Monday, December 25, 2006

Week 16 – Refresh. Refresh.

Pittsburgh, PA – 12/24/06

Can you picture Ray Lewis skipping and hopping along the sidelines chanting ‘Merry Christmas!’?

Well I bet you couldn’t picture the Houston Texans beating the Indianapolis Colts either, but that’s exactly what Ray and the Ravens got for Christmas this year and #52 didn’t hide his excitement.

In the span of about 10 seconds, the 2006 season went from a success to something truly special. And I was there to witness it all on the semi-frozen tundra of Heinz Field.

At first, the prospect of playing a rejuvenated Steelers team in Pittsburgh did not seem all that appealing. In fact, as we set up for the day while watching SportsCenter, Hank Goldberg of ESPN projected a 23-10 Steelers victory. What did he know?

Interestingly, our staging area was directly in front of the players entrance and we had the luxury of watching Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward report for duty. It was tough to look at Ward the same way after watching his local television show the night before. On the program, Hines and fellow Steeler Troy Polamalu went head to head in a fierce battle of…wait for it…wait for it…a Gingerbread Cookie Bake Off! To their credit, both gladiators of the gridiron held their own in an apron as Ward designed a Polamalu look a like cookie, while Troy opted for a Hawaiian hula girl. The dramatic duel was ruled a draw as both men fell equally as far down the intimidation scale.

Of course that’s about all the Steel City had going for it on a Saturday night. As we walked the streets of downtown, we were fortunate to even find a restaurant that was still open, and who knew, Pittsburgh also serves up some damn fine sushi. No match for Cleveland, but still respectable. Sushi was also the perfect meal for the evening as we had already managed to fit in dinner during our half-hour flight from Baltimore. The flight attendants were really hustling. They even had the courtesy to let me finish my dessert as the plane touched down. It wasn’t a gingerbread man, but their homemade chocolate cookies are delicious.

In defense of Hammerin’ Hank, the game was tough to predict. The Ravens had already clinched the division and their only hope of increasing their playoff seeding relied on one of the two teams ahead of them losing, the Colts or Chargers. A one or two seed would give the Ravens a highly sought after week off before beginning their post-season push. And with a few aging veterans leading the charge this season, a week of rest could give the Ravens what has apparently been the key to success this season, time to refresh.

The Steelers on the other hand were still in contention for a Wild Card spot after going 5-1 in their last six games. Of course the one loss was at the hands of the Ravens who registered nine sacks and a 27-0 victory back in November.

The one thing that was easy to predict was the weather. Let’s see. Pittsburgh. December. I would guess cold? Possibly frigid with a chance of bone shivering wind. I know its quaint to have a stadium built on the banks of three rivers, but someone had to realize that being so close to the water would be a better location for a wind farm than a football field.

As we took to the field, one thing we noticed, along with our wired Raven Chris McAlister, was that the playing surface was less than ideal. It was as if they were actually using the space for a farm during the week. Or maybe a driving range. The divots sprinkled the entire stadium and what was left was a mix of gravel, grass, and dirt. I was a little nervous because unlike my last 14 games, today I was forced to wear khaki pants on the sidelines (I left three pairs of wind pants in the dryer as we rushed out of the house on Saturday!). I was going to have to plan my kneeling carefully if I wanted to keep the pants in good condition. Of course my pants were actually a consistent theme for the weekend as I was chided for my ensemble on the plane ride in as I matched brown pants with a bluish shirt. Phil, I blame the wife.

The grudge match did not prove to be much of a match up as the Ravens proved the prognosticators wrong with a dominant victory over the Steelers. However, I had my sights sets on the scoreboard most of the day as the Colts were playing at 1:00 as well. As I mentioned, an Indy loss coupled with a Ravens win would give Baltimore a chance at a first round bye.

Surprisingly, the Texans were hanging with the Colts all day and even jumped out to a 14-0 lead. I whispered a few sweet something’s to Lauryn, but wanted to make sure she didn’t tell anyone near the bench. I wasn’t going to be the one to disrupt the focus of the players. Of course she immediately ran over to Don to tell him the good news.

