Thursday, September 11, 2014

Week 1 - Magic Moment

Borrowing from the birds who play across the parking lot, there was some magic in the air at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

At least for a moment.

Week one of the NFL season is always special, especially if you get to open at home. And for the 2014 home opener, I invited a life-long Ravens fan, Iggy (who grew up in LA and lives in Chicago, go figure) to attend his first game at the Big Crabcake.

As a result, I tried to show Iggy a bit of Baltimore before kickoff and after grabbing a coffee (big surprise) we walked around the harbor and straight to the Purple Patio at Mother's. Not a place I'd take my mother, before a game or really at any point, but it does know how to host a tailgate party, especially on a gorgeous morning in Maryland. Fresh off finishing the coffee we switched to beers (note - no food yet) and took in the crowd. Purple from wall to wall, with a few foreign colors thrown in. Don't worry - the red &yellow were sported by fans wearing a C.J. Mosely Alabama jersey and a Joe Flacco Delaware #5. Very strong.



Our next stop was the Stadium as we wanted to be sure to catch a glimpse of the newly installed Ray Lewis statue on the Unitas/Lewis Plaza. As Iggy correctly predicted, there was quite the statue-selfie line surrounding #52, but just as we made our way to the front, I spotted a few familiar faces behind a camera. Jeff and Laura, both of whom Lauryn and I worked with for countless Ravens games, were outside filming the masses meeting statue Ray. And since they needed a few 'models' to help get the shot just right, we volunteered and I can only assume made the final cut. (UPDATE: We did!)



We ventured inside and made our way to the seats after a little Team Store shopping. Yes, I showed Iggy my writing that still adorns the Club Level walls, and then it was time for kickoff. And then nothing. I mean nothing good. Nearly 30 minutes went by without the Ravens scoring and although the defense was miraculously keeping the Bengals to all Field Goals, the game did not seem to be going our way. Case in point, with a chance to finally get some points on the board before the half, Flacco took a snap with :08 left and a shot at the End Zone before (at minimum) getting to a try a FG. Of course he took about :09, found no one and was sacked. Half over. Iggy was not impressed.

"BALTIMORE!!!"

We should have known things were about to turn around as the man immortalized outside the stadium made a special appearance on the field along with the wife of the late Johnny U. Ray gave a sermon/speech, he did his dance (there will never be a 'last dance') and the second half was about to begin on a brighter note.

A blocked field goal here, a defensive stop there, a few points and by the 4th quarter the Ravens were within striking distance. A long strike, but still. Down 15-10 with about 6 minutes remaining, Flacco scrambled around his own 20 looking for an option. And in true Jacoby Jones in Denver circa Divisional Playoffs 2013 fashion - he found a receiver deep down the field as he connected with Steve Smith SENIOR on an 80-yd touchdown complete with SSS fighting off defenders (okay, pulling them down by the helmet) to reach the end zone. And just like I jumped off my couch when Jacoby caught the ball in Denver, I jumped out of my seat and proceeded to hop and high five and maybe even hug those around us. It was a moment that seemed bigger than it should have. It was just week one. There was still 5 minutes to go. This wasn't Denver. But after being down and seemingly out of it for most of the afternoon, the revelation that we were actually winning...in the fourth quarter...was cause for hops, hugs and high-fives.



Like I said...a moment. TWO offensive plays later. Yes, just two. Andy Dalton 'hit' A.J. Green for a 77-yd touchdown (albeit with a bobble to give us a hope for a second) and before I could even post to Instagram, the Bengals were back on top. Ugh. An invisible punchin the stomach that only sports can deliver. Of course the Ravens had another shot. We marched down to the 20-yard line with about 1:00 to go, but eerily similar to the first half finale, Flacco found himself getting sacked on the final play. No overtime. No win. No more magic.





Friday, May 16, 2014

The 2014 NFL Draft Was No Joke

Is there really such a thing as a 'buzz in the room'? 

I know I've heard plenty of people use the phrase. I've done the same in blogs and tweets and probably in conversation. But what does it mean? Who is making the buzz? Is it an actual noise or just a feeling?

