Monday, October 30, 2006

Week 8 - Dream A Little Dream

New Orleans, LA -- 10/29/06.

Surreal (adj.) 1. Characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions (i.e. Our trip to New Orleans was surreal.)

Lets start with the fantastic imagery, and for those of you who have never had the pleasure of spending an evening on Bourbon St., the imagery is fantastic! Especially on Halloween, a night in which you are allowed to wear anything you could imagine, something’s you couldn’t imagine, and in some cases, not enough to leave anything to the imagination.

Now before I get into the visual buffet, I have to start my story with some true gourmet cooking. Lauryn’s Aunt and Uncle treated us to some of N’Orleans finest fare at Galatoire’s right on Bourbon St. No menus. No need. Our waiter explained their specials and his Cajun accent could have convinced me to order anything in the kitchen, even though I couldn’t understand a word he said. Turns out, I said ‘yes’ to a pan-seared butter-basted trout topped with lump crabmeat, in addition to the fried oysters wrapped in bacon that preceded the main course. Butter. Bacon. Fried. How could you go wrong? We probably should have stopped after dessert – pecan pie a la mode – but there were drinks to be had and people to be watched.

We set up on a corner along the strip – Bourbon and Toulouse to be exact – and over the course of the next four hours we witnessed what could only be described as, um, well, I don’t think you could use one word to describe what we saw. Here are a few attempts:

Oompa Loompas, Larry Legend, Moses and the Devil.
Football players, football fields, Stewie, Homer, and we even found Waldo.
Plenty of beads, hot pink boas, and an actual boa constrictor.
Sexy referees, police cadets, Mr. Clean and Little Bo Peep.
Batman and Robin, butterflies, bumble bees, and oh what a view from those famous balconies.

New Orleans was apparently back. I was never in the Big Easy in the pre-Katrina days, but a few drinks ironically called Hurricanes made me see the city for all that it has to offer. Of course my vision may have been impaired at this point in the night, but from what I could tell, New Orleans never looked better.
And now on to those crazy incongruous juxtapositions you’ve been waiting for.

An award winning sportswriter named John Feinstein wrote a book last year about life on the sidelines in the NFL called ‘Next Man Up’ in which he followed the Ravens for an entire season. I couldn’t help but find the concept of interest now that I too am chronicling my year ‘On the Road with the Ravens’. I finally decided to read his version of events and the ‘surreal’ nature of my time with the team really sank in. I would read a paragraph about how and why the team decided to trade a first round draft pick in order to select Kyle Boller. I would then look up from my book and see Kyle Boller getting up to use the bathroom. Every page mentioned someone on the plane. It sounds like the next screenplay from Charlie Kaufman, but I was reading a story that was coming to life right before my eyes. I couldn’t wait to find out how this week’s chapter would go.

The atmosphere inside the refurbished Superdome is ridiculous. It was October 29th, yet I felt like we were at the Super Bowl. Some of the Saints’ legendary alumni were walked out on to the field by the teams cheerleading squad – the Saintsations – who by the way were practicing on the field as we walked into the stadium earlier in the day and I couldn’t help but notice how physical their practice was. I swear – that was the only physical thing I was noticing. The cheerleaders got the crowd up on their feet and the noise that came raining back at us was deafening. Larry had some sort of decibel tracker and the meter was close to 100, which apparently is high because we couldn’t hear ourselves ask if 100 was high.

The game got off to a great start. On third and goal in the first quarter, newly appointed Offensive Coordinator Brian Billick called a running play for quarterback Steve McNair, which he ran to perfection and was barely touched on his way into the endzone. Apparently frustrated by not being able to throw the ball on this particular play, McNair unloaded at the wall behind the goal post to celebrate his score. It just so happens that your favorite production team was filming from right behind the goal post at that exact moment. I never had the chance to play football in high school – more specifically I never thought I’d be able to make it through a practice so I stayed on the baseball diamond where I belonged. In any case, I’ve never really had a ball thrown at me that hard. I wasn’t sure if I should dive out of the way, dive in front of Jeff, or maybe even make a diving attempt at catching the ball. As you can see in the picture (I have the white sleeves on), I eventually decided to just flinch, scared out of my mind about what the ball would do to my hands if I tried to get in its way. I'll have to work on that in practice.

