The Route 50 Epiphany

Lombardi's Way The Route 50 Epiphany

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And The Birth of a Ravens Website

15 years!

It doesn’t feel anything close to that long!

It’s crazy, really. But I suppose that’s what happens when you have a job that you love so much that it doesn’t feel like work. Do what you love, love what you do.

And I remember vividly how it all started.

A buddy of mine suggested to me back in 2002 that I should have my own radio show. His rationale was that I sent in emails to WNST that were thoughtful and often read on the air. My friend, in almost a reprimandable kind of way said, “Why are you giving these guys free content?”

I just wanted to share my thoughts and those emails provided a way to do just that. Besides, who would listen to me on the radio anyway? I was just a commercial finance professional and an amateur athlete to boot, with opinions about his favorite sports teams, just like anyone else. What made me any different, particularly someone with no broadcasting background?

So, I let the thought go…for a couple of months.

That summer I was driving down Route 50 to Ocean City with an ex-girlfriend who drove a convertible Mustang. I sat shotgun. I can’t remember exactly why I sat shotgun, but it probably had something to do with the late night before. But be that as it may, as it flapped like a flag on the back of a boat, I tried to read The Sun’s sports page. There was nothing on the Ravens.

NOTHING!

I crumpled the paper into a ball.

“What’s wrong?”, my ex asked.

“First, it’s next to impossible to read the paper with the top down, and secondly, there’s not a thing in this fish wrap that has anything to do with the Ravens. I want to read about the Ravens 24/7!”

It was as if I was hit by a bolt of lightning. Ravens 24/7. Why not build a website to express my opinions about the team? THAT should be the delivery mechanism for the content, not radio.

As my mind raced I noticed a shadow passing above the car and looked up. A magnificent bald eagle soared just overhead, seemingly 20 feet above the car.

OMEN!

The bald eagle is front and center in the Baltimore Sun logo.

Ravens website

When I arrived in Ocean City, my brain was like those credits you see after a movie, flying by and hardly discernible. I felt like my head was going to explode with ideas on how to implement and launch this new website that I would surely call, Ravens 24/7. My ex thought it could wait, that we were to meet some friends, yada, yada, yada.

It couldn’t wait. No way, no how. I would be no company to anyone whatsoever. My mind had one track and it was purple and black.

I decided to walk the boards. The ocean air and the smell of that wood takes me to a comfort zone that has existed since childhood. There I believed, I could best sort my thoughts.

The ideas arrived in droves and I felt the need to compartmentalize them. I had to stop somewhere and start to write them down. So, I ducked into the Dough Roller, just off 3rd Street. Feeling a bit guilty about hanging out there, I ordered lunch that I never ate. I just wanted a pen so that I could write down my thoughts on some napkins.

During my time at the Dough Roller – and I can’t even remember how long it took, I came up with a basic design of the logo, a site map (allow I really didn’t know what a site map was at the time) and a tag line. Ravens 24/7, for those who bleed purple.

It took a while to finally launch the site – a little less than a year from this Route 50 epiphany. At the time I was working as a Regional Sales Manager for Boeing Capital. Fortunately (although at the time I didn’t know it), we were given a directive from upper management NOT to pursue new financing deals. In other words, no commissions.

9/11 finally had the trickle-down effect that we expected. Wall Street determined that we, Boeing, could not take on additional debt as a company, given the trends in the airline industry following the attacks on our nation. Doing so could threaten the company’s debt rating.

So, what is a Regional SALES Manager to do when he’s told not to sell?

To occupy our time, the sales group was assigned to a project team that required about 5 hours per week. PER WEEK. Now I was the only Boeing Capital employee in Maryland and I reported to a great guy named Dave Combs in Long Beach, California. I had a lot of time on my hands. So instead of working on a golf game that needed serious improvement, I opted to invest more time to bring Ravens 24/7 to fruition.

I learned that I couldn’t use the slash in the name because the URL would read the slash as something else. So, we used an “x” instead of the slash – something I hated initially but learned to live with.

We launched on July 3, 2003.

Ravens website

Admittedly, I didn’t think of Ravens24x7.com as a business initially. How could I? How would I know if anyone besides my friends and family would read the site?

But then one day, that all changed. A few months after launching the Ravens24x7, I received a call from a business owner who was interested in advertising on the site. I never even considered that possibility. Keep in mind that this new venture was launched before the word “blog” became intertwined in the fabric of our lives. Digital advertising was very new.

So, I had this Jim Ignatowski moment and responded, “How much do you want to spend?”

“$500”, was the reply.

That was the day things changed. That was the day I began to think that Ravens24x7 could be a part-time business.

Much has happened in 14+ years since that conversation. I’ve had a ton of on-the-job training and I now know what I’m supposed to do. I now know what we can do to grow and expand. We have some exciting things to introduce this year. And I can’t wait.

But the foundation of what we do hasn’t changed – and it won’t. We aren’t mainstream media. We don’t want to be. We’re one of you and as such, we understand you better and that shapes the content we provide. And it always will.

I’ve been blessed since that Route 50 epiphany, for along the way I’ve met a ton of terrific people that I never would have crossed paths with had Ravens24x7 never been launched. Some of those people now work with me. And there are so many great fans who are passionate, kind, giving and loving. These fans also want the truth, not some sugar-coated drivel that is the byproduct of a major publication having to kowtow to the whims of the team. You won’t find checkbook journalism here.

Like I said, we’re one of you, so we get it.

Back in 2015, I had the pleasure of sitting with Steve Bisciotti in his office during the team’s mandatory mini-camp. We were featuring a series called 20 for 20, to commemorate the Ravens 20th season. I wanted to talk to Steve about the behind-the-scenes effort that eventually made him the owner of the Ravens.

After the interview, Steve complimented our efforts and he said that he had Ravens24x7 bookmarked. I thanked him for that and also for allowing us to keep the Ravens24x7.com URL so that others like him who bookmarked the site, could still find us through the redirect to Russell Street Report.

“Why did you change your name?”, Steve asked.

“Your people made me change the name – said that I was benefitting financially by using Ravens24x7.”

“I had nothing to do with that!”, Steve said, while raising his hands.

It all worked out just fine. Truth be told, despite the emotional attachment to Ravens24x7, I like the name Russell Street Report better. Maybe that’s just me.

So here I am, 15 years later reminiscing. It’s been a success and I have no doubt we will continue to thrive. But if you’ve stayed with me this long in the article, pounding my chest isn’t the intent here.

The message I want to convey is that if you have an idea that drives you – something that you are passionate about…PURSUE IT! I took a chance. I made some sacrifices to make it work. But all along I felt that I’d rather try and fail then never try at all. I didn’t want to look back and say, “I wish I had…”.

But more importantly, since we launched in 2003, I haven’t worked a day since – or at least it feels that way. When you do something you love so much that you’d do it for free BUT you still can earn a living and make ends meet, that’s freedom.

As you celebrate freedom today, think about that something you’d like to pursue and then figure out a way to make it happen. It’s there for you if you really, really want it.

Do what you love, love what you do.

Won’t you join me?

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is the founder EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com. His work has been featured on various sports websites and he hosts The Russell Street Report and Armchair Quarterback both seen and heard on Fanimal Radio. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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