Well, after attending my first NFL Draft in person last week at Radio City Music Hall, I'm here to tell you...the buzz is real. 

It started on my walk up 6th Avenue towards 50th street. About 10 blocks from the venue, a noticeable influx of NFL jerseys started dotting the sidewalk along with a steady stream of commuters. Of course this is New York City. Midtown Manhattan. At the end of a work day. So there were just as many people heading downtown as there were NFL fans making their way towards mecca. And just like sports bars in the City of Angels, fans of every team are in attendance, even Jacksonville! (more on the new Blake Bortles fan club in a minute)

The night received an early jolt of blog juice as I walked in to the Hall right behind Paul Rudd. He's a known Kansas City Chiefs fan, although he didn't seem to be sporting any red, but was dressed exactly like someone who wanted to go as Paul Rudd for Halloween. Jeans, plaid shirt, hoodie, charming grin. And while Rudd did not choose to wear his Jamaal Charles jersey, the rest of those in attendance had other plans.

It was almost as if you had to wear your team colors in order to get in. Purple, green, black & gold...I can see how Tide got the idea for their latest campaign. The result was a crowd unlike any other in football. I imagine this is why NASCAR races are so popular with fans of 30+ drivers rather than just two teams.

As I made my way to the seats I was excited to learn that I was just one row back from the makeshift radio row where draft picks would be taken immediately following their on-stage introduction. Jay Glazer and Mark Schlereth were among the broadcasters who had set up shop for the evening in front of me, but even more impressive was the set to my right. NFL Network (along with ESPN next to them) had set up their own studio with the Radio City stage set to serve as the backdrop for 3 full days of speculation, skepticism, and oh yea, the actual selections.

The first guest of the evening was none other than the man of the hour (no, not JM2) but RG1. The Commissioner was doing an interview with ESPN Radio just before he was about to assume his position at the podium. However, before the picks began, the show got started with the National Anthem was performed live and all potential draft picks who were in attendance were introduced on stage. While the future stars were announced in alphabetical order, the biggest noise of the night came midway through the ceremony when Johnny Manziel's name was called for the first time. And from that point on, it seemed like the whole crowd was on the edge of their seat waiting for it to be called again. Which would take a while...

No need to recap all the picks, but a few interesting stories tied to some choices:

1. Houston Texans - Jadeveon Clowney
The selection was as expected, but the way I learned about the pick was not. At least not when I was actually at Radio City. But as the time ticked down on the draft clock and it was announced the the 'pick was in' we were left waiting for Goodell to make his way to the stage to tell us who that pick was. Of course Twitter waits for no man so when I checked my phone to see the #NFLdraft chatter, I was surprised to see that some beat writers had already confirmed that Clowney was chosen. My thoughts at the moment:


I later learned that the delay was in part due to the fact that they quickly pressed the last name of the draftees on the jersey of their new team after they were informed of the selection. A nice touch for those made for framing moments.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Blake Bortles
While it was interesting that Manziel wasn't the first QB off the board, what made this pick notable to me was the fact that the section to my right was filled with at least 100 of the Jaguars biggest (only? I kid...) supporters. As the Jags were put on the clock, they all stood in unison, clad in teal and black, with smart phones at the ready and started cheers typical of English soccer stadiums. When Bortles name was announced, they seemed content, while not ready to celebrate (yet). That show of emotion was saved for a few minutes later when Bortles made his way to radio row. You couldn't miss the fan club and before starting his interview, Bortles came by to high five the crowd, take pictures and subsequently cement himself as a fan favorite (at least he throws his first INT).

4. Buffalo Bills - Sammy Watkins
While Watkins may be the biggest offensive star of the 2014 draft class, the pick was notable for who wasn't taken. The Bills traded up to the 4th pick with the Browns. Many expected the Browns to take Manziel (with the 4th pick....more on him later) so the fact that Johnny wasn't going yet was big news. But since it was the pride of Western New York making the selection, the smart money was on them taking UB standout, Khalil Mack. The match made so much (emotional) sense and to top it off, I was sitting next to Mack's college coach from Buffalo, Jeff Quinn. I was excited to see his reaction at his star pupil was about to see his dreams realized. However, Mack won't be playing on Sunday's in the snow...

5. Oakland Raiders - Khalil Mack
...that's because Mack was taken 5th overall by the Raiders. A great pick and it did allow me to witness the reaction I was waiting for. Special to see up close. (Random fun fact - when typing Khalil's name in to Google to confirm spelling, I noticed that the first hit when you just included 'khal' was Khaleesi)

16. Dallas Cowboys - Zach Martin
So about that buzz. While any one of the teams picking between 5 and 16 could have taken Johnny Football, you could sense in the room that as the Cowboys came closer to being on the clock, the excitement level grew, like a lottery jackpot growing each time a winner isn't chosen. Earlier that week, while listening to the REP (h/t Brockman) Rich Eisen made a comment along the lines of, "Can you imagine the scene at Radio City Music Hall if Johnny Manziel is still available when Dallas goes on the clock." And he was right. You could hear the conversations amongst fans even if you couldn't hear what they were saying. Everyone in the room was weighing in on what the Cowboys would do. And it wasn't about what their needs were on the field or who was on their draft board. It was Johnny or no Johnny. Almost like betting Tiger vs. the field at a major. So when Goodell approached the mic, I didn't even want to check Twitter. I wanted to see the history unfold in front of me. Of course Dallas went with the safe pick - a lineman to protect an aging Tony Romo rather than a Romo replacement - but it was great theater in that old theater for those 10 minutes, Eisen was right. 

17. Baltimore Ravens - C.J. Mosley

And now the pick you've all been waiting for. To the video tape:

video


From everything I read pre-draft, Martin, C.J. and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were the names most likely to be wearing Purple after Thursday night. Of course Martin was off the board so it seemed likely to come down to the Alabama teammates. I was rooting for Ha Ha for no other reason than the possible puns I'd be able to tweet out come Sundays this fall. No joke! (get it). Ah, but it was not to be and likely it will turn out to be another Ozzie gem as many already have Mosley pegged as the DROY favorite, if not the heir apparent to #52 (who also was in attendance on the ESPN set for the weekend).

I unfortunately left the draft after the next pick so I did not get to see the drama Johnny would elicit when he was finally taken by the Browns. But don't worry, Twitter was all over it. Before, during and well after. It's probably a good thing Dallas didn't take him. As Manziel said, "I dont know if the world could have handled that, honestly."

As for the Ravens world, I think C.J. will fit in just fine:


#crabcakesandfootball

Thursday, May 01, 2014

#WWSL



 Where Will Steve Live?

Thanks to Twitter, we have a clue. Not to be stalkerish or anything, but he did post the picture so I don't feel as awkward.

The pic.twitter in question looks like it might taken from Harbor Court, which would offer up spectacular harbor views at night and is walking distance to The Crab House (my name for M&T).

However, what Steve may not realize is that he'd also have easy access to pick-up volleyball and kickball games at Rash Field and Fed Hill Park. You may not recognize him since he's new in town and is probably smaller than most of the weekend sports crowd, but fear not, just assume he'll be wearing one of these shirts:


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Purple Planning

Making plans for the fall? 

You should wait. 

At least until this Thursday as the NFL will announce the 2014 schedule tomorrow and it's probably best to save that weekend getaway for bye-week. And for those who have tickets to the Crabhouse (I'm going to try and get that to stick) it's important to know which weekends you'll be out in the cold, and which weekday nights (i.e. Mondays/Thursdays) you may need to arrange for a babysitter. 

As a Ravens ticket holder myself living a few hours to the north near the Big Apple, I have to plan my trips down the NJ Turnpike for at least 8 different weekends so the Ravens schedule IS my schedule in many ways. That said, I've decide to take a stab at which games could be chosen for primetime this season. Here goes it:

1. Carolina (HOME) -- no brainer with Steve Smith in purple & black
















2. Pittsburgh (HOME or AWAY) -- still one of the marquee rivalries in the NFL, although Seattle/SF has taken over the top spot, but on year after Tomlin's toe dance, it's likely going to get an NBC audience














3. Colts (AWAY) - Does anyone get royalties on that Mayflower truck-in-the-snow footage? If so, you can bet their rooting for a primetime Colts-Ravens matchup. The two teams also happen to be pretty good so I think this is a good bet - perhaps a flex later in the year



4. Saints (AWAY) - Ravens won #SBXLVII in NoLa and since the team's don't meet that often, could be of interest
















5. Falcons (HOME) - Matty Ice vs. Joe Flacco was supposed to be evoke heated discussions about the 2008 draft for year's to come. But Joe Cool won a Super Bowl already and the Falcons just seem confused of late. However, the networks could still hype this game up as a QB showdown so wouldn't be surprised if we get more of these memes from @RUSSELLSTREPORT 













The wait is almost over....until we have actual dates to wait for.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

#PurpleWedding

Leave it to Game of Thrones to get me blogging again. And no, not about King's Landing, but about the Castle in Owings Mills.

As I woke up Monday morning still reeling from a night of Mad Men and mad kings (not to mention some crazy kids in Silicon Valley and Ms. Selena Myers - how about Sunday nights on cable!) I saw that #PurpleWedding was trending on the Twitters. So that's what the kids are calling it...

I suppose it made sense. The Red Wedding episode during GOT Season 3 sent all of social media ablaze and is actually why I started watching the show (unfortunately I knew that even while I watched the first episode that some type of gruesome wedding scene was coming in about 3 seasons, but it wasn't about where I ended up, the journey was incredible). So with the death of King Joffrey by poison - apparently you can hassle the Joff - that turned his face a purple hue right before he took his last breath, fans of the show needed a rallying cry, and a hashtag, to discuss their excitement -- #PurpleWedding it was.

So what am I doing writing about it? I suppose an old instinct kicked in that encouraged me to talk/type about the Ravens whenever a connection to the world of sports, entertainment, pop culture or Baltimore culture presented itself. After all, as the Smiths' and the Flacco's show, Ravens do know how to throw a pretty good Purple Wedding:

So here we are. While this blog is likely to get the most attention on Monday mornings, it typically won't be due to the Lannister's - although this 2013 article from fellow Retired Orangeman, Chris Brockman, does peg newly acquired Steve Smith as the Tyrion of NFLsteros.

I may not be on the team bus these days but I am typically in the stands at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday's and I'm glued to my Tweetdeck at all times so I have a feeling I'll be able to find some Ravens things to blog about. For now, I look forward to what the Draft has in store for Ozzie and his Ravens and what the writers at HBO have in store for Daenerys and her Dragons.





Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Keeping Calm


Photo via @Ravens

This actually helped calm me down. Ozzie is almost always right. From JO & Ray to Flacco & Reed, he tends to have a knack for talent. And not just for finding it, but for knowing when to let it go (Anyone know what AD is up to?). In any case, the Free Agent Frenzy purge may prove to make the roster card look a little different come kickoff in September, but there's a reason John Fienstein's book, Next Man Up, was written about the Ravens. Keep Calm and Ozzie on.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

(Iced)Coffeeonthe50: Super Bowl XLVII Edition

Breathe. Just Breathe. Innnnnn. Ouuuuuuuuutttt. Breathe! C'mon this is easy, just in and out.

This was the conversation I was having with myself as the 49ers took the field following the two minute working in Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens were up by 5. The 49ers had 2nd and Goal from the 5. They needed five yards in three plays or less to all but stop the breathing of an entire city, and half a Superdome, full of purple passion. The game was on the line. Careers were on the line. I was sitting near the opposite end zone so all I could do was stare at the backs of those in red and gold and hope....How did it all come down to this? 

***


First thing's first. New Orleans is the hostess with the mostess. As we arrived in to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on Friday morning, we were greeted as soon as we de-boarded our plane by local volunteers whose primary job was simply to welcome you to their city and provide you with the first of many strings of those famous beads. The festivities had begun and we didn't even have our bags yet.