The player we were filming from that fateful vantage point was Jonathan Ogden. Now for those of you who may not be familiar, Jonathan Ogden is a monster. And not just on Halloween. He's a Pro Bowl offensive lineman, a future Hall of Famer, a loving father, and a certifiable genius. But at 6’9” and 345 lbs, in full pads with a few more inches of afro on top, he is above all else a monster. We had the good fortune of listening to ‘J.O.’ the entire day and as the Ravens’ continued to rack up the points, the mood on the sidelines started to change. A bit more jovial you could say. So much so that Ogden felt like singing. Not hip-hop. No Metallica. Not even the NFL standard - Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ which he hummed a few bars of during warm-ups. Nope, the monster was in the mood for a little Wild Cherry and out came the funk:

Play that funky music white boy
Play that funky music right
Play that funky music white boy
Lay down that boogie and play that funky music till you die…

The birthplace of Jazz was certainly a good place to get funky and JO and the Ravens’ were getting down all day en route to a 35-22 win.

When the game ended we made our way into the locker room. Now, since my first week on the job, I’ve always found it interesting that female reporters walk around the locker rooms as the players change, shower, hang out – you know things you do in a locker room. I think they have every right to be there, or at least as much of a right as a male reporter, but I still find it a bit, lets say, awkward. So to my surprise, when it came time to shower up, I saw a female reporter hovering around a locker that just happened to be near the showers. I wasn’t quite sure what to do. I am by no means a professional athlete, so these situations don’t come up that often for me. The team at Exit10 doesn’t shower after a new business pitch, and we don’t have reporters waiting to talk to us afterwards. Fortunately, as I found myself pacing around the sinks, trying to decide how to handle the situation, Ray Lewis made himself available to the media and all those who carry a microphone swarmed towards our fearless leader. I was free to wash up.

The final piece of the juxtaposition puzzle came on the bus ride to the airport. I was busy checking my fantasy stats and various box scores from around the league. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. From the back of the bus I could hear Ray shouting out scores and stats to his teammates. I would read on my trusty Treo that Fred Taylor rushed for 100 yards against Philadelphia. Ray would shout out, 'Freddie rushed for 100'. You see, Ray Lewis actually knows the players that make up most of my fantasy football roster. Not just by name, but probably by where they grew up and how they like there steaks cooked. Once again, fantasy was becoming a reality.

A secondary definition for the word surreal is, 'Having an oddly dreamlike quality.' My first eight weeks on the road with the Ravens has certainly had an oddly, dreamlike quality to them. A dream in which the line between fantasy and reality is blurred, And after spending 24 exhausting hours in a city in which that line is all but erased, I can't wait to get to sleep to find out what happens in the next chapter of this dream. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Week 7 – On the Couch without the Ravens

Baltimore, MD – 10/23/06.

The Ravens took flight this week, back home to cities across the country to spend a few relaxing days during their only break of the NFL season. Lauryn and I also took advantage of our first Sunday away from the football field by planting ourselves on the couch for eight hours of what else, football. Actually, you could say we watched 12 hours of action since we brought a second television into the living room to allow us to watch both division rivals – Pittsburgh and Cincinnati – who were playing separate games at 1:00.

The day started out with a quick run to the local Safeway for chips, salsa, cheese, crackers, and grapes. I know I know, grapes sound a bit too healthy to consume during a day of football, but Lauryn ate most of them and I only used them to cleanse my palette in between salty snacks.

The games were both close and at one point in the second half, both AFC North foes were losing. Unfortunately, the Bengals found a way to beat the Panthers to tie us for first place. However, the Steelers lost a shootout in OT to the Falcons to fall two games back of both Cinncy and the Ravens.

I’m going to keep this week’s posting brief, considering I’m not promoting via email, I don’t think anyone would be interested in hearing about the amount of salsa that I was able to fit into a Tostitos scoop, and I am distracted by Game 2 of the World Series. Next week should be special though with a trip to New Orleans to see Lauryn’s aunt and uncle, and probably more interesting to all of you, to play the 5-1 Saints. Goodbye bye week. Hello Bayou.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Week 6 - Coffee on the 50

Baltimore, MD. -- 10/15/06.

