Art Modell has joined Milton Berle and Dwight Eisenhower. Hasim Rahman is now in league with Fabian and Mae West. The Ravens owner and the heavyweight champ, you see, have both been presented with the key to Baltimore--joining not only Milton and Mae as key-holders, but also Queen Elizabeth II, Robert F. Kennedy, and Dale Carnegie. Mayor Martin O'Malley gave Modell the key to the city during the post-Super Bowl Ravens rally Jan. 30 and handed the Rock his B'more lock opener on April 24.
The recent presentations took the Nose rather by surprise. A decades-spanning history of the city key appears in the book Charmed Life, a collection of the like-named City Paper column that was published last summer (Woodholme House, $14.95; current Amazon.com sales rank: 503,616). Before the book went to press in the spring of 2000, mayoral spokesperson Tony White reported that O'Malley had no plans to award dignitaries a city key (following in the footsteps of predecessor Kurt Schmoke, who also governed keylessly). But then, in spring 2000 most folks would have laughed in your face if you suggested that the Ravens would win the NFL championship, and few had even heard of Hasim Rahman.
We got in touch with White, who confessed to knowing little about the key. He did refer to our supreme symbol of civic goodwill and accomplishment as a "a big-ass piece of wood," which, from the photos we've seen, is about right--it looks like a 3-foot-long modern car key cut out of plywood, like something that might come out of a high school shop class. But then, nobody knows where it really did come from. According to one mayoral staffer, somebody simply found the thing in a City Hall coat closet, just in time to celebrate the city's unexpected football triumph.
"It was good timing, for it was right when the Ravens did their thing, and we used it as a prop for their celebration," the staffer says. When O'Malley handed the key to Modell at the Jan. 30 rally, it was dressed up with a Ravens logo. The presentation was only symbolic, however, and Modell eventually handed the key back. It was sitting in the closet again when the Baltimore-born and -trained Rahman laid out Lennox Lewis in South Africa to win the heavyweight title. This time the key was festooned with a boxing glove. And this time the city didn't get it back. (Perhaps nobody was willing to approach the Rock: "Hey, uh, Mr. Heavyweight Champion of the World, can we, uh, have our big key back?") Perhaps it's now over the mantel of Rahman's Abingdon home.
So now the city is without its official key. The mayoral staffer says the administration might get around to making another one, but it's not a big priority. The Nose understands. It's not like they'll need to slap an orange-and-black bird on a key-shaped "big-ass piece of wood" anytime soon.