As their game went to the fourth quarter, Houston still had the lead. But as is typical for a Peyton Manning led team, the advantage vanished quickly and we noticed that they were soon tied at 24. Don, Lauryn and I kept trading knowing glances and we all thought for sure that Manning would find a way to pull out a win. And then came those magical 10 seconds.

The Steelers were backed up near their own end zone to start a fourth quarter drive down just fourteen. Consequently, Jeff and I set up behind the end zone to get a good look at McAlister and Ward going at it. As I kneeled over Jeff’s shoulder, I looked up at the scoreboard in the far end zone. My advertising career has taught me a few things about tracking eye movements as the brain processes one element at a time. Well I was definitely processing what I saw next one element at a time. First, a 27 next to HST. Then, a 24 next to IND. And finally, a FINAL next to the score. I had to re-read it a few times before I full comprehended what must have happened. Not only had the Texans took the lead, the game had ended. Manning could not do any more. The Colts had lost.

My first reaction was to yell in Jeff’s ear, “The Texans Won!”. Of course he hadn’t been watching as closely and may not have known that they happened to be playing the Colts. Then I scanned the sidelines for Lauryn. She was skipping towards me, full of smiles. She knew! We both pointed at the scoreboard, making sure we each knew for sure what had just happened deep in the heart of Texas.

And then, just when the Steelers were threatening to comeback, Dawan Landry intercepted a Roethlisberger pass and returned it for what appeared to be a defensive touchdown. (The fact that a review ended up ruling Landry out at the 1 yard line was not important). The celebration was on. The celebration that had been missing the week before, that must have been pent up in all the players hoping and praying for a chance at a week off, was let out. Jubilation. Dancing. Hugging. And of course Ray and his holiday wishes.

The thrill of the chase did not end in Pittsburgh. There was at least one more game of importance left to be played on Sunday and the entire team knew what it meant. If the Chargers lost in Seattle, the Ravens would be in position for the #1 seed in the AFC. Home field advantage throughout the playoffs. A potential AFC Championship game in Baltimore. All eyes were on the Chargers, or at least our cell phone Internet browsers.

On the bus ride to the airport, Ray and Bart Scott were shouting out updates. Luckily the flight was a quick one and the game had just started the fourth quarter when we landed back home. And that’s when the real fun began. I started working my thumbs on the Treo fast and furiously to get new statistics. Refresh. Refresh. And I wasn’t just thinking it; everyone around me was asking for updates. Even a few of the players had taken an interest in what my Treo had to say including fellow Orange alum, Adam Terry. Jeff dubbed me, ‘Thumbs Lukin’ and I was providing play by play to the front of the bus. (Another lucky PDA owner was giving the back of the bus updates).

The game went back and forth and the Chargers were down 4 with just 30 seconds left to play. I was being asked how much time was left, how many time outs they had, what was the weather, what down was it, who had the ball, what was the crowd noise like….we were all hinging on my data download speed. And then our luck finally ran out. Philip Rivers hit Vincent Jackson for a 37-yard touchdown to put San Diego ahead for good. No more Christmas miracles this weekend, but one surprise gift was all we could have asked for. Not to mention a season sweep of our division rivals.

Now I’ve been fortunate enough to make friends with many of the Ravens staff over the last four months and a few even read my postings each week, but by no means do I believe that any of the players take note of the blog. However, the reaction on the sidelines on Sunday was exactly what I was hoping for. It was electrifying. It was exhilarating. It was near freezing. It was refreshing.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Week 15.5 – Purple Rain on My Parade

12/22/06 – Baltimore, MD.

I’ve been doing the New York Times crossword puzzle lately and I think the title of this posting would be an excellent play-on-words, dual meaning, 20-letter monster type of answer in a Tuesday or Wednesday puzzle. The question could be something like “A Prince Downer” or “Putting Prince Down”. But the New York Times is not why I am writing a mid-week posting for the first time in months, although it did help me come up with the title, pretty clever, right?

