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'.

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