Sunday, November 19, 2006

Week 11 – Reverse the Curse

Baltimore, MD – 11/19/06.

Each week I find myself in the midst of more than 100 of the best athletes in the world. I’ve shared the field (technically) with Ladanian Tomlinson, Randy Moss, Steve Smith, Chad Johnson, Michael Vick and Reggie Bush. I’ve shared a locker room (sort of) with Todd Heap, Jamal Lewis, Ed Reed, Steve McNair and Jonathan Ogden. But no matter how many players I have the fortune of coming face to face with; I will forever remain in awe of Ray Lewis.

There is an infamous curse associated with the top sports publication in the country known as ‘The Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx’. From Eddie Matthews to Nomar Garciaparra, many athletes have suffered a season ending injury or worse after appearing on the front of SI. Ray Lewis appeared on the November 13th issue and hasn’t played since the magazine hit the newsstand. But I’m here to tell you that there is no curse, because Ray Lewis made the difference today in beating the Atlanta Falcons.

His final statistics on the day may have read a lot like my own, but while I waited outside the locker room doors before the game, I’m pretty sure Ray was standing squarely in the center of his sanctuary. We had a mic in Ed Reed’s pads this week, both of them actually (more on that in a moment), and as we waited for Ed to emerge we eavesdropped on the pre-game speech by Baltimore’s beloved cover boy.

The title of the cover story was ‘The Gospel According to Ray’ and fittingly, Lewis delivered a moving sermon Sunday morning. He spoke about teammates that were unable to play today and how they would give anything to take just one snap, line up for just one play. He left his team with a simple message, to appreciate each and every moment of each and every game. As we listened in, Lauryn and I shot each other quick looks. And not just of attraction, but of amazement. We were privileged to hear the Ravens’ leader do what he does best – lead. Even without his pads, Ray’s impact was going to be felt.

As for Reed, with #52 out of action, he was going to be the last player introduced into the stadium. As 70,000 fans waited to welcome him, we were just happy that he was wearing the right shoulder pads. Apparently Ed is one of the few players on the team, and maybe in the NFL, who has two sets of pads. Unfortunately we wired the wrong set on our first attempt. Don came back to our staging room with both sets in tow and Dr. Atkinson was recalled for some emergency rewiring. Of course the surgery was a success and we were ready to run with Reed for the next three hours.

We weren’t the only runners on the field, however, and we certainly weren’t the only ones with press credentials. This week the Ravens’ game was televised on Fox and the crew included a Moose, a Goose, and a Dick. That’s Daryl ‘Moose’ Johnston, Tony ‘Goose’ Siragusa, and Dick ‘Dick’ Stockton. In some sort of ironic twist, at least for Lauryn and I, Daryl and Dick are Syracuse Alumni, while the word Siragusa looks a lot like the Italian province SU is named for, Siracusa.

There was one more national media personality of note on the field, Rachel Nichols of ESPN. I only mention her because as we ate breakfast in the press box, I saw a report by Ms. Nichols on one of the TV screens. I took a healthy bite of my bagel and Laura, another one of our gameday crew members who I promised to mention at least once on the blog, pointed over my shoulder to say, ‘there she is again’. I thought she meant Rachel was in the cafeteria, which was an actual possibility for once because as I said, she was reporting live from M&T Bank Stadium. Of course it turned out that she was still just reporting live from the stadium and happened to appear on another one of the TV’s, but I thought it was worth noting, and it is my blog.

Now back to the other runners. Jamal Lewis had three rushing touchdowns in the game, but the biggest gains of the day were made by return specialist, BJ Sams. Sams gained over 200 return yards and during two of his longest runs, he seemed to head straight at us. I know he wasn’t trying to, but if you look at the replays, you can almost see Jeff and I towards the end of the play . His return in the second quarter actually stopped directly in front of us as he was immediately swarmed by any and all Ravens in his vicinity, including Ray Lewis. I was later told that one of Ray’s comments to Sams after his run was something along the lines of, 'next time you gotta score'. Apparently he takes Ray’s comments seriously because BJ sure tried his hardest to follow those orders with two more 60+ yard retuns. Of course neither were for a touchdown, I hope Ray let it slide.

The game came to an end after another dominating second half for the men in purple resulting in a 24-10 victory. As is customary after each game, the players greet each other in the middle of the field and we find a way to get a camera on them. We got lucky today as we followed Ed around. He shook hands with a few Falcons, gave a few hugs, and even got a ‘Ohio State’ cheer from Michael Jenkins, an Atlanta wide receiver and former Buckeye. The strange thing is that Reed isn’t a former Buckeye or a Michigan Wolverine; I guess Ohioans just want to make sure everyone knows they won on Saturday. Duly noted.

The next stop on the post-game parade was Michael Vick. Ed gave MV7 a pat on the helmet, just as McNair approached Vick from behind. The Vick-McNair encounter attracted every reporter in Baltimore. Just as he did with Vince Young in Nashville, each week McNair seems to be giving the next generation of quarterbacks a tutorial on how to win in the NFL. I’m just glad the lessons keep going as planned.

As the players returned to the locker room, I got a taste of the post game celebration. This week, the game-ball went to BJ Sams, but Billick made sure to emphasize that just like every victory, this was a team win. A team that includes Ray Lewis and a team that has won the last two weeks with Ray out of uniform, but still inside the minds of every man who does suit up. Therefore, in conclusion your honor, I submit to you evidence that if this is the ultimate team sport, then two straight victories for Baltimore in the aftermath of the Ray Lewis cover concludes that the curse, and I quote the Raven, is nevermore.

In the spirt of team unity, the RaveTV crew took part
in their own post-game celebration. But even in the beer
tent, Ray was still with us. Check out the jersey behind
Lauryn's head.

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