Starbucks rules the world. America runs on Dunkin. But as much as I enjoy my grande-vanilla-skim-latte, I’ll take my morning caffeine fix on the fifty-yard line any day of the week. Or at least on Sundays. (Editors Note: Lauryn and I have dibs on naming rights to the first 'Coffee on the 50' cafe when we retire to the tropics)

Week six started early for us as RaveTV was going to film Brian Billick on his morning walk from his hotel to the stadium. Since Lauryn had to get to work on the shoot a few hours before I was needed, I was assigned the task of bringing our bags into the stadium. Huge responsibility! Imagine what would happen if we got to the field and one of us didn’t have our gloves. Or worse, not enough pens!

So after a few nervous moments with security, I dropped off our gear – mission accomplished – and headed upstairs to the press box for my morning coffee. A packet of Splenda, some powdered creamer, and I was ready to start my day. Again, I'm a big fan of the froth and foam, but my cup-o-black courtesy of the NFL was good enough for me. I took the elevator back down to the service level and made my way out on to the field. At 8:30 in the morning, the place was empty, eerily silent, and down right cold as it was still covered in shade. At least I had a coffee.

The first sign of life appeared to be an equipment manager who was cleaning the benches. And he wasn’t just wiping them off; he was using some sort of high-powered anti-bacterial spray to get them clean. Why would anyone go through so much trouble? Did this guy realize that just a few hours later, the bench would be filled with men the size of mountains who tend to sweat small rivers during the course of a sixty minute game? Maybe it was keeping him warm. At least I had a coffee.

After watching the sun rise over the stands, I went back inside to see if any of my gameday friends had arrived. As I waited near the entrance to the locker room, the elevator opened and a few Ravens players headed my way. Was I supposed to say hello? Maybe just a casual nod, like the one I tried to give Chris Berman last week. Maybe I should just keep my head down. I didn’t want to look at them the wrong way considering my facial expression would probably set the tone for their entire day. I took a deep breath and just gave a little smirk. A sort of – good morning, have a good game, you don’t know me but I work for the Ravens and I thought I should be friendly even though I’m still a little star-struck at seeing you in person – kind of a smile. They nodded back. We understood each other.

After my mental pep talk to a few members of the team, I got 'the call' (or at least the text message). Lauryn and Jeff were about to start the big trip with Billick and the text informed me that I had to meet them on the city-side of the Hanover St. Bridge at 10:40am. I expected the next call to be Curtis from CTU. I confirmed that I received the message and I headed towards the coordinates. When I reached my position, two figures came running from the woods carrying their weapons of choice – it was Jeff and Lauryn with a pair of Mini-DV cameras. What the hell were they doing? Where was Brian? Apparently the trick was to run about twenty yards ahead of Billick and then film him for a few moments as he walked towards us.

My first assignment when they arrived - take off their clothes. Seriously, they wore a few too many layers and after a couple of wind sprints they needed to shed a fleece or two. I then took charge of protecting Jeff while he moonwalked away from the Coach as he made his way towards the stadium. After a few minutes, the crowd realized who was with us and the cheers began. A couple of fans even decided to take a few steps with Brian to give him some ‘insider’ tips on how to beat the Panthers. Very thoughtful. I’m sure that he considers each and every fans' fantasy football implications before deciding on whether to go for a field goal or not late in the game. Speaking of which, there was a game to be played.

Despite a combined 44 points scored between the two teams, the most memorable moment came early in the first quarter. Steve McNair was sacked deep in Ravens territory and when the dust cleared, McNair was still on one knee. A slight concussion had knocked him down and eventually out of the game. There is a cliché in the football world that states that the most popular player in every NFL city is the backup quarterback. For three years, Kyle Boller was the face of the Ravens' failures. From Anthony Wright to Kordell Stewart, Boller’s backups were praised as he was poked and prodded. So much so, that when Kyle was forced to leave the season opener last year due to injury, the crowd cheered. The HOME crowd cheered when their starting quarterback got injured!

So as much as it hurt to see Steve leave the game, I felt good for Kyle who received an ovation from the fans as he trotted out to the huddle. Cliché confirmed. Three years of frustration would be erased in the minds of Baltimoreans if somehow Boller could lead the team to victory against Carolina.

The game itself got off to a slow start. Partially because we were stuck changing cameras every few minutes due to issues with the tape deck. I’m still learning the broadcasting ropes, but even I know that a video camera that stops recording at random is not a good thing. Eventually Brent and I were able to get back to work. Brent, by the way is the old me. Or should I say I'm the new Brent? Either way, he used to carry the tripod. Now, he carries the camera and with a double shoot day in preparation of bye week, we were teamed together to cover Coach Billick during the game. And after three quarters of questions, we saw a fourth quarter full of answers.

