker "cease and desist" his public support.
According to Ayanbedejo, Cass and Bisciotti had a talk about Burns' letter and then Cass approached him with some words of encouragement, telling him first of all that we [the Ravens] support the right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment." Ayanbadejo then went on to say that Cass told him, "We're in support of you and it's good that you're able to voice your opinion and say how you feel. We're not an organization that discriminates."
When I first read this interchange, I knew that cousin Steve had inherited his father's benevolent generosity of spirit.
Let me explain.
As a college student in Maryland, I visited Steve Bisciotti's father, Bernie Bisciotti (Uncle Bernie) in a Baltimore hospital with my own father, Thomas C. when Bernie was fighting terminal leukemia. Our visit lasted over an hour, but this was enough time to see that Bernie Bisciotti was an empathetic gentle giant of a man. As a nervous 19-year-old on the verge of doing alternate service as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, I was used to untoward looks and disapproving comments from unexpected quarters, but not so with Uncle Bernie. In fact, the very opposite of that was true; Uncle Bernie's attitude was one of love and acceptance. The fact that he seemed so clam and peaceful when he knew he was going to die soon impressed me as something rare.
Finding Steve standing by himself in the church for a few short minutes (a rare thing, as many people wanted his ear) drinking his trademark bottled water seemed the perfect opportunity to tell him about my meeting with his father.
After the funeral, my interest in football went up a notch. I went home and Googled Steve's name, having heard something about the beauty of his huge estate on Maryland's Severn River. When I spotted a picture of the residence, I thought that I'd gotten one of the Royal Family's palaces in England by mistake. Although I try not to become overly impressed with a person's net worth, sometimes I'm subject to an involuntary verbal exclamation like "Oh wow."
I may not know Steve Bisciotti as well as other family members, but I know enough about our family to know that he was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. In fact, anyone who knows anything about the Muldoon-Kelly Klan knows that the "teaching fabric" among this brood comes primarily from the still-very-much-alive spirit of the (long deceased) saintly family matriarch, Nellie Kelly Muldoon.
The Bisciotti's, thank God, are not the Kardashian family.
Which brings me back to football and to Bisciotti's having inherited something of his father's Bernie spirit's when he, through Cass, came to Ayanbadejo's defense. While a few words of support may not seem like much in an era where equality is fast becoming mainstream, in the world of sports and especially football, where distorted machismo can sometimes still rear its ugly head, it does mean something.
After all, one has only to consider the trauma former NFL running back David Kopay experienced when he announced his sexual orientation in 1975. In those days, most Americans believed that there were no gay men in the NFL, and Kopay was given a very hard time.
So, while it's conceivable that I may never see Steve Bicsiotti until the next family wedding or funeral, in the interim I'll raise my glass to Uncle Bernie.