Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Year of Lows


I don't normally write about the Ravens on this blog, but after today's embarrassing loss to the winless Miami Dolphins, I can't help myself.

So here goes...

A Year of Lows - My Experience of a Baltimore Sports Fan in 2007

2007 was a year full of promise for Baltimore sports fans.

It started off with the 2006 Ravens finishing up at 13-3, and clinching a first round bye in the playoffs. The “no-defense” Indianapolis Colts were coming to town in such a fitting twist of fate, since the Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis 23 long years ago, and Baltimore fans were still bitter. Ravens fans turned out like never before, wearing “Beat Indy” shirts with Johnny Unitas’ number 19 emblazoned on the back. I even dropped $15 to own of these shirts myself.

But the January playoff game was a massive let-down to say the least.

Steve McNair, the Ravens QB, who played so well over the course of the season, played like crap, throwing two costly interceptions. Combine that with head coach Brian Billick’s “play not to lose” gameplan, and you have a recipe for a Titanic-sized letdown.

End result, Indianapolis 15, Baltimore 6 and my "Beat Indy" shirt in the trash can as soon as I got home from the game.

To add insult to injury, the Chargers, the top-seeded team in the AFC, lost the day after the Ravens lost, which would have guaranteed Baltimore the AFC Championship game had the Ravens beaten the Colts.

But from there on out, Baltimore fans could do nothing but root against the Colts as they hosted the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. And when the Patriots got out to a large first-half lead, Baltimore fans could at least rest assured that the Colts would continue their Super Bowl drought after moving to Indianapolis.

But the impossible happened. The Colts mounted a huge second half comeback and beat the Patriots.

And the nightmare for Baltimore fans became a reality: the Indianapolis Colts were going to the Super Bowl after all. And for the next two weeks, Baltimore fans cried into their Natty Boh’s as Peyton Manning’s mug was plastered all over the TV, and not just on commercials.

The Colts rolled over the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl and once more, salt was poured into the collective wound of Baltimore fans everywhere as Jim Irsay hoisted the Lombardi trophy above his head and thanked the fans of Indianapolis, 23 years after his father moved the team.

Next up were the Orioles, hardly a beacon for hope in Baltimore, having undergone nine consecutive losing seasons. And after those nine long losing seasons, Orioles fans were looking forward to a .500 season. After so much ugliness, even mediocrity started to look good.

The Orioles made the requisite mediocre signings in Aubrey Huff and Jay Payton. And when Kris Benson went down with an injury, the Orioles signed his clone, Steve Trachsel.

The Orioles got off to their usual teasing start in April, actually resembling something that looked like a major league baseball team. But then the bottom fell out as usual. Sam Perlozzo mis-managed the Orioles night in and night out, the starting rotation started to drop like flies, and the Orioles sunk back into their old losing ways.

Perlozzo was later dismissed and interim manager Dave Trembley immediately breathed some life back into the team. Meanwhile, Peter Angelos turned over what looked like a new leaf by handing over the team to esteemed GM Andy MacPhail who had success as GM in Minnesota and Chicago. One of MacPhail’s first moves as GM was rewarding Trembley’s instant success with a contract to be the full-time manager for the remainder of 2007 and 2008.

And what did the Orioles do that very night, before the ink on Trembley’s freshly signed contract had time to dry?

They went out in the first game of a double header against the Texas Rangers, a team as bad, if not worse, than the Orioles, and lost 30-3. That’s right. 30-3. They allowed the most runs in the history of modern day baseball against a weak-hitting line-up that resembled their own.

The Orioles followed up that terrible loss with massive losing streaks (yes, that's plural, as in more than one) that placed them in their old familiar sport – fourth place – with a 69-73 record, cementing their 10th consecutive losing season in a row.

Next up were the Ravens again.

