Thursday, September 6, 2012

RIP Art Modell

Art Modell passed away this morning at the age of 87.

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

The never-ending agony of the Baltimore sports fan

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?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Festivus 2011

It's been a while, but the Bad Oriole is back.

Luckily, I've been able to do some professional writing for the Frederick Gorilla magazine, which has taken up a lot of my time these last few months. So I'm sorry if I've left you tweaking without a Bad Oriole fix these last two months. I'll try not to let that happen again.

Well, a lot has happened in these last two months, no? Where to begin?

For starters, 2011 came to an end. I don't know about you, but 2011 was a great year for me. I got to do some writing for the Gorilla magazine, traveled to Portugal and San Francisco/Napa Valley and cheered for the Ravens as they finished the 2011 season with a 12-4 record and a first round bye.

In fact, one of my last posts was about "Steeler Week" before the Ravens traveled to Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers in an amazing come-from-behind victory that was Joe Flacco's finest moment as QB of the Ravens. But it doesn't look like we're finished with the Steelers just yet, since the paths of these two teams are destined to cross at some point this postseason.

As for the Ravens this postseason, the sky's the limit. When the defense is playing well, they're as good as any team in the NFL. You only need to look back to the ass-whipping the Ravens put on the 49ers on Thanksgiving night for proof of that. But when the defense doesn't play well, and the Chargers game was proof of that, the Ravens look like a team that doesn't belong in the playoffs. Thankfully, the only high-powered offensive AFC team that made the playoffs is the Patriots and they'll be tough to beat, especially in New England.

Offensively, the Ravens look to have committed to the run again, which is where the strength on offense lies. It seems as if Cam Cameron needs to be reminded about four times each season that the running game is still this team's strength and that the Ravens aren't ready to become the Packers, Saints or Patriots just yet. Ray Rice is in the prime of his career and playing for a contract so you might as well ride that horse for as long as you can.

It looks like the Ravens could have gotten a break with the #2 seed since the Texans are likely to beat the Bengals and then come to Baltimore in round 2. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. The Bengals are a good young team and are capable of beating the Texans in Houston, only losing by one point in a game played there earlier this year, and a Bengals win would make things very interesting for the Ravens, likely sending the Steelers to Baltimore in round 2 if Pittsburgh can beat the 8-8 Broncos this weekend.

Moving on. The Orioles. Remember them? Yeah, they're still a Major League Baseball team believe it or not (they even have their own website), and one of my other last posts was about who they'd pick as their new GM following Andy MacPhail's exit from the warehouse. Well, after they were whored by just about every solid GM candidate in baseball, they settled on Dan Duquette, formerly of the Expos and Red Sox. Duquette had been away from MLB baseball for a decade. So Duquette and the Orioles were actually a match made in heaven since you can say the Orioles have been out of MLB baseball for just as long, and even longer.

So far, Duquette has done some good things, like shaking up the front office staff and replacing them with some of the most experienced people in the game in Lee Thomas and Fred Ferreira. Their age may be a concern for some, since the Orioles rarely ever hire young front office personnel in key positions, but Lee's and Ferriera's track record speak for themselves.

Duquette's roster moves have been pretty bland, reeking of depth moves (Dana Eveland, Matt Antonelli, Taylor Teagarden, Jai Miller) but he did many things that MacPhail always talked about but never actually did, like creating a presence in the international market and streamlining the development program in the minors. Then again, who knows....maybe I am just being to high on Duquette because his initials are DD, the best bra size there is.

Speaking of DD's, Christina Hendricks was in Drive, the best movie I saw in 2011, although I will admit it's been a crappy year for movies. However, Drive would rank high on my list for the last few years. It's that good.

Game of Thrones and American Horror Story ruled the TV airwaves. Justified starts back up in a few weeks.

If you ever can get to Portugal, please do. It's cheaper than most European destinations and just as beautiful. The city of Porto is Europe's hidden gem and replete with port distilleries which are reason enough to fly 7 hours to Lisbon and hop on a train for 4 hours, which is what my wife and I did when we first arrived. We then trained it to Lagos, on the southern coast, and then Lisbon.

A visit to San Francisco forced me to question my recent liberal leanings as much as it reinforced them. SF's mass transit system is on par with New York -- and you read that right. The arts and culture there is top notch. The homelessness -- and the attitudes of the homelessness -- and added taxes to support the homelessness were sickening.

As a Virginia wine fan, it was assuring to find out that many Napa area wines are inferior, especially the mass produced ones which can be harkened to the Budweiser of wines. However, the small batch wineries, usually located up in the mountains, blow VA wines out of the water. But it was interesting to learn first hand that not all Napa wines are the end all be all of wine.

Anyway, I'm working on another world city tour entry....and I'll try not to leave you for so long again.