Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It's Good! My Bad.

Another great photo that finds a way to tell a story. Remember when I told you about Stover's game winning field goal? Well here's proof that I was camped right under the goal post as the kick went through for the win. Unfortunately, as I lifted my arms to help the refs signal the score, my flaling arms made their way in front of Jeff's camera. It would have been great footage - at least this a great shot. Rookie mistake...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Week 3 - Smash and Grab

Cleveland, OH – 9/23/06.

The Smash. On the way to the airport back in Baltimore, one of the buses rammed the back of another team bus who had to stop short, shattering the windshield in a scene straight out of a Volkswagen commercial. An omen? We didn’t know, but it sure was the topic of conversation the rest of the ride, which we still made thanks to our police escort. And they didn't take any more chances as they practically closed the beltway for the Ravens. A police siren never sounded so sweet.

The Grab. Chris McAlister intercepted Charlie Frye in the end zone in the fourth quarter as the Browns allowed the Ravens to remove the nail from the coffin. Why they didn't just run down the clock and settle for a field goal is baffling. But the pick gave the Ravens hope and what happened next, as Todd Heap would say, "That's a drive you can write about." So I will.

At this point in the game the Browns, who had led since the second quarter, were still up 2 with only about two minutes to play. Again, no clue why they weren’t playing for three on the last series. But as the drive picked up momentum, the crowd picked up steam. These fans must really have been pissed about Art Modell moving the old Browns to Baltimore because sprinkled throughout the roar were quite a few obscenities. Even a few directed at your favorite production assistant. I know I was wearing purple, but my enthusiastic white-man-jump when we got the ball back elicited a few sarcastic comments about my ‘hops’.

Back to the drive. My heart was racing. For some reason, I was really nervous. I've watched sports my whole life and I typically find myself yelling and sweating more than I should, but this time it really felt as if something more than a football game was on the line – it wasn’t of course, especially for me, but I was still catching my breath as the seconds ticked away. Was there anything I could do to help? Somehow making sure Jeff’s camera was balanced didn’t seem to phase the Cleveland Defense.

After failing to convert on third down at the 35, the stage was set for Matt Stover. The only remaining former Brown wearing purple lined up for the 52-yarder. Lucky for me, I was standing right under the goal post, right next to the happy-go-lucky Browns mascot, as the ball split the uprights. I know a mascot’s face is pretty much stuck in a smile, but I really think I saw Brownie frown. Poor guy.

The locker room was buzzing after the game and when I got back from the shower I realized that I happened to park my suitcase near the locker of the star of the day. I listened in as he went through the kick with each and every reporter. I felt like approaching him as Josh Lukin of 'On the Road with the Ravens'. But not yet, my time will come.

The bus back to the airport was a bit surreal, as if the whole experience wasn't already. First Stover sat in the seat next to me and pulled out his Treo to see that he had 11 text messages, including a congratulations from a certain former prime time Raven. I was on my Treo as well and was very busy checking my fantasy football stats. Clearly the similarities in our lifestyles start and end with our cell phones. Next up was Todd Heap, who sloooowly made his way to the seat next to Stover thanks to some hard knocks during the game. Then McAllister boarded, still in shock that Cleveland tried to pass on 2nd and goal in the fourth quarter. Of course the parade was just getting started as J. Lewis rolled down the aisle (Lauryn made sure to comment on his purple tie which means that I will probably get a similar one under the Hanukkah Bush this year). And to top it off, Ray Lewis took up residence in the front row. For all intents and purposes the bus could have been headed to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl. Although the gulfstreams parked in the hangar where we boarded would have been a nicer way to travel to the islands. Funny, this was probably the only time I’d ever see a private jet with guys who could do more than just joke about flying one to the islands.

