Since the last time the Ravens stepped foot on the field against an opponent, in Week 17 of the 2016 NFL season, 218 days have passed. Our last exposure, a meaningless game in Cincinnati to end a roller-coaster of a season that fell short of expectations and dreams in Baltimore. A meaningless game in which the Ravens watched Steve Smith Sr. unceremoniously ride off into the sunset. A game that left fans nothing shy of frustrated and disappointed.
Heads were hung on the field, jerseys were hung in the closet, and Ravens fans were hung up on what could have been, and what will be.
218 days of lamenting the past, debating the future, and ever so quietly, counting down to this day.
The day has arrived.
Months of patience, as we spent our winter months watching hated rivals advance in the playoffs, culminating in a(nother) Patriots Super Bowl victory.
We sighed in despair as we waved goodbye to several key free agents, who left their longtime Baltimore home and moved on to greener pastures (financially speaking). We openly embraced and welcomed new faces to the Ravens family.
We sat on the edges of our collective seats tuned-in to the NFL draft, raising an eyebrow to those players left on the board, while simultaneously throwing a golf clap out there as we hoped & prayed Ozzie Newsome & Co. made the right calls.
We cringed when news broke that Dennis Pitta‘s hip issues resurfaced. Then Tavon Young went down, Joe Flacco‘s back flared up, Darren Waller popped the wrong pill, John Urschel valued his brilliant mind and retired, and the ‘That’s So Ravens’ tagline returned with a vengeance; an unshakable fate that plagues Baltimore’s football team year-in, year-out.
Now here we sit. 218 days stuck in the whirlwind that is the Ravens offseason.
And the time has finally arrived.
Once again, the game will be meaningless, at least to the fans watching from M&T Bank Stadium, or the friendly, comfy confines of their own home.
But for those players on the field, this is not just a meaningless game.
For many, tonight will be a first.
The first opportunity for the newest crop of Ravens rookies to showcase their talents and prove that they belong with the elite in the NFL. The first chance for the undrafted rookies to prove their value and push to earn a roster spot on the team. The first chance for practice squad players to prove they belong on the 53-man roster. The first time for many players to run out of that tunnel as a Raven. Somebody could intercept their first pass in the NFL, while another can catch their first touchdown as a Raven.
Practice squad players will push the 3rd stringers. 3rd stringers will push the 2nd stringers, and 2nd stringers will give it their all to best the starters and earn their spot atop the Ravens roster.
There will be moments of excitement. There may be glimpses of greatness in the making. An immaculate catch, a crunching hit, or stellar return will get a rise out of fans who- if only for a brief moment- may forget this is merely the preseason. But adrenaline will kick in, as we’ll be pumping our fists while wearing an ever so slightly reserved smirk on our faces.
Don’t get me wrong- it won’t be perfect. It won’t be pretty. Hell, it might even get ugly. Passes will be under-thrown, the ball will hit the turf, the defense will allow points, and the offense may struggle to score any of their own. We’ll get frustrated with a play call or two. We’ll curse the missed tackle on defense, or the blown protection by the running back.
We may hang our heads once again… but only for a moment.
Because this is a beginning, not the end. The beginning of a new season, and a new hope. The beginning of what we can only hope will be a long, illustrious career for the incoming Ravens rookies. The beginning of a new journey in Baltimore for familiar faces from around the league. The beginning of a new roller coaster ride.
218 days… and it’s finally here.
THE RAVENS ARE BACK.