The reason I felt the need to blog, as the heading might indicate, is that the last four days have included milestone moments in Ravens history that have appeared to not only be ignored, but replaced by feelings of disdain, bitterness, and suffering. In what is my first, and possibly only season on the sidelines, I’m ready to pop the champagne after each touchdown (or at least give Steve McNair a high-five). What gives?

Let me recap.

On Sunday afternoon, the Ravens clinched a playoff birth. However, the injury to McNair and the prospect of still having to play a first round game seemed to outweigh the excitement of making it to the post season.

On Monday night, the Ravens clinched the division title when the Indianapolis Colts beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football. The irony is that most of the Charm City was routing for Ocho Cinqo and company as an Indy loss would propel the Ravens into position for a first round bye. So when the game concluded, and the Locker Room AFC North Championship T-Shirt boxes were allowed to be opened, not only was the team not in the Locker Room, but I don’t think anyone felt like we were any closer to a Championship.

On Tuesday it was announced that the Ravens would be sending at least five players to the Pro Bowl including: Jonathan Ogden, Adalius Thomas, Ed Reed, Chris McAllister, and Terrell Suggs. Of course the national press has featured no less than five additional Ravens on their ‘all-snub’ teams and the biggest snub of all, Ray Lewis, has been quoted on just about every talk show discussing his frustration with the voting. And I agree. Watching 14 games up close, I can’t imagine why Ray and his protégé, Bart Scott, were left off the list. Not to mention Trevor Pryce and all his wonderful sacks. But I digress, I’m falling into the same funk most of Baltimore already appears to be in.

We were 6-10 last season. We only sent one Raven to the Pro Bowl. We were eliminated from the playoffs before Thanksgiving. And you saw more Oriole Orange around the city than Ravens Purple as the New Year began. So this year, during a season in which we have witnessed multiple fourth quarter comebacks, a shutout against our biggest rival, and a Defense that almost led by fantasy team to the title game, I propose a new order. A plea to the City of Baltimore, Ravens fans everywhere, and even the team itself.

Don’t rain on my parade and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to enjoy a confetti shower together.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Week 15 - Playoffs Actually

Baltimore, MD -- 12/17/06.

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
Actually, it was 64 degrees and sunny in Baltimore.

But the fire is so delightful,
Actually, if you ask Kyle Boller, I don't know if playing under fire is all that delightful.

And since we've no place to go,
Actually, the Ravens clinched a post-season birth on Sunday so we are going to the playoffs.

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
We do play in Pittsburgh next week on Christmas Eve, so why not.

The Holiday Season took center stage at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday as the game day entertainment included the Ravens cheerleaders dressed as Santa’s little helpers; a Ravens video montage set to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (see it here); an angel named Demetrius and a Grinch known as the Injury Bug.

On its surface, the game appeared to be an early Christmas present, or at least a really good gift on the third night of Hanukkah. The weather was unseasonably warm, the Ravens were favored by 11 points, and Jeff and I began the day camped out in the middle of the field as more than 40 women in purple Santa-style outfits came sprinting towards us. The ladies were joined by two of the state’s high School football championship teams to form quite possibly the longest pre-game gauntlet in franchise history. By the time the players made it to the end of the line their high fiving had succumbed to knowing glances.

We were joined on the sidelines by a few familiar faces, although we didn’t actually know everyone we recognized. The first face to find us was a former RaveTV crew member who is now a cameraman for NFL Films. The NFL is the pinnacle of the sports media world, but even within the ranks of professional football, a hierarchy exists with NFL Films a notch above the team’s themselves. The discrepancy is in part due to the simple fact that surprise, NFL Films shoots their footage on film. That way, they can get those super-slow-motion-close-up shots that make players seem even scarier, and sweatier, than they do at regular speed.

The other recognizable personality on the field was WBAL’s celebrity sideline reporter of the week, Josh Charles. Some might know him from his starring role on the short-lived sitcom, Sports Night; others will remember him from The Dead Poets Society; but everyone should recall his breakout role as Bryan, the burger flipping love interest of Christina Appelgate in the cult classic, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.