As you will see in the pictures, this trip was unlike those Lauryn and I took with the Ravens years ago. First - we flew commercial. Second - we flew with our daughter in our laps instead of a laptop to edit footage on. But you only live once, right? So as the clock ticked away in the AFC Championship Game two weeks earlier, Lauryn and I decided it was time for Lysbeth to attend her first Super Bowl (she was already 14 months after all). We even convinced Lauryn's parents to make the trip and we all descended upon the home of Lauryn's Aunt & Uncle - who just happened to live on the outskirts of the Crescent City - for a weekend that won't soon be forgotten.

We started the trip with a scenic tour of the French Quarter. Really all we wanted was iced coffee and beignets. As luck would have it, the world famous Cafe du Monde (open 24 hours as you'll see later) basically serves two things - iced coffee and beignets. As we sat down we had our first chance to people watch and what a feeling to see nearly all the patrons in the restaurant, let alone those passing by, dressed in purple. This wasn't Fed Hill, this was the French Quarter and yet it felt like Baltimore.


We proceeded to walk the streets, through historic Jackson Square (renamed CBS Super Bowl Park  for the weekend - nothing could escape the Super Bowl branding in this town). We weaved our way through the side streets until we made our way to the party capital of the south - Bourbon St. Even at 3:00 in the afternoon, it was a party. The lack of open-container laws certainly help, but it just seemed like everyone who was in town for the big game was just happy to be here. And who could blame them. I failed to mention that our afternoon stroll included a stroller as we brought Lysbeth with us. It made things a little cumbersome, but she enjoyed the show. Can you imagine what the sights and sounds of that city look like to a 1-year old? Like having Kaleidoscope glasses I might imagine. 

Fortunately, the city also served as the ideal destination for Lauryn to complete her photography homework for the week as the latest assignment focused on capturing color! The only thing more appropriate would have been if her teacher asked the class to focus on alcohol. So as Lysbeth, Aunt Lisa, our friend J.D. (in town with the NFL Network) and I waded through the streets, Lauryn found time to photograph just about every purple decoration in town - and not just those with a Raven on it. Since purple, green & gold happen to be the official colors of Mardi Gras, the many masks, flags and balcony dressings made for the perfect backdrop. 


Later that night, we got another taste of New Orleans, but this time thanks to the sounds of the Dirty Dozen Jazz Band at d.b.a. as Lauryn and I met up with a few friends from the Ravens to join the party they had been having all week. The band did not disappoint, and with ears ringing, Lauryn and headed back to the burbs after a jam packed day one.


On the opposite side of the spectrum was our mornings with Aunt Lisa, Penny and Gracie (her dogs) and Lauryn's parents as we walked the campus of Tulane University, situated down the block from our accomodations. The campus was just what you'd expect from a school in the south. The historic buildings, the spacious quad, the coffee shop….but one thing Tulane had that you may not find on any other campus in the country was a beaded tree. Yup, rather than leaves this tree had the most colorful beads strewn about its empty branches (think Toomer's Corner at Auburn but beads instead of toilet paper). And the best part was Lysbeth loved the play area at Audubon Park on the other side of campus. She made quick friends of course and even started to take a liking to the dogs.


Our Saturday afternoon consisted of a trip to the NFL Shop. That's right, we made an outing just to visit the store. But this was no ordinary store. This was the NFL Experience with price tags. Jim Brown was signing autographs in one corner. A marching band paraded through the checkout lines. Larger than life cut outs of each team's stars welcomed you to the show. And we spent a small fortune to outfit ourselves for Ravens games for years to come. Despite some tired legs and empty wallets, we set out to find another Super Bowl landmark - the giant letters, or rather numerals, perfectly made for Facebook cover photos that noted Super Bowl XLVII. Little did we know that they were not so nearby and although we caught a glimpse in the distance, time was running short and Lauryn and I had dinner reservations to make. Maybe another day (or night - that's a hint).


