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.






Monday, November 23, 2009

I Almost Forgot

The Lukin’s headed back east for Thanksgiving week and in less than 24 hours, I’ve learned a few things. Or should I say, I’ve remembered a few things.

First of all, to borrow from Wedding Crashers lore, Maryland is all about crab(cakes) and football. Upon landing at BWI, Lauryn and I checked crabs off the to do list right away as we picked our way through nearly a dozen jumbos between us. My fingers still sting from the Old Bay and I’ve been thirsty ever since, but man are they good. LA may have a leg up on the Charm City when it comes to spicy tuna and fish tacos, but the crabs here in Bawlmawr are second to none. How could I forget?

Day two had a similar feel to Sunday mornings in Los Angeles, with football scheduled to take up most of the day. But a few differences distinguished the East vs. the West. First, the weather. It was cold, yet seasonably warm. Same temps at The Grove would be considered cold, unseasonably cold. Second, everyone in town is wearing the same jerseys. Back west, it’s a mix of Chargers, Giants, Bears, Pats, Eagles, Raiders, 9ers…I even saw a Jaguars jersey one week at the bar (the Jags could use him in the stands). In any case, everyone in MD was wearing purple and black. And its not just Heaps and 52s any more. Its evolved to include white Rice(s) and Flacco’s in all shapes and sizes.

Of course the time difference was hard to get used to as the early morning wake up was necessary just to make sure we saw kickoff. A venti peppermint mocha took care of that and we were off and running. The game was back and forth and full of field goals – a true flashback to the days when Lauryn and I were running up the sidelines at the big crabcake. Even Matt Stover was there – unfortunately he was wearing a horseshoe on his helmet, how strange. But the game would come down to the end and despite outplaying the undefeated Colts, Indianapolis managed to stay that way with a late interception by Flacco and an unnecessary fumble by Reed. Watching the game from start to finish made the loss sting, even more than the Old Bay. We were once again watching the home team and the heartbreaking finish was just that. How could I forget.

Friday, August 07, 2009

In Case Mason Retires Again

If Derrick Mason decides to re-retire, the Ravens may have their answer at wide receiver. None other than Snoop Dogg visited training camp in Westminster on Thursday and showed a few moves - both at the mic and on the field.

Watch it here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Just the beginning?

I can only hope...



Training camp (sans Mason, but with Suggs & Flacco) starts soon!