History Faceoff: Baltimore vs. San Francisco

By Christopher Klein

History lurks everywhere you turn in Baltimore and San Francisco, even in the nicknames of the cities’ National Football League franchises. Before the Ravens and 49ers battle on the gridiron in Super Bowl XLVII, see how Baltimore and San Francisco stack up on the playing field of history.

NFL Nickname
Baltimore: A dozen years after the Baltimore Colts slinked off to Indianapolis in 1984, the Baltimore Ravens arrived in Charm City. In the competition to name its new franchise, fans wisely bypassed two generic choices, Marauders and Americans, for a moniker paying homage to one of Baltimore’s most notable former residents, Edgar Allan Poe. Baltimore’s nickname alludes to Poe’s famous poem “The Raven.” Since death has fittingly suited Poe better than life ever did, cities are increasingly eager to lay claim to him. But while the poet was born in Boston and achieved his greatest success while living in New York and Philadelphia, Baltimore is his final resting place and, given his macabre proclivities, the place he’d likely consider home.

San Francisco: Will Rogers aptly said San Francisco was “the city that was never a town,” and that was thanks to the “forty-niners” who stampeded to California in the Gold Rush that peaked in 1849. As a violent epidemic of gold fever swept across America and the world, swarms of prospectors and gold dust worth millions poured into San Francisco, transforming a frontier outpost of less than 1,000 people in early 1848 into a boomtown of 25,000 by the end of 1849. The San Francisco 49ers nickname honors that heritage, although it long ago ditched its original logo of a grizzly goldminer in boots and a lumberjack shirt firing a pair of pistols, Yosemite Sam style.

Edge: Baltimore by a beak.



Dean Birinyi/iStockphoto.com

Baltimore: The original three-street town founded in 1729 was named in honor of British nobleman Cecil Calvert, the second Baron of Baltimore and a founding proprietor of the colony of Maryland. Lord Baltimore’s younger brother Leonard Calvert was Maryland’s first colonial governor.

San Francisco: When the Spanish arrived in 1776, they erected a mission in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, San Francisco de Asís, along with a small town dubbed Yerba Buena (Spanish for “good herb”) for the wild, aromatic mint plants that grew in the surrounding hillside meadows. After the United States claimed Yerba Buena during the Mexican-American War, it rebranded the town San Francisco in 1847.

Edge: San Francisco. Nobody remembers Cecil Calvert.

Native Sports Legend

Joe Dimaggio/Babe Ruth

Joe Dimaggio/Babe Ruth (Getty Images)

Baltimore: A bambino named George Herman Ruth, Jr., was born in a small Baltimore row house on February 6, 1895. The Babe’s love of baseball blossomed at St. Mary’s Industrial School, and in 1914 he suited up for the minor league Baltimore Orioles before getting the call to the big leagues. The site of one of the bars operated by Babe Ruth’s father is now center field at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

San Francisco: Baseball Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio grew up near San Francisco’s iconic Fisherman’s Wharf, where his father tied up his fishing boat that plied the bay. The New York Yankee outfielder married actress Dorothy Arnold in 1939 at Saints Peter and Paul Church in the city’s North Beach neighborhood, and in 1954 “The Yankee Clipper” eloped with Marilyn Monroe at San Francisco City Hall.

Edge: Baltimore. Two greats, but Ruth is baseball’s gold standard.


San Francisco Earthquake damage, 1906.

San Francisco Earthquake damage, 1906.

Baltimore: On the morning of February 7, 1904, winds whipped a small blaze in the business district into a massive inferno. The Great Baltimore Fire raged for 30 hours and destroyed an 80-block area of downtown. While more than 1,500 buildings were incinerated and another 1,000 severely damaged, there was incredibly no loss of life in the city’s worst disaster.

San Francisco: As most San Franciscans slumbered on April 18, 1906, the earth suddenly heaved and furrowed at 5:12 A.M. Hundreds of buildings instantly collapsed. But the worst was yet to come. Flames that erupted from burst gas mains set fire to the city’s literal tinderbox of wooden structures. Making things much worse for firefighters, the earthquake severed water mains. The three-day conflagration reduced nearly 500 city blocks, one-third of San Francisco, to rubble. The unofficial death toll was 3,000, and a quarter of a million people were left homeless. Reporting from the scene of the disaster for Collier’s, Jack London wrote, “Not in history has a modern imperial city been so completely destroyed. San Francisco is gone.”

Edge: San Francisco wins this dubious round.

Wartime History

Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Baltimore's Inner Harbor (iStockphoto.com)

Baltimore: After setting Washington, D.C., ablaze during the War of 1812, British forces launched an unsuccessful two-pronged attack on Baltimore. The land assault began on September 12, 1814. The next day, the British fleet unleashed its artillery on Fort McHenry, a bombardment that lasted into the night. By dawn’s early light, Francis Scott Key spied the American flag still fluttering over the bastion, and the successful defense of Fort McHenry inspired him to write “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which became the words to the national anthem in 1931. (The first monument to Francis Scott Key was erected not in Baltimore, though, but in San Francisco.)

San Francisco: On July 9, 1846, just weeks after the outbreak of the Mexican-American War, village residents, numbering no more than 200, dashed to the windows of their shanties as drums and fifes sounded outside. They watched as United States soldiers and marines hoisted the Stars and Stripes over the central plaza and seized the town with no resistance from the handful of Mexicans in the lightly guarded presidio. The only shots fired were the 21-gun salute from the USS Portsmouth that thundered around the bay.

Edge: Baltimore. Alicia Keys will sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the kickoff of Super Bowl XLVII. Enough said.

Categories: Baltimore, San Francisco, Sports, Super Bowl