Of course the last second victory pretty much dominated the trip, but I did learn a few things about Cleveland during our short stay. Who knew, but not only does Cleveland rock, but so does their sushi. The production crew made their annual trek to Sushi Rocks in the Warehouse District - I recommend the Pretty Woman Roll, smoked salmon, cream cheese, avocado, and kiwi on top – and you get to come up with lots of immature jokes about ordering a Pretty Woman. Fortunately, mine brings me along each and every week so I get to blog for all of you. We’re three for three so far. I hope next week brings a win once again, because I’ll take a Victory Roll every time.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Picture Can Say A Thousand Words

Here is a picture taken at last week's game versus the Raiders. Pay close attention to the beautiful women in the foreground. She seems happy, relaxed, cool, and collected. Now shift your eyes to the left of the image. The guy sprinting across the field carrying the bag of tapes with the tripod in his hands, that my friends is me. The definition of a utility worker. Or as I like to call it - 'The Mule'. And I love it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Week 2 - Shake your Pom-Pom

Baltimore, MD -- 9/17/06. True Story. The crowd is roaring. The smoke machines are, well, smoking. I learn that the fighter jet fly-over is only minutes away. I’m attached at the hip to my cameraman as he gets set for player introductions, and then it happens. I kid you not, all fifty of the Ravens Cheerleaders start running at me. Pom-poms pumping. White-smiles shining. Skin – showing. The ladies split into two lines and all of a sudden I found myself smack dab in the middle of the runway. Nothing but blonde hair, blue eyes, and purple skirts all around me. Oh, and the 60,000 fans in the stands. And if that wasn’t enough, through the smoke, the Ravens Defense comes charging out. I look around – should I leave? Do I get up now? Or can I keep living the dream? My cameraman and Director of Photography, Jeff, is still locked and loaded waiting for this week’s wired Raven, Derrick Mason. I look up to the cheerleaders for advice. They’re still smiling. I take that as a yes and focus my attention back on the tunnel. Mason is the first to be introduced. He sprints by Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Josh Lukin. What is wrong with that sentence!

Back to the start of my day. The Ravens played their first home game of the season against the Oakland Raiders. Despite a horrendous first game in week one, the Raiders have some star power, and I was seeing stars before the kickoff. First, I saw Jerry Porter on the sidelines. Now Porter is a fantasy football hot button because he is a great number two receiver, but his antics have basically cost him a starting job. It’s a risk to put him on your fantasy team because he may not even play. But when in the lineup, he’s a potential star. I just so happen to pick him up, and subsequently drop him this week. So when I saw Mr. Porter stroll out of the tunnel in street clothes and some serious bling, I felt like quite the fantasy GM. Star number two was Randy Moss. The man is enormous. Not just tall, but big. He even had a giant ‘R’ tattooed on his screen-door size bicep. You just don’t understand how each and every player on the field is a superb athlete, making the superstars of the league pretty much Greek gods.

Now to the game. And what a game it was for the defense. Coming off a 27-0 shutout in Tampa, Ray Lewis and the crew were fired up for the Raiders. They started the game with two forced fumbles, added four more turnovers and six sacks. Six! Throw in a safety and they racked up 34 points (for my fantasy team). But the highlight of the day was after an interception by Lewis. With all the fire, passion, and rage a man can possibly possess, number 52 stormed off the field, threw off his helmet, stepped on top of the bench and flexed for the crowd. And I know there had to be at least 30,000 men in the stands, but the hooting and hollering that followed the ‘pose’ shook the ground. Seriously, Ray owns this town. Every man, woman, child, and those fans that wear purple camo-pants that would only conceal you in a Ravens tailgate, worship him. It’s sure good to have him back at 100% percent.

The offense had a few key moments as well, which coincided with a few key moments in my day. With only three minutes left in the first half, the Ravens were driving. They got down around the goal line and I thought for sure another run was coming. But to the surprise of the Raiders, the fans, the announcers, the concession guys, and the grounds crew, Steve McNair dropped back to pass and tossed a short touchdown pass to Todd Heap. The route Heap ran apparently called for a b-line towards Jeff and I felt the need to grab him and push him out of the way. Probably an overreaction, but I think I made a nice block on the play.

Now a lot of you probably don’t know exactly what I do on the sidelines. But let me say this. I carry a tripod. We film one player each game and stay on him for every play. This usually requires us to set up as close to the action as possible. In football, the teams switch sides at the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters. With only a minute left in the third quarter, we were standing in the end zone and came to the realization that in about 45 seconds, the clock would sound, and the players would be facing the other direction. Flashbacks to freshmen year basketball tryouts haunted me, as I knew we were in for a 100-yard sprint. I’m used to the baseball diamond. Sixty feet is long enough for me. But as I picked up the tripod and started down the sidelines, I felt like Haloti Ngata. I had no idea if I was going to make it to the other side. I passed the 50 and saw one of the offensive linemen getting an IV. This was a professional athlete, how was I to last? But I kept on. The thirty, the twenty, ten, five…slowing down…four, three…whew I am tried…and then finally the endzone. One of Lauryn’s former coworkers noticed my ‘effort’ and commented to her that I might need to sit the next one out. I think he was right. Back to the advertising world for another week, but in the words of Derrick Mason, “I’ll see you next week.”