Each week, WBAL has a famous face/voice calling the action from the field level, from Art Donovan to Jada Pinkett Smith. However, most of the time we don’t notice the star of the day until they are shown on the SmartVision boards for all the fans to see. But this time was different. Josh Charles not only shares my namesake, but apparently my enthusiasm for being on the field, knowing that like me, this is not his day job and may be the only time he ever gets this close to NFL action. Every big play, every change of possession, I would see him sprinting along side me as I lugged the tripod up and down the sidelines. He would get down on his knees to get a closer look at a tackle. He would try to find out more about player injuries (more on that in a moment) and he just seemed to have a drive inside him that would not let him take anything for granted. I guess that’s how he was able to convince Christina to take him back during that fateful speech from the inside of his burger delivery cart.

Now no one would confuse Josh Charles with Jim Carrey, but someone was playing The Grinch on Sunday as injuries threatened to derail the Ravens Super Bowl plans. In the first quarter, Steve McNair's hand got stepped on and he didn’t return the rest of the way. Later in the game, Samari Rolle tackled Braylon Edwards out of bounds and did not get up for a few minutes. The medical staff showed off their 40 speed as they sprinted to the corner of the field where Rolle was lying. When he finally got to his feet, he was holding his arm tight to his body and you could tell he was holding back the pain until he was safely inside the locker room. Then, in the fourth quarter when the game appeared to be over, Todd Heap and Jonathan Ogden were shaken up on the same play. The clock couldn’t go fast enough.

There was one shining star, or at least a budding one, who managed to steer clear of the injury bug and grow some wings on Sunday. In what was his first touchdown reception and Kyle Boller’s longest pass of his career, Demetrius Williams caught a 77-yard bomb in the third quarter to essentially put the Ravens, and the RaveTV crew, into the next round. Fittingly, Williams is rumored to wear red contact lenses, which should remind you of a famous reindeer who typically gets a lot of air time around the holidays for leading his team.

After a few free drinks in the beer tent, thank you Kate, Lauryn and I decided it was time for some Chinese and Chargers as we watched the San Diego game with take out from Ding How. Someone had to celebrate. Even in a suburban, married couple sort of way. Because despite the fact that you couldn't tell by listening to the players, who have their sights set on more than just a post-season birth, or notice it from watching the fans, who are now ready for another Super Bowl run, the victory on Sunday still meant something special - we are going to the playoffs, actually. So delightful.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Week 14 – Magically Delicious

Kansas City, MO – 12/10/06.

I hereby declare myself the 2006 Ravens’ official Lucky Charm.

Mark Clayton may have scored the big touchdown and Ed Reed may have made the big plays on defense, but this week’s win was a virtual lock as soon as I boarded the team bus on Saturday. I know that sounds preposterous, probably because it is, but after a loss last Thursday while I watched the game from Fells Point, this was my week to prove my true value to the team. (Editors Note: Laura, another Ravenite who missed last week's loss, just happened to sit next to me on the bus ride to the airport and I think we both have some sort of Karma connection with the winning and losing this year.)

My services were needed right from the start as I stepped back into my role as bellhop by carrying Lauryn’s bags up the stairs and onto the plane. Apparently no one filled the position last week as they watched Lauryn struggle every step of the way. They were all glad to have me back because none of them knew whether they were suppose to help or not. For future reference, I will happily let anyone interested carry my wife’s bags, no strings attached.

As our bus drove us through the majestic mountains of Missouri (how much more middle of the country can you get?) all we could talk about was where we would be going for dinner. This was Kansas City, the melting pot of the BBQ world, and even though we ‘snacked’ on some steak and lobster during the flight out, nothing was going to keep us away from the grill of our dreams, Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue.