1. Down six, could the Ravens keep Carolina from pushing the lead to two scores? NO. The Ravens trailed 16-7 in the fourth.
2. Down nine, could the Ravens begin a comeback with Boller in charge? YES! After a tipped pass was caught by Mark Clayton for a touchdown, the second tipped pass for a TD by Clayton in the game, the Ravens were within two.
3. Two serendipitous scores in one day had to be a good sign, right? NO. With the Ravens trailing by just two, the Panthers got the ball back with four minutes to play and on first and ten they really answered. A 72-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith. I felt my heart tighten, and it wasn’t the extra cookies we had at halftime, it was just that hard to believe. Who throws deep when you're supposed to run out the clock? Carolina was back up by nine, 23-14.
4. Game over, right? NO! With just over two minutes remaining, Kyle turned a no huddle drive into a scoring one when he found Todd Heap in the back of the end zone. So much for a slow start. Three touchdowns in three minutes.
5. We were back in the game, right? NO!!!! On a lousy third and one, the Panthers converted and were able to run out the clock. Game over.

We were now back on a streak, only this time it was a two-game losing skid heading into the bye week. 13 days to contemplate what’s been working, what went wrong, and where to go from here. Hopefully, Steve McNair will make a recovery from his concussion. Hopefully, the team can take solice in the fact that after losing to Tampa Bay, the Bengals ended the day at 3-2, leaving Baltimore alone in first place. And hopefully, I'll find time to once again watch a full Sunday of football on the couch with a few not-so-healthy salty snacks. So as we say 'Hello' to the time off, hopefully, when we get to New Orleans in two weeks, we will all be able to say it was a 'Good Bye'.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Week 5 – Here Comes the Boom

Denver, CO – 10/9/06.

Harry: “I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this.”
Lloyd: “I was thinking the same thing. That John Denver's full of sh*t, man.”
- Dumb & Dumber, New Line Cinema © 1994

When we touched down in Denver on Sunday, I had to agree with Harry & Lloyd. Although the two were mistakenly gazing at the cornfields of Nebraska, I found myself in the Mile High City with nothing but gray skies on all sides. No mountains in the distance. No snowcaps. No ski lifts. Nope, the Denver skyline was painted a shade of ugly, which was a sign of things to come.

After a week of actually paying attention to all of the ESPN promos asking, ‘Is it Monday Yet?’, it finally was. But first things first, the weather report didn’t get any better over night and they were calling for 2-3 inches of snow. Yes, in October! Of course team officials must have known this prior to leaving Baltimore and I’m sure all of the players had enough clothes to keep them warm, but someone forgot to tell the production crew. The result, a field trip to REI to stock up on long underwear, fleece jackets, and ski pants. Some nice souvenirs I suppose.

Back to the reason we were in town. We arrived at the stadium a few hours before kickoff and I had been telling Lauryn all week that if given the chance, I was hoping to meet Chris Berman, an ESPN living legend. ESPN, now home to Monday Night Football, apparently travels a small armada of sportscasters and production crews to each game as we saw three production trucks outside the stadium, another two trucks inside the stadium, a stage in front of the main entrance, a stage up in the stands, and a war room complete with laptops, video cameras, and umbrellas for the lovely sideline reporting duo of Suzy Kolber and Rachel Nichols. The point of all this is that I assumed it would be impossible to find ‘Boomer’ amidst the fleet. Lucky for me I had a lot of water to drink on the bus.

Most trips to the bathroom are uneventful, at least to my reading audience. But this was no ordinary bathroom visit. As I turned the corner to find the facilities, I recognized a familiar face. It was Steve Young, former San Francisco 49er and current ESPN analyst. Once my brain processed the fact that I was standing next to a hall of fame quarterback that I used to despise during my Cowboy fandom days, I noticed another familiar face. Mr. Berman. The two were chatting it up with Steve McNair. I couldn’t interrupt, and I really had to go, so I darted into the men’s room hoping to formulate a plan.

I entered the bathroom and saw a man getting dressed in the corner. Normally I would pay no attention, but I noticed that this man was wearing a superman shirt and a cowboy hat. Odd I thought. Turns out, the clever people in the promotions department at the Broncos decided to have an actual horse run around the field every time Denver scores. Well this guy, he rides the horse.