Now for a little back story on dinner. Adam Jones, star center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, was in town for the weekend to support the Ravens as he had done throughout the playoffs. Knowing he'd be headed to town for the festivities, I helped arrange for a pocket video camera to be sent to one of his friends who was with him so that he could document his weekend for MLB.com. As part of the story, since Adam is not only a big eater but he shares just about all his meals with his fans on Instagram, we hoped he might join us at one of the top restaurants in the country, Commander's Palace. Unfortunately he ended up not being able to make it, but the Lukins picked up the slack and enjoyed a 3-course meal that would make any New Orlinean(?) proud - crab bisque, pecan crusted fish, and a bread pudding with a whiskey infused sauce of sorts that was spectacular. Not to mention the Southern Hospitality - you would have thought I was a star center fielder.


And then came Sunday. As in Super Bowl Sunday. As in the Ravens are playing in the Super Bowl Sunday. I still can't believe it, but the Ravens would be on the global stage in a few hours and the whole family dressed in their Sunday 'best' before we headed downtown. (Lysbeth too of course, although she did not have a ticket to the game). Lisa dropped us off in the heart of it all and as she sped away our adventure began. We walked up Poydras street - i.e. Super Bowl Boulevard - and as we got closer to the Superdome, we began to see friends from Baltimore who like us had decided to descend upon New Orleans for the big game. Reba (who was the reason we had seats!), Laura, and even our former neighbors, the Dopkins.

When we made our way around the stadium, taking in all of the fanfest activities, it was a good feeling to see all the purple adorning the buildings, the TV sets, the stages, and the stadium itself! But the most impactful moment was when we finally made our way inside and saw that one end zone, the one we were sitting right above, was painted purple along with the Ravens name and logo. This. Was. Real! An emotional pre-game celebration included students from Sandy Hook singing along with Alicia Keyes. And then it was time. Nothing left to do but to do it...

Kickoff.

Then a blur.

Then a touchdown (Ravens). Then another (Ravens). Before I could catch my breath and share my Vine video of Anquan Boldin putting Baltimore on the board, it seemed like we might just be on the verge of a blowout. 
Ed Reed, playing in his home town, had an interception. Flacco, proving is eliteness, had two touchdown passes already and then hit Jacoby Jones on a deep pass that seemed to ignite Ravens Nation. The echoes rang down off the domed roof: Ooh ooh ooh ooh oooooh oh. Ooh ooh ooh oo oooooh oh! By the time Beyonce took the stage, I was starting to let myself think about the best place to celebrate later that night! Beyonce brought her A-game, and her old friends (Destiny's Child reunion! Yay?). The mini-concert was lit up by the blue finger lights that awaited every fan when they got to their seats (rough job for the promo squad) and the visual was impressive as a majority of fans - Lauryn's mom included - waved their blue-lit fingers in tune with "Halo". The game had been heavenly so far, and when the blue lights went out, it was time for the second half to begin.

And all you heard was: Ooh ooh ooh ooh oooooh oh. Ooh ooh ooh oo oooooh oh! Jacoby Jones returned the kickoff 108 yards (tying a Super Bowl record) and just as Jermaine Lewis had done 12 years earlier, a kickoff return TD seemed to secure a ring for Ray Lewis and the entire Ravens organization. And then the lights went out. And not the blue ones. The BIG ones.


As the world wondered what was happening, half the lights inside of the dome simply went out. The scoreboards went out too. It was, well, eerie. My first thought - turn to twitter! What were tweeps saying. What is actually going on? Anything to be worried about (other than losing momentum - although we will get to that)? Fortunately, the first wave of tweets got through to my phone and from what I could tell, it was simply a power outage. Very unfortunate timing, but twittercasm about Beyonce blowing out the lights was enough to put my mind at ease. Players started stretching in the middle of the field. Ray Lewis started having a catch to stay warm. Then came a series of text messages asking me everything  from 'what happened?' to 'post a picture!'. About 20 minutes in, I decided I might as well get some food for the family. Of course, the concessionaires weren't expecting a 3rd quarter rush just after halftime so most of the hot food was gone! Hot dogs were being thrown on the grill as fast as possible. It was popcorn or bust at most places but I fortunately found a vendor serving chicken fingers and waffle fries. In a town known for its rich cuisine, nothing could have tasted better.

