Back in February I wrote an article entitled “The Most Miserable Time of The Year.” Now generally speaking, I’m an optimistic guy. That’s the “kinda fella I am”, to borrow an expression from John Mellencamp. So to pen such a column with such a negative title is a bit out of character for me. But let’s face it, after the Super Bowl and before March madness, the only thing we have to hold on to is Valentine’s Day and that’s like gripping the dorsal fin of a great white when your boat capsizes. Okay, maybe it’s not that good but you get the point.
Now, we are in the midst of the “Dead Zone.” That time of year in the NFL when all goes quiet. The sound of silence in the NFL. It’s a time when players retreat to dark, secret places and coaches pull out their summer cloak of anonymity to retreat into the abyss of preparation and planning for the coming season. But hey, at least it is summer and social activities are abundant. Personally I prefer to stay close to water and my ipod. Both are forms of therapy that help to decelerate the heart and transform the dead zone into the comfort zone.
Yet thoughts inevitably drift towards football. How could they not?
Recently while away, I thought back to the Browns announcement to move to Baltimore back in November of 1995. I was out of town on business travel at the time and didn’t hear the news until I received a voice mail from a buddy of mine who was eager to share his delight. Initially, it seemed too good to be true but my joy was hesitant. Weren’t we doing the same to the fans of Cleveland that the city of Indianapolis did to Baltimoreans? What did those fans do to deserve the Browns exodus?
I took a moment to let it sink in and reflect upon the events that lead to that historical decision by Art Modell.
The city of Baltimore tried to do it the right way. We tried to lure a team that had little fan support (Cardinals and Saints). When that failed we tried to follow the NFL mandated procedures for the league’s expansion process. Two teams would be named and surely Baltimore with its rich NFL history would be one of the two teams, right? If we could only stave off St. Louis and convince the league that our proximity to DC and Philly was irrelevant.
The ballot was in and the first expansion franchise would be: “Jerry Richardson and the Carolina Panthers.”
Ok I thought — I can live with that. The decision made sense to me. Now on to more important matters – surely we would be No. 2. Oh but wait. The league decided to drop back and punt on No. 2 for a bit. They wanted to think about it some more.
Finally “D” day arrived and William Donald Shaffer made an impassioned plea to the NFL to justify the selection of Baltimore. Willie Don could sell abstinence to a sailor that just docked his vessel after months at sea. Of course Willie could persuade Tagliabue to inspire and railroad the owners into voting for Baltimore. Didn’t happen. We all know the choice was Jacksonville. That’s like choosing Paris Hilton over Miss America; a trailer park over Roland Park; Burger World over Ruth’s Chris. Willie Don was told to save his money and build a museum.
Can you imagine? Put yourself in the shoes of the Maryland Stadium Authority. Think of a project that you’ve worked on for months and months. You finally have an opportunity to present your work. You do so with pride and determination and conviction. Right on down to the core of your soul, you believe in your well formulated opinion and the summation of your efforts.
And then as you finish your presentation the boss says, “Interesting” and then moves on to the next topic – a proposed cutback in paper clip spending. A humiliating kick in the crotch to say the least.
Ok, it sunk in. I’m over it. We tried to acquire an NFL team the fair way. Sorry Cleveland…no offense but congrats on your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame…we’ll take your football team and their pathetic candy corn coordinated uniforms. I then became very comfortable with the thievery.
That was 10 NFL seasons ago. We didn’t know who Ray Lewis was. We wanted Lawrence Phillips instead of the boring selection of Jonathan Ogden. We didn’t care that Ted Marchibroda was coming back without Bert Jones – a proven losing formula. We got our team and the NFL was back where it belonged.
Initially we didn’t mind the losing. We were just happy to have a team. It was the honeymoon and honey could do no wrong. And then Brian Billick came along. He brought consistency and leadership and today, the Ravens are an annual contender for post season play.
Ten years ago. In some ways it seems like only yesterday. In other ways, it feels like the Ravens have been part of the landscape of Baltimore for decades. The memories are rich and the friendships that have formed since Modell’s move are bountiful. And there is much more of both ahead.
So kick back. Dig your toes in the sand with a cold beverage in hand and take in the sights and sounds of summer. Think back upon the Ravens brief albeit rich history and smile a little while. Gaze out into the horizon. Just beyond it, lies another promising season of Ravens football. The sound of football silence will soon pass.