So after, well, using the bathroom, I washed my hands and went to dry them. I was hoping Chris was still outside so that I could find a way to casually introduce myself. But then I panicked – no paper towels! A $500 Million dollar stadium and they run out of paper towels! I started waving my hands as fast as I could, maybe they would air-dry in time. At least the cowboy had left so no one was in there to see me flutter around the sink. I did the whole dry-your-hands-in-your-pockets trick, and had to take my chance before it was too late. I left the bathroom. Chris, Steve, and McNair were still talking shop, and I tried to catch Berman’s eye as I walked by. He was of course still having a conversation and had no idea someone was looking for him. I sort of nodded as if signaling hello to an old friend and walked right past him. I’m pretty sure he ignored me, but it was closer than I thought I ever thought I would get.

As I headed back to our staging area, the remaining team buses pulled in. The camera crew scurried to set up along the entranceway to get a glimpse of the players making their way to the locker rooms. Funny, a few minutes earlier when I got off the bus, those same camera men were still set up but seemed a little disappointed at who was staring back at them. So to the delight of all media, this bus was a bit more star-studded, as Ray Lewis walked down the steps and into the eye of the storm.

The game was a mess. Not just a defensive-battle, lots of turnovers, only two field goals in the first half kind of a mess; but a rain soaked, muddy field, wet gloves, cold feet kind of a mess. We had Ed Reed wired this week and we were getting great sound from him the whole first half. He was calling plays, yelling at teammates, talking to coaches, even smiling back at the camera. But then, we heard static. With about 3 minutes to go in the first half, the battery in his wireless microphone died. After five weeks on the job, I’ve learned to put the camera together and pack my bag full of batteries, tapes, extra pens, etc…but I must have skipped class the day they taught us about the ‘boom mic’. The ‘boom’ is that fuzzy ball of fur you sometimes see hanging over actors’ heads in b-movies. It picks up sound and is usually attached to a pole that is attached to an audio technician holding the pole. Well, my loyal readers, this week in Denver, I became an audio technician. For three minutes.

Jeff kept rolling and Lauryn handed me the pole. I held it over the players on the bench, fearful of someone getting up too quickly and knocking themselves out. Or at least getting mad at me and breaking the pole. I kept looking back at Lauryn for assurance. She kept saying to bring the mic lower. Lower!? I was practically cleaning their helmets. But I listened to her; after all, she is the boss on game day (yes, just game day, right sweetheart?). Then, as my shoulder started to tighten up the boom made contact with Ed Reed. But it wasn’t my fault, I swear. Ed apparently is used to the attention and ever so slowly he reached his hand up from the bench and shook hands with the boom. I froze. He smiled. Initiation complete.

Fortunately, for everyone involved, we were able to switch his battery at half time and the boom was no longer needed. It is rare to be able to actually change a player’s pads mid-game for a television feature, but as you can tell, Ed was a willing participant. But our team only had a few minutes to make the switch. When I walked into the staging area, Larry, Don, and Jeff were hovered over his pads performing what seemed to be open heart surgery on the gear. As soon as the battery replacement was complete, Don ran the pads back to the locker room and we all breathed a sigh of relief. The show would go on. And in the quote of the year, as we walked back on the field, Ed commented to another teammate while straightening his uniform and pads, “Saw my mechanic. Had to get a tune-up.”

The rest of the game was brutal, we were wet and cold and losing, but the trip home was the real rough part. We took off well past midnight on the east coast and we were scheduled to land around 4AM. But with less than 30 minutes left in the trip, we had to make an emergency landing in Pittsburgh. One of the players on the team, who had been injured during the game, had to be taken to a hospital. We all knew how serious it must have been since we were so close to home. The paramedics rushed onto the plane and helped him off. The injury does not appear life threatening, but it was a clear reminder as to how brutal the game can be, and how insignificant one loss can be. It was a Monday Night to remember, but more importantly, one we can forget.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Week 4 - The Agony of Victory

Baltimore, MD -- 10/1/06.

I apologize.

To Ray Lewis, Todd Heap, Brian Billick, the Ravens’ fans, my wife, the entire RaveTV production crew, my parents, my 10th grade English teacher, Jim Valvano, Frank Reich, Gerry McNamara, Roy Hobbs, Jim Morris, Rudy Ruettiger and Mikey Walsh from the Goonies (coincidentally, Sean Astin played both Mikey and Rudy on the silver screen). To all of you, I am sorry. You see, this afternoon, as the fourth quarter withered away, I gave up.