Lights on!

So, we had a comfortable lead. 28-6 with just about 10 minutes left in the 3rd Quarter. Nothing to worry about, right? But the 3rd Quarter wouldn't end for quite some time. And not just because of the 34-minute power outage, but because a light must have gone on inside Colin Kaepernick's head as well because by the time the quarter did come to an end, it was, to my dismay, a game. Our friend Alex was sitting nearby and she looked scared. Same with Lauryn's parents who sort of just stared in silence. It was 28-23. What. Just. Happened.


The 4th Quarter was just as blurry. I had a few beverages and even more waffle fries so my stomach was already spinning. As the clock, the season, Ray's career, and the Super Bowl started to tick away, my nerves got nervous. Back and forth, field goal here, field goal there. It was 34-29. About 4 minutes left and I had a very bad feeling. As I tweeted:

And the 49ers didn't seem to care. They marched down the field with ease and as the 2 minute warning sounded, they had 2nd and Goal from the 5…

***

On third down, a harmless pass to Michael Crabtree was knocked out of his hands by Jimmy Smith to set up 4th and Championship. I like to have fun with words, but this is not hyperbole. I felt my heart beating to the point where I looked down to make sure I couldn't SEE my heart beating. I tried to calm myself. I remembered some of the breathing  techniques Lauryn had to learn in childbirth class. I don't know how many centimeters 5 yards is, but there was not a breathing plan for this!

Breathe out….in…..out….hike.

The ball left Kaepernick's hands. The world stopped. The lights, fortunately, stayed on. And then, almost in slow motion, the ball sailed out of the end zone, not even touched by a player in red. The game was going to be ours. A strange series of plays, including a Sam Koch safety - punters are people too is right - which led to a final free kick to Ted Ginn Jr. Ginn ended up tossing the ball out of bounds in hopes of finding another 49er to carry the ball. But as it travelled over the sideline, the Ravens bench stormed the field. Cue the confetti - the Ravens were World Champs! We watched our friends chase down some of the players on the field to film their reactions and celebrations. And as the NFL wheeled out the stage to give Steve Biscotti the trophy, Joe Flacco the MVP, and Baltimore a win they couldn't have dreamed of just a month ago, two images stand out. Well one image - Ed Reed, facing straight up with arms open, welcoming the confetti as if it was raining in the desert. And one sound that still echoes in my head today. With Ray Lewis wrapping up his career on that stage, he took to the mic, Lombardi in hand, and yelled loud enough for those in Fells Point to hear him, "BALTIMORRRRRRRE!" Chills, right? Chills.



We had to leave the dome eventually, we just floated from what I recall, and Lauryn and I braved the elements (not the weather) to take a walk down Bourbon St. to see Ravens fans take over. Flags. Jerseys. Chants. Some alcohol. Lots of purple. Okay, more than some alcohol. Lots of beads. And a sea of joy amongst those rooting for the purple and black. We partied as we walked through the French Quarter, but had two more stops to make. First, more coffee and beignets - Cafe du Monde is open 24 hours for a reason. And at last, a scavenger hunt to finally find those larger than life roman numerals. And with most fans still in a frenzy in the French Quarter, the calm of the waterfront was welcome. The letters, now dark, still stood out amidst the moon light and Lauryn and I got to savor the Super Bowl one last time together. Breathe it in.



Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Fantasy Focus

Monday Night Football. Week 13. Ravens at Packers.

On paper, an early December matchup between two Wild Card chasing teams would be a decent draw. Fans from all corners of the country, presumably with their own Wild Card aspirations, would tune in to to cheer for the team from the opposing conference to win. As a result, fans in Miami, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh are rooting for Aaron Rodgers tonight while those in Philly, New York and Atlanta are newfound followers of J. Flacco.

