Monday, December 31, 2007

Week 17 - A Ravens Carol

Baltimore, MD -- 12/30/07.

We won! We won! Or at least I think it was the Ravens who beat the Steelers on Sunday. And I’m pretty sure the game was played in Baltimore.

Excuse me for being a little confused. First of all, I spent Saturday night rooting for the New York Giants. (Apparently the G-men used our blueprint for playing the Pats as they found a way to fight them off for three and half quarters, only to fall three points short and break the hearts of all football fans outside of Foxborough. Although, as the RaveTV crew learned on the elevator ride up to the press box, one Giant of the game was rooting for New England on Saturday night as Phil Simms admitted that 16-0 sounded pretty sweet to CBS). Second, the stands of M&T Bank Stadium were soiled with terrible yellow towels and the front row of the south end zone was littered with black and gold. The weather even matched our Monday night match-up at Heinz Field with a steady, cold rain that just wouldn’t stop or turn to snow.

And finally, on a day in which many NFL teams made the decision to rest their starters, the Ravens weren’t given much of a choice as the team that took the field for Baltimore bared little resemblance to the roster rolled out opening night in Cincinnati. Jake Nordin? Robert McCune?? Adam Terry at Tight End?! With our third string quarterback, third and fourth string running backs, fourth and fifth string tight ends, a backup middle linebacker, a defensive backfield featuring five players yet to prove themselves in the NFL and a special teams unit that included a few teammates most Ravens had yet to be introduced to, it was hard to remember the promise, potential and predictions of the previous summer.

The RaveTV crew suffered a similar setback as Jeff Atkinson, Director of Photography and Wired veteran, was sidelined with the flu for the season finale. Stepping into his shoes for the second time this year was Tim Matkosky, who also had the pleasure of tