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.

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