The Chargers were up six most of the second half. Meanwhile, the Ravens fumbled on the one-yard line, threw an interception, came up short on third and inches, and even allowed a muffed punt to travel almost 70 yards. So, I gave up. I lost hope. I started to sulk. I started wondering, ‘What am I going to write about this week?’ I thought a good title would be, ‘The Agony of Defeat’ considering I felt nauseous. But on the aforementioned punt, the Chargers drew a penalty and had to re-kick.

Apparently this was the most exciting thing to happen in Baltimore since shots were fired at Fort McHenery because the Ravens’ faithful started to roar. Not quite a cheer, not just a scream, but an all-out roar. Loud enough, in fact, to force the Chargers to take a safety in fear of what might happen if they tried to run a play with the sound barrier about to be broken. And that’s when the game turned. Ray Lewis said it himself (we had him wired today – more on that later) and all of a sudden, hope was restored.

McNair hit Mason, Clayton twice, ran for twelve, and took the snap on second and goal with just 41-seconds remaining. Time stood still. Ray and Ed Reed watched closely. Jeff made sure to film Ray and Ed watching closely. And, as you can see, I made sure to take a picture of Jeff filming Ray and Ed watching closely.

The fans were standing as well. Lauryn hid behind me. She couldn't watch. And then number nine hit Todd Heap for a touchdown for the third straight week. We all jumped. Ray, Ed, Steve, the fans, Lauryn, Jeff and I (don’t worry, I didn’t get in front of the camera this time). Fists pumping. Pure elation. I found Lauryn and gave her a hug – I wasn’t quite sure if it was appropriate – but everyone was feeling the love. We were about to go 4-0. We didn’t know what to say, but Ray sure did…

The day had started with the traditional meeting of the minds in the endzone with number 52 in the eye of the storm. The chanting began, “We read-y! We read-y! We read-y!” I sure was. I don’t think they noticed, but I really was. Tapes – check. Batteries – check. Extra Balance Bars for Lauryn – check. Seriously, I was ready.

(Here is a behind the scenes look at how we 'wire' Ray Lewis. Before the game, we tape a wireless microphone inside of his pads. Well, let me rephrase, as you can see in the picture on the right, Don and Jeff tape the mic while I observe.)

Back to pregame and player introductions. The defensive starters were going to be announced one at a time, but we were still taping in the tunnel and I had to get out to the field and find a spot for Jeff to set up. So I just went for it. I hugged the wall and ran towards the light. I had to squeeze between the concrete siding and a 300-lb lineman who apparently still had some hip-hop in his head as he moved side-to-side. I watched closely and picked up his rhythm so that I could find a hole and an opportune time to get by. I made it through, but I think I clipped him on the way. No flags though. However, the gauntlet still wasn’t over. As I emerged from the smoke – with a little less fanfare than most – I had to side-step the smoke machine and make a sharp cut on the run to avoid the pyrotechnics, although I did feel the heat of the fire. Who would have thought, but Metallica + Flame Throwers = Crowd Goes Crazy. Then it was time. Ray came out dancing, sliding, high stepping, twisting, turning, clapping, screaming, and smiling. The stage was set, and Ray owns this stage.

Of course the Chargers have one of the most explosive players in all of football, LaDanian Tomlinson, and as I watched him at ground level, I was convinced that my eyes were deceiving me. He was just that quick. A little R2 in Madden would do the same thing, but how does LT do it in real life? Fortunately, Ray had an X button in his pocket and kept him in check, especially on some third and shorts early in the game as he came out of the pile screaming at no one in particular, “Get off the field!”

However, as he usually does, Ray saved his best coverage, and quotes, for last. After the defense held off a last second drive and the comeback came to a close, he made sure to congratulate UMD alum, Shawne Merriman, and then gathered his football brethren at the 50 – once again the center of the storm. But this speech was less ‘Pump’ and all ‘Prayer’. He asked for the Chargers to arrive home safely in San Diego and gave thanks for the opportunity to play the game he loves. I too am thankful for this opportunity and fittingly, on this Day of Atonement, I apologize for losing hope. With you Ray, I say, Amen.

Next up, the Denver Broncos and Monday Night Football. Yes, I'm read-y.