Friday, December 15, 2017
Thursday, September 6, 2012
The year was 1995. I was sixteen years old.
The city of Baltimore was a one-team sports town with a healthy obsession with baseball and the Orioles, who had just moved into a groundbreaking stadium that changed the way stadiums were built. However, a hole existed in Baltimore. A hole that was created when Jim Irsay packed up the Colts in Mayflower trucks and moved them to Indianapolis in 1984 and had never been filled.
As much as I am shamed to admit it, I was a Steelers fan that fall of 1995. I can't exactly explain why I became a Steeler fan, but I doubt many Baltimore kids my age could explain why they were fans of any team in the NFL while Baltimore didn't have one to call their own. We were mercenary fans, rooting for teams for whatever generic reason: we liked the uniforms, we liked a certain player, or just wanted to root for a winner.
The CFL came to Baltimore and gave us some excitement as the Stallions appeared in two Grey Cup games during the two years they were in Baltimore, winning one of them before relocating to Montreal. But despite their success, the CFL was not the NFL.
And the NFL returned in the fall of 1995 when Art Modell announced the Browns were moving to Baltimore. I can still remember the night, eating dinner with my family in a crowded dining room in the Catonsville house where I grew up. We had the radio tuned to Nasty Nestor, before he became an egotistical maniac who went off the rails. Baltimore football was back.
My friends and I drove to the airport that night to welcome Modell and the Browns to Baltimore. We never got to officially see them arrive, but there were other people there at the airport, carrying signs, buzzing about the move. It was like being in the delivery room when the Ravens were born.
I always think back to 1954 when the Browns moved from St. Louis to Baltimore and became the Orioles. What was it like to witness that? I know now what it's like to witness the birth of a sports team.
The first few years were much like the first few years of raising a child, as I can only imagine. Equally frustrating and exciting to go through everything for the first time. The first game, the first loss, the first losing season, those ugly uniforms. But despite all the low points you were still proud. Watching losing football on Sundays was better than watching no football, or watching football that you had no rooting interest in.
Then suddenly, before anyone could really take notice, the Ravens were Super Bowl Champs. It all happened so fast it feels at times as if it didn't happen at all. But it did happen.
And Art Modell, who died this morning, made it all possible.
He filled that hole with a team that has gone on to become one of the best-run organizations in professional sports. They may not have the hardware to back up that claim, but the team is well run and plays hard and make you proud to be a Baltimore Ravens fan.
Even after the tragic loss to the Patriots in New England last January, I was still proud to be a Ravens fan, despite Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff. I can't even be mad at them. They tried.
Art Modell may never get elected to the Hall of Fame, and that's a shame, because he deserves to be in it for his work in helping form the NFL of today. The move from Cleveland will always be a blight on his legacy but not in Baltimore.
For us, it was the highlight of his legacy.
Thanks for everything, Art.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Well, here we are again.
Another January and another devastating Ravens playoff loss.
This one hurts.
Maybe not as much as last year’s loss to the Steelers or the loss to the Colts in January 2007, but this still hurts, none the less.
Victory was in hand, for at least a split second, before Sterling Moore made a flukey motion for the ball and knocked it out of the hands of Lee Evans.
Despite that drop, we always had a field goal kick in our back pocket to force the game into overtime. But even that wasn’t in the cards, as Billy Cundiff raced out onto the field after being confused, distracted, whatever, and shanked it.
Not only did Ravens fans have to suffer through another playoff loss, they ran the gamut of emotions -- from victory, to the relief that we can still tie the game, to losing the game. All within twenty seconds.
And that’s why being a Ravens fan is so hard. They play with your soul like Chris Farley played with that biscuit in Tommy Boy. I had prepared myself for the realistic outcome of a loss to avoid the devastating feeling that always accompanies a playoff loss. After all, going to New England and beating Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is a daunting task.
But as the game progressed and the possibility of winning became greater as each minute ticked off the clock, and Joe Flacco drove the offense down the field in the last minute of the game, I knew that any preparation I’d made to deal with a loss was out of the window.
So what’s left now is the thought of what could have been and the image of what actually happened. A crushing contrast.
And that, in a nutshell, is what being a Baltimore sports fan is all about. What exists in our minds compared to a sobering reality. What splendid agony.
Outside of the “it happened too fast” Super Bowl that the Ravens won in 2000, Baltimore sports fans have known mostly nothing but misery over the last 30 years.
From the Colts leaving town for Indianapolis – from the Orioles losing 21 straight games to start the 1988 season – from Jeffrey F*cking Maier – from the O’s racking up 14 losing seasons in a row after 1997 – from tragic Maryland losses to Duke basketball – and finally from the stinging playoff defeats that have mounted for the Ravens since 2001.
Compare that to the fortune that Boston has experienced in the last ten years. Each of their four sports teams has won at least one championship in that time. The Red Sox and Patriots have five titles between them, and the Patriots will be going for another in two weeks.
That is where the torture exists for Ravens fans in that loss. We wanted that feeling so bad. With the Orioles continuing to wallow in the annals of the American League, we have no choice but to put all our eggs into the Ravens basket. But no. Boston fans are celebrating another championship game appearance a mere seven months after the Bruins won the Stanley Cup.
I know Baltimore has a long way to go to equal the epic misery of Cleveland sports fans. But we’re getting close. And I know that doesn’t offer fans any consolation, but at least we can embrace our tragic sports heritage instead of dreading it.
What the hell else are we gonna do?