The only thing you need to know about Jack Stack is that the tables are set with two bowls of barbeque sauce before you even sit down. The walls were adorned with portraits of what else, cows. But don’t be fooled, the menu featured five different meats, and our table took a taste of them all. Pork, sausage, turkey, lamb, and of course – beef. And not just any beef, the menu describes one of the rib dishes as follows, ‘Dinosaur-sized ribs for those who crave the taste of beef.’ Apparently this is where the Flintstone’s gets carryout on those cold winter nights after a game. It also happened to be the preferred dine-in location for a few players as we saw two tables full of Ravens enjoying some ribs. Also apparent, the menu wasn’t lying. The Prime Beef Ribs were about a foot long each, had been cooked for 10 hours, and with a thick coating of barbeque sauce tasted absolutely delicious. Magical even.

Each week more and more people start to take notice that RaveTV not only has a new team member this year, but he happens to be very close to the cute girl from the editing suites they’ve come to love over the years. Eventually they put it together that I’m the spouse of said cutie and we subsequently hear our share of ‘adorable’ comments. This week may have brought us one of the best, however, as one of the coaches casually commented as we boarded the bus, ‘Honeymoon in Kansas City.’ It sounds like a mediocre movie at best, but we make the best of every city, and KC would be no different for this adorable couple.

Once we made it to the stadium I accidentally took on my next role for the team, press agent. Now that might be a bit of a stretch, but I played the part for a few brief moments before the game as I hung out on the field watching John Clayton give his SportsCenter update. I was trying to hear if Willis McGahee was going to play today as my fantasy football playoffs kicked off this week. Laurence Maroney was already being ruled out and McGahee was still listed as questionable! What's a fantasy GM to do.

I didn’t want to get too close, but as I edged my way towards the set, another ESPN host approached. Rachel Nichols (pictured in the white hat on the left) was also covering the game today and before I could decide how to introduce myself, she saw that I was dressed in purple and started asking me all sorts of questions. Potentially important questions. Like when does Ray Lewis come out of the tunnel to warm up? I could have thrown off the entire broadcast with the wrong answer. Luckily, as Brian Billick tells all his first year players, we aren’t rookies any more. I’d seen Ray Ray do his pregame routine enough times to give answers that seemed to satisfy Ms. Nichols. We kept up the small talk for a few minutes about the weather before I was summoned back to the locker room. I was giddy. It was sort of like the popular girl in high school sitting down at your lunch table to ask what the English homework was. I didn’t matter why, it was that it happened at all that made it exciting. I couldn’t wait to tell Lauryn. I made it clear that my excitement had nothing to do with the fact that Rachel was a woman. It was purely professional. I would have been just as excited to chat with John Clayton and if you’ve seen him lately, he is no Rachel Nichols.

By the time the game got started, I was back to work for the first time in two weeks and it felt good to be out on the field in a sea of red and, well, red. Kansas City fans love their Chiefs and Arrowhead Stadium is legendary around the league for being the loudest place to play. It’s also the perfect place to shoot a game as I’ve always associated KC with the NFL Films clips you see on HBO each week. This was sacred ground in the NFL and I felt privileged to step out onto the grass. Speaking of which, Don was told that the reason KC switched to grass in the ‘90’s was at the ‘request’ of Hall of Fame quarterback, Joe Montana, who finished his career as a Chief. Just an interesting side note, thought I’d share.

There was a sign back in the locker room that read, ‘Don’t Confuse Effort With Results’. Well, I do know that I really can’t affect the result, but I sure put in the effort. Jeff and I sprinted up and down the field all day as we followed this weeks wired Raven, Ovie Mughelli. Lucky for us, Ovie not only plays offense, but he is also a special teams star. That means he has the potential to be out on the field on just about every play, which kept us on our toes and on our knees most of the game. And what a game it was. Our defense is scary good. Just when you thought KC was about to score, we would not only stop them, we would force a turnover. Which would of course force me to scramble back to the bench to grab the tripod, but even the confusion on the sideline was exciting. This was a playoff type atmosphere and we were playing like it.