Monday, September 11, 2006

Week 1 - Blood, Sweat, and Lobster Tails

Tampa, FL -- 9/10/06.

Where should I begin my tale?

I could start in Owings Mills, MD at the Ravens Training Complex where I stood in line behind one of the team's elite receivers as I waited to get my bags cleared through security before boarding the bus. What stood out about him was that he didn’t have any luggage, but he did manage to fill the little white tray with what would be the most impressive trick or treat bag ever – slick cell phone, video ipod, jewel encrusted monster watch – you name it. Then there was the police escort to BWI where we drove right on the tarmac to board the plane, at which point we were handed a bagged lunch before being offered a full dinner, peanuts, fruit, cheese and crackers, fresh crab meat, drinks, and even a tray full of candy bars. Of course as I scanned the plane during the feast I wondered what was I doing here? I’m in advertising. I’m real good with PowerPoint, Excel, and Photoshop when needed. But thanks to my wife and her bosses, this season, I have a first class ticket to the Ravens sideline each and every Sunday. I saw Matt Stover walking up and down the aisles catching up with old friends. I saw one of the coaches outlining plays and showing them over his shoulder to another coach. And of course lots of Orange and White three piece suits – who wears an Orange suit?!

Well week one of the season brought us to the sweltering heat of Tampa Bay. Home to Yankees Spring Training, its fair share of blue hair, top notch golf courses, and the NFL’s version of Pirates of the Caribbean, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Our ride to the stadium was typical. Every player strapped, with an ipod, as they boarded. One of the rookies, still learning the ropes of superstardom, concentrated on his PSP instead. Before we were allowed into the stadium, our bags were searched again, but this time by one of Tampa’s Finest pooches, a bomb sniffing dog. I’m glad they made sure the millonaires (and those of us in tow) had no plans to blow up the place. Then the fun really started, here’s a brief recap:

The entertainment started with a few warning shots from the cannon’s on the mock Pirate Ship in the end zone an hour before the game started. As we took the field, I had the honor of meeting Dick Cass, President of the Ravens. I think he was happy to hear about the efforts being made to make sure Lauryn and my marriage was staying strong. Then we started tracking this week’s wired Raven – Bart Scott. I heard the temperature on the field was 118 and the sweat already had turned half my hat a darker shade of khaki. Ill keep some choice soundbites censored, but Scott did have some nice things to say about Tampa’s Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams. I believe he was planning on converting the Caddy into a Hyundai, not quite sure how, but it made sense at the time.

The game was perfect. A first quarter, 15-play, 10-minute touchdown drive pretty much set the tone. But the most exciting moments came on the defensive side of the ball with 3 interceptions, 3 sacks, 1 touchdown, and lots of fist pumping, bicep flexing, and trash talking. Oh yea, and the heat didn’t let up, the sweat didnt let up, and my sprinting from end zone to end zone seemed to dehydrate me every few minutes. I became good friends with the Gatorade crew. And as nasty as I was, I can only imagine the scene under a pile of giants out on the field. They were just as exhausted, a few players even took IV’s during the game, and at one point, I saw two of them trying to administer oxygen to themselves as the training staff was off tending to some other players.

The final score, 27-0. Domination. Bart Scott may have said it best as he walked off the field, “The NFL better take notice.” And no doubt, they will. But the adventure didn’t end with the 4th quarter whistle. In fact, that’s when my story really picked up. But I’ll keep it short, you’ll get the picture. Here’s how it went down:

- Pack up the equipment
- Enter the player’s locker room
- See every reporter in the building hover around Ray Lewis as he put on his orange pants
- Strip off the sweat soaked clothes
- Jump in the shower next to Mount Tackula
- Shower quickly
- Get on the bus
- Get on the plane
- Dine on Lobster and Steak and a few more warm cookies
- Land in Baltimore
- Go home and write the first installment of ‘On the Road with the Ravens’

I hope you all enjoyed. The tale has just begun.