As Ravens fans, we had been spoiled.
No, we had not been as spoiled as our obnoxious, chowda-eating “friends” to the far north. No, we weren’t frontrunners like the hordes of yinzer-supporters around the country who claim to have a seventh-cousin who hails from Western Pennsylvania. No, we didn’t first start cheering for our team in 2013 like many of the people at the game this past Sunday, most of whom probably couldn’t even point to Seattle on a map.
However, we had taken having a competitive football team for granted. In the era of John Harbaugh, this is the very first losing season. Next week will mark the first time since 2007 – the last Ravens team that wasn’t coached by Harbaugh – that the Ravens will play a game without a mathematical chance at the playoffs.
We aren’t used to losing.
But maybe this season could be a good thing for the level of enthusiasm at M&T Bank Stadium, a good thing for the experience of the fans who have put their hard-earned money toward watching their favorite team in person.
We had felt content with our winning ways in recent years. We had cared. We had gone to games. We had watched them when they went on the road, both from our sofas and from the confines of road venues. We talked about them all week. But we hadn’t had the rabid enthusiasm that we had during the 2012 run. We didn’t have the chip on our shoulder that we had after watching one of the most disappointing ends to a season in NFL history in 2011. We weren’t as excited as we were during 2008 when we had finally found our franchise quarterback.
Baltimore’s fanaticism fell by the wayside.
Wins during the regular season stopped being as exciting. We were supposed to win. We worried about bigger things, like how far we would go in the playoffs. From September to December, we only paid attention to the losses. They concerned us, and we complained all week about them. We called radio shows and posted on social media, message boards, and blogs, wondering how this team could succeed in the playoffs when they couldn’t beat a team like the Texans in the regular season. In victory, we worried about how closely we played against bottom-feeders like the Jaguars.
In the stadium, you could feel the difference in our attitude. Our team was supposed to be good; they didn’t need as much help from the fans. We chose to stay seated more often than not and only made noise on third downs. Even then, we didn’t cheer with as much enthusiasm as we had in the past. The atmosphere after wins in close games felt closer to relief than it did to a celebration.
And then, 2015 happened. Compared to expectations heading into the season, this has been by far the worst for the Ravens in recent memory. Both the offense and defense have underwhelmed, and injuries have only made things worse.
We have felt it in the crowd on Sundays this year. That content nonchalance and sporadic enthusiasm has been replaced with sporadic attendance and mostly indifference, even from the fans who bothered to show up to games.
I don’t blame us.
It’s hard to sustain any level of enthusiasm when you’re rooting for a team that has failed to reach expectations as drastically as this team. It’s near impossible when your franchise quarterback’s season ends, removing any remote chance at a playoff bid.
I remember a time when Bruce Cunningham’s “It’s third down!” would get everyone in the stadium out of their seats, without any hesitation. Now, whenever he says it, all that I can think about is how this team is the 8th worst at stopping such plays, and I have to roll my eyes.
In 2012, the Orioles rose from years of losing, and the fan response was awesome. We felt the enthusiasm of a fanbase liberated from perpetual bottom-dwelling, a feeling that was confirmed by the landslide divisional victory in 2014, when many picked them to win the American League and the World Series. Things didn’t turn out that way, but the two seasons were a renewal of hope for the franchise.
To a lesser degree, we can expect something similar for the Baltimore Ravens in 2016. A winning season would return the enthusiasm that we felt in years past, an enthusiasm that couldn’t re-emerge without a season as terrible as this one. We will have a new, top 10 pick who will be the main point of interest both here and in the rest of the Baltimore sports media. We will be excited to have our franchise quarterback return. Following the last half of this season where we will continue to be reminded how bad things can be without a reliable signal-caller (the rational among us, anyway), we will have a greater appreciation for our quarterback, regardless of which side of the elite debate you fall.
Much like it was for the Orioles in both 2012 and 2014, we will remember 2015, and we will be excited to emerge from it a better team and a better fanbase.