The final score was 20-10. After the game, the top performers from the Ravens are asked to speak to the media in what is usually a make-shift press conference. The room in which they were holding the press conference also happened to be RaveTV’s make-shift locker room. We scurried inside and tried to pack up as quietly as possible. I took care of my duties, but my attention was on the podium. The first player called in was Mark Clayton who made a stop on his way to the microphone as he gave Lauryn a hug. Now if it was just about any other player I think my heart would have tightened up, I mean it is hard to compete with multi-millonaires, but fortunately Clayton is just about the most polite NFL player you will ever meet. He calls Ray Lewis 'sir' and he has yet to spike the ball after a touchdown. He seemed like he wanted to today after his 87-yard touchdown, but true to form, he held up. Maybe he'll carry Lauryn's bags next time...

The next player to take the stand was Terrell Suggs. Apparently T-Sizzle forgot his hat in the locker room and since the rest of the crowd was the news media, he looked to us for a quick wardrobe rescue. He tried on Don Barto’s hat first but thought better of it and gave it back. Luckily, Tim pulled out some fine head gear that suited Terrell’s taste as he promptly took the offering and put it on with a bit of a lean to the right. That is how all the cool kids wear it. He was followed by Ed Reed who answered every question in his undershirt, shorts, and flip flops – the things you can’t see on tv. Ed was the star of the game, and he had some celebration plans for the trip back to the airport.

Once we finished packing, we hit the showers and boarded the bus as Ed, Bart Scott, and a few of the other players managed to secure some freshly grilled ribs for the trip. How in the world did they find BBQ between the locker room and the parking lot? The tailgaters had gone home already...They must have some good connections, who can cook a mean side of beef, because the bus smelled divine as we made our way to our seats. As the players waved their ribs in the year, they got the bus driver to pump up some Kansas City hip hop as they relished the sweet taste of victory.

This was the Ravens 5th road victory of the year after losing all eight last season. A season in which I did not have a seat on the chartered flight. Although I did bare witness to a loss in Denver earlier this year, it was a Monday night which means I really shouldn't have attended, after all, I still have a pretty good day job. Of course you all know what happened last Thursday when I stuck around in Baltimore. So while the Ravens are off to their best start in team history, I don't really know how to explain the connection between my tripod sprints and each big win. Magic? Perhaps. Lucky? Maybe. Charmed? I’m sure.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Week 13 (Part One) - Roughing the Passer

Cincinnati, OH -- 11/30/06.

By Jay O'Brien (pictured in rain gear below)

They say that the best defense is a good offense, so let me say this at the beginning of my first & only blog entry of the season ----- it’s all Josh Lukin’s fault. The sports world is intense, competitive, and superstitious, and there are certain things that should never be changed in the midst of a championship season – socks, underwear, and miniature tripod carriers. And as for my own 0-3 career record traveling with the Baltimore Ravens, I have only 1 response – Josh is 0-3 in those games watching them from alternate locations. Coincidence?

So after the 13-7 game in Cincinnati, and after my dream of being in the post game locker room as the Ravens celebrated a division championship was dashed, I began thinking of other things that would have changed during the road trip to Cincinnati had I not been there (and before I get started, let me warn you that this is what happens when you call me Julie and make fun of my snazzy suit that I wore on the plane):

1) Lauryn and Josh would have been able to go out to dinner with relatives, who live in every NFL city. Following the dinner, which will happen at “one of the best steakhouses/seafood places/salad emporiums in the country,” they would have been able to take a wonderful picture outside of said steakhouse/seafood place/salad emporium to post right here.

2) Scotty would have spoken to someone else about something completely meaningless for 20 minutes straight “Yeah Jay, you can take razor blades on the plane now. You can take as many as you want! You used to not be able to take fluids on, or toothpastes for that matter, but now they just look at it and say, Ok you’re good to go! Even Scope you can bring on, I don’t know about the other brands of mouthwash, but definitely Scope. Hey Jay, do you have any Scope? Where am I?”

3) Jeff Atkinson would have missed a shot. I know this is unimaginable because he not only invented cameras and all lighting equipment, but also the sunlight and moonlight that lights the earth. But seriously, he would’ve missed a shot. Because you know, he’s not perfect. Seriously.