However, the real-life playoff positioning is most likely taking a back seat this evening as the majority of NFL aficionados, who are most likely in AT LEAST one league, are measuring the fantasy football implications with each and every snap. You see, Week 13 is typically the regular season cut-off for the fake stuff. The scenarios at play are plentiful. Rodgers is owned in 100% of Yahoo Fantasy Football Leagues (the home of the ROFFL). Flacco is owned in 89%. But QBs are not the only ones on display. Ray Rice, Derrick Mason, Ryan Grant, Donald Driver and both defenses are almost surely starting for many GMs out there. So whether your team has one of those guys, is playing against one of them, or even more gut-wrenching, your following another matchup to see if you get into the postseason, tonight is must-see TV.


As a result, the WK13 MNF slot is surprisingly sought-after. A game worth looking up when the schedules come out each Spring as they could represent the last 60 minutes of your fantasy life. I'd even guess to assume that tonight is more important to the fantasy game than the Week 16 match-up, as Championship Week is only big for 2 teams (I can only hope I'm pulling for Greg Olsen and Sidney Rice during MIN vs CHI Dec. 28th). For now, its back to rooting for Mason and the Ravens D, against the Packers D and following the footsteps of Ryan Grant very carefully as he determines the fate of a few fellow fantasy friends.





Blind Sided

I read the book. I watched the draft. I knew his story. But it wasn't until I watched the evolution of Michael Oher unfold on the big screen that I realized just how special he is, and just how lucky we are that Big Mike is a Baltimore Raven.

What's amazing about some of the best sports movies of all time is that they are based on true stories. Stories so inspirational, that not only did they pass the test in a Hollywood pitch room, but they hold up on film too. The Rookie, Eight Men Out, Rudy...and now, The Blind Side.

For those new to the Oher saga, the movie provides an abridged version of his journey from having nowhere to sleep to starting in the NFL. At the center of the transformation, is a family who was willing to take Michael into their home, into their family and into their lives to give him the means to pursue an NFL dream. From giving him a warm meal on Thanksgiving and his own bed to providing a tutor and cheering him on from the stands, the Tuohys gave Oher a gift of a lifetime - a life.

The movie starred Sandra Bullock as Leigh Ann Tuohy, which of course gave the film its focal point. As a result, the movie centered on her bond with Michael, which eventually leads to the Tuohys becoming his legal guardians. The road is filled with moments that made you laugh, but even more moments that made you, well, get a little teary. Come on, I know its a football story, but thanks to the magic of hollywood, the kid found a home, got off the streets, got his first bed, learned biology, got through high school, made a few friends, gained a brother and a sister, got some new clothes, stood up to the old gang back in the projects, got a car, learned how to play tackle, got a scholarship and was drafted in to the NFL all within 124 minutes. Each step along the way was a story unto itself and of course the movie could only show so much. Which is why the book is so important as - at minimum - a companion reader.

Written by Michael Lewis of Moneyball fame, the book adds a sports skew to the story with the evolution of the left tackle position just as prevalent as the evolution of a young man. Starting with the career-ending sack of Joe Theisman by Lawrence Taylor on Monday Night Football, the story describes why the second most important man on the football field is now considered to be the man who protects number one. The Left Tackle. Responsible for protecting the Quarterback from oncoming defenders he cant see. Otherwise known as the blind side.


The book profiles the reasons for the growing emphasis on the LT, starting with the hit by L.T. The book references some of the best to play the position since that fateful Monday Night, including the original Raven (literally the first player drafted by the franchise) - Jonathan Ogden. J.O. was a mountainous man who spent more than a decade camped out on the left hand side of the line in Bmore. Its only fitting that less than a year after Ogden left his post, the man selected to help fill his shoes is a kid whose promise was predicated in part by Ogden's play at the position. Ogden's versatility, combined with his monster-like size, gave NFL scouts a protoype to compare all future footballers looking to play the line. In fact, the high school coach that helped get Michael into high school, and onto the field, saw those very traits in Oher. The Big O, just like J.O. And now, just like J.O., Oher wears the purple and black on Sundays and takes his place in front of 70,000 cheering Ravens fans with one mission in mind. To protect. The same as the Tuohys. And now his story gets to play out in Baltimore, but consider his pro career the sequel because his journey thus far has already earned itself a Hollywood ending.