The Worst Ending to The Best Season

20 For 20 The Worst Ending to The Best Season

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Unmoving. Sad. Disappointed. Shocked.

All of these words describe how I felt after the Ravens lost to Indianapolis in the Divisional Round of the playoffs following the 2006 season.

This was supposed to be the game in which the Ravens and the city of Baltimore had their revenge on Indianapolis and the football franchise that had taken Baltimore’s precious football team away in the middle of the night back in 1984.

But that wouldn’t happen. No revenge was served.

Instead, in a game that finished without a touchdown, the Ravens fell to Indy by the score of 15-6. The 2006 version of the Ravens’ offense which featured a new signal caller in Steve McNair, had let the team, the organization, its fans, and the city down.

The exciting 2006 season was over. I had never thought it would end that way.


 

For three years before the 2006 season, the Ravens’ Kyle Boller experiment had been ongoing.

It failed miserably.

Mostly due to awful quarterback play, the Ravens had gone 6-10 the previous year. Kyle Boller was, to put it lightly, erratic and never offered anywhere close to what the Ravens needed at the position. They had missed the playoffs two years in a row due to a plethora of offensive struggles.

Heading into the 2006 season, the biggest beacon of hope for the Ravens was newly-acquired QB, Steve McNair, who came at the cost of a 2007 4th round pick.

My favorite team until the time I was about 12 years old (so around 2004) was the Tennessee Titans. I rooted for the Ravens, but if they played the Titans, I cheered my heart out for the team in blue.

Yes, I rooted for the Titans during the Ravens’ 2000 Super Bowl run.

Perhaps you were young and stupid once, too.

As a young, misinformed Titans fan, my favorite player was Steve McNair. I loved how tough he was. I loved how, despite fighting the toughest of injuries, he’d still come out and do whatever it took to move his team down the field, even if it meant putting himself in harm’s way. When I started rooting for the Ravens full-time, “Air” McNair was still my favorite player.

So when I started to grow up (at least from a football perspective) and started rooting for the right team and they picked up my all-time favorite player, I was ecstatic. I knew that he wouldn’t be as effective as he was in his Tennessee days with his history of injuries, but I also knew that he would provide a quality of quarterback play that the Ravens had never had.

Throughout the course of the 2006 season, McNair would prove me right. In his first drive as a Raven against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, McNair led the team down the field for a touchdown. The Ravens would go on to shutout the Bucs, 27-0 in that game in which rookie first round pick, Haloti Ngata intercepted a Chris Simms pass and was 10 yards away from scoring.

From that game on, I thought that 2006 would be the Ravens’ year. I thought that it would be the first time in my life that my favorite team won a championship.

That feeling would be constantly reinforced throughout the year.

After the Ravens shut out the Steelers in Week 12 (a game that Mike Fast detailed in his 20 for 20), I remember walking back to the tailgate lots with my dad as we heard a chant start getting louder and louder from the pack of purple and black.

“Nine and two, nine and two, nine and two!”

My dad turned to me and said, “This is beginning to feel a lot like 2000.”

The fun grew as the season went on. The team would finish with a franchise-best 13-3 record and earn the first first-round bye in Ravens history and the #2 seed in the AFC.

By that time, I was absolutely sure that it was the Ravens’ year. And I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

We had a decent running game led by Jamal Lewis, which averaged 102.3 yards/game. We had a defense that allowed opposing rushers an average of 75.9 yards/game. FOUR separate players (Trevor Pryce – 13.0, Adalius Thomas – 11.0, Bart Scott – 9.5, Terrell Suggs – 9.5) recorded more than 9 sacks on the year. Our defense’s total of 60 sacks was good for second best in the league, just 1 sack behind the leading San Diego Chargers. The defense also led the league in interceptions with a total of 28 and recorded the 2nd most turnovers with 40.

The biggest indicator of the team’s success was in the turnover battle. The Ravens had a +17 turnover differential, which was the best in the league.

Steve McNair was the main reason for that. He threw just 12 interceptions in 15 games.

Beat Indy shirt worn by many fans during the Ravens divisional game against the Colts in 2006In the eyes of national pundits and Baltimore football fans alike, Steve McNair was the missing cog for the Ravens. This would be the year that the Ravens made it back to the Super Bowl.

Two weeks after the regular season ended, on January 13, 2007, it was time for them to show it. The Indianapolis Colts were coming to town for a playoff game. It was the first time that Indy would play a postseason game in Baltimore since they ran off in the night in 1984.

Revenge was coming.

 

On the day of the game in the tailgate lots, I saw “Beat Indy” shirts everywhere.

It summed up how Ravens fans felt perfectly. They felt that Indy was cursed. There was NO way that Indy was going to win this game.

Every time a new group of people spotted an Indy fan, they would boo as loud as they could. It was all in good fun with the fans (most of them, anyway), but the animosity toward the franchise was tangible.

This was pretty similar to the reception of EVERY Indy fan I saw (WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE AND GESTURES):

The fans could not have been more ready for this game.

As the game started, we were as pumped up as we had been all week. I had never been as excited for a game as I was by the player intros of this one.

As I looked around, someone in our group pointed out that instead of having Indianapolis’ team name written on the scoreboard, the Ravens had tagged the team “Indy”.

That got us even more fired up as we readied for kickoff.

The first drive ended with a Ravens 3-and-out. On the ensuing drive, the defense would hold Indy to a field goal.

This would be a theme for the game.

On the Ravens’ most promising drive, down just 6-3 in the 2nd quarter and facing a 3rd and goal from the Indianapolis 4-yard line, Steve McNair threw a pass over the middle that was picked off by Antoine Bethea. After that, the game was never really in doubt for Indy. One of the best opportunities came when Ed Reed intercepted a pass, tip-toed along the sideline, then pitched it to Chris McAlister around midfield. The ruling was that Ed Reed stepped out of bounds, but he hadn’t. Chris McAlister should have had the opportunity to return it, which made all of us furious.

How pathetic it was that on this day, our fans thought that our defense, with a bunch of traffic in front of the play, had a better chance at returning an interception for a touchdown than the offense had at scoring against a defense that ranked dead last against the run.

For this one game, it was just like it had been for years with the Ravens. We had no faith in our offense.

When the final whistle blew, my dad and I sat in the stadium in our seats in section 101 motionless.

We sat there for a good 30 minutes. Most of the crowd had already left. The only fans who were left were traveling Indy fans who were all celebrating. We couldn’t believe it. It was our year.

The loss didn’t completely sink in until an usher came by. His words made it real.

“Guys, it’s over.”

It certainly was.

We may have had the best team in the league. It may have been the best Ravens team of all time. On that day, however, Indy’s defense was much better than the Ravens offense. The offense let the city down once again.

As it turned out, it wasn’t Baltimore’s year at all.

It was Indianapolis’ year.

We exited the stadium to Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come.

Looking back that classic song seemed like a prophecy, for in 2008 a new quarterback came along and changed the franchise’s offensive woes.

Unfortunately Joe Flacco wasn’t available on that balmy January night in 2007.

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About Tyler Lombardi

Tyler has followed Baltimore sports his entire life. His favorite player growing up was Steve McNair, so he was ecstatic when he became a Raven in 2006. When he's in front of the TV watching the game, it's best to avoid non-football discussion. It's quite likely he isn't listening anyway, as his girlfriend can attest to. More from Tyler Lombardi

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