After an off-season of licking their wounds, the Ravens let RB Jamal Lewis go to the AFC North perennial cellar-dwelling Cleveland Browns, who had a knack for picking up the Ravens’ leftover scraps. To replace Jamal Lewis, the Ravens traded for a stud in Willis McGahee from the Buffalo Bills. The stabilizing veteran QB presence of Steve McNair was back as well, ready to lead his team to the playoffs and beyond, having spent a year learning the Ravens playbook.

But the Ravens came out in their first game against the Cincinnati Bengals and laid an egg on national TV that would foreshadow the rest of the season.

The Ravens turned the ball over half a dozen times and Brian Billick decided to abandon his running game when he needed only one yard late in the game. End results, Benagls 22, Ravens 20.

However, the Ravens bounced back in the following five weeks, managing to end up at a respectable 4-2 record after six games, all without showing much on offense as usual. Fans thought that they would eventually start to gel, but then the worst happened.

And it has yet to end.

A massive eight game losing streak, the longest in franchise history, that continues to this very day. The losing streak is made up of spare parts injuries, bad play-calling, poor execution, and a tough schedule.

The losing streak contained heart-breaking losses, such as the close loss to the currently undefeated New England Patriots, and a blow-out loss to the Colts that forced fans to leave before the first quarter was even over.

But the game that sticks out the most in this losing streak was the overtime loss at home to the Cleveland Browns. The Browns and their high-powered offense had gotten off to a big lead early in the game, but the Ravens rallied back in the second half, tying the game and eventually taking the lead.

But in the closing seconds, the Browns drove down to their end of the field and kicked a field goal. Initially, it was ruled no good by the referees, as it looked like the ball had hit the goal post and fell to the ground. The officials even officially ended the game, which sent 70,000+ fans happily headed towards the exit, myself included, thinking that the Ravens had won the game.

But some ten minutes later, after the referees discussed the field goal and ruled that it was good, the game was sent into overtime. The referees called the teams back on the field, and the Ravens, having thought they won the game, came out flat as the Browns won the coin toss and drove down the field with ease to kick another field goal which would win them the game.

Had the Ravens won that game, they would have been sitting nicely at 5-5. Not exactly playoff contenders, but a team that still had something to play for. Instead, the loss sent them spiraling into the ground.

But the icing on the cake has to be the loss to the winless Miami Dolphins this afternoon. When the losing started, the one thing Ravens fan could say was “at least we have Miami”. Well, the ironic thing was that Dolphins fans were saying the same thing about Baltimore.

And they were right.

The Ravens lost another close one in overtime, and again, Brian Billick’s play-calling cost the Ravens the game. With twelve seconds left in regulation and the ball on the one yard line, Billick decided to tie the game by kicking a field goal instead of pounding the ball into the endzone for the win. The field goal instead forced the game into overtime, where Matt Stover missed a long field goal and the Dolphins scored on a long TD pass in the following drive to win the game and end their winless season.

Meanwhile, the Ravens are sure to turn into the butt of national jokes, and most of them will be well-deserved. Fans are calling for Billick to be fired, which owner Steve Biscotti has said won’t happen, and the several veterans on the team are looking their age. It’s a crossroads for the Ravens, who were pre-season favorites to win the division and now sit at the bottom, looking up at everyone else.

My, how the mighty have fallen.

As the year comes to a close, I am thankful. From a sports fan perspective, 2007 has been a disaster from start to finish. Us Baltimore fans are usually hard on ourselves, and we are surely wallowing in despair today, waiting to see what people will have to say about the lowly Ravens losing to the winless Dolphins.

But as sports fans, no matter what city we’re from, we have to remember, “there’s always next year”, and thankfully, New Year’s Day is only sixteen days away.

Maybe I'm being too optimistic. Maybe it's the eggnog. But no matter how jaded a fan I may be, I wouldn't be a fan if I didn't think it were true.

There is always next year. There is always next year. There is always next year.

Whoo-zah.

And don't forget to breathe.

1 comment:

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