4) The entire crew would have made it to the Tropicana bar in Kentucky and, instead of hanging out with Jason Giambi, Marshall Faulk, and Nick Lachey (which actually happened), they would have sat at the bar and ordered questionable minty &/or fruity beverages from the male bartenders wearing bowties but not shirts. Tim would continue to try and get into the VIP level with his minty &/or fruity beverage, but would still be waiting outside because “that tall dude doesn’t work for the Ravens, he works for WBAL!!”

5) Junior would not have to worry about that awkward climb up the stairs to the plane with Lauryn struggling to carry her bags in front of him. Do I offer to help her? Do I let her struggle? Oh, she’ll be okay.

6) Don would text message me back in Baltimore with funny lines from Family Guy.

7) With my absence, Larry would find a new person to call Half-day _______. My vote goes to Brevet, aka Half-day Elvis.

8) And last, but certainly not the least, I would have been soaked with Yuengling instead of rain as the Ravens would have won the game.(P.S. I hope that the Ravens organization doesn’t actually believe that I’m a curse, because I would LOVE to travel to our playoff games if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if if we make the playoffs.)

Happy trails Ravens Road blog, maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe maybe we’ll get to read you thru the playoffs.

Week 13 (Part Two) - A Tale of Two Cities

Baltimore, MD – 11/30/06.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Well, actually it was just the worst. At least in Cincinnati. I'm sorry Jay. It was a beautiful night in Baltimore.

In a season full of highlights, under the lights last Thursday night was a low point. Something wasn’t right.

Carson Palmer completed first down passes with ease. Matt Stover missed a chip shot field goal after a bad snap. BJ Sams was lost for the year. The Ravens offense couldn’t get out of the mud. And I never got out of Maryland. Now I’m not saying I could have helped Matt Katula on the snap that led to Stover’s miss, or somehow alert Ed Reed that a flea-flicker was coming, but these are the facts – I was in Baltimore and the Ravens lost in Cincinnati. I’m just saying…

And I’m not the only one who thought my absence was a detriment to the team. Within two minutes of the final whistle, I received text messages from across the country (or at least New York and Baltimore) that I was at fault. I sent a note to Lauryn. I promised not miss another game.

Despite sticking around in The Charm City, my season in the spotlight continued as I watched the game with a few friends, coworkers (one of which decided NOT to wear purple), a Super Bowl champion, an offensive lineman, and the ABC news team at Shuckers in Fells Point. The waterfront restaurant was host to the local pregame show that featured Michael McCrary as a host and Edwin Mulitalo on the ukulele. I thought it might be worthwhile for me to inform the production crew that I was on-hand and available if they needed an emergency blogger (more on that later). I decided it was best to keep that to myself, but I kept my Treo by my side just in case.

The live audience also got some face time and lucky for me, I knew exactly where to stand. Just before the final sign off, we knew the camera was going to shine on our little corner of the bar before the network switched to the broadcast. Our resident Texan was front and center and attempted to flash the ‘Hook ‘Em Horns’ sign for all of Baltimore to see. What he didn’t expect was a sneak attack on his chicken fingers. As soon as the camera light turned red, I went in for the kill, gave a wink to the camera, and had myself a snack! That’s what Mik gets for trying to post inappropriate comments on the blog. And you wondered why they’re moderated now.

As I previously noted, the game did not go as planned. The bar was practically silent until the fourth quarter. A last ditch effort ended with a missed onside kick and the Shuckers crowd emptied into the Baltimore night.

Unfortunately for Lauryn and the RaveTV crew, they still had a flight home to catch. We traded text messages for an hour since the rain was keeping Lauryn on edge. I’ve come to learn that the most important part of my job on the road is keeping Lauryn calm when the plane hits turbulence (in addition to carrying our bags up the stairs). This week she had to rely on Don to keep her in conversation during takeoff. I think he’s looking forward to my return next week. As is Lauryn, the Speical Teams unit, and of course, I can't wait. Kansas City is supposed to have the best ribs in the country. And it's time to get back to what's best. With a few more wins, this season can still turn out to be the best of times.

Apparently I'm not the only advertising executive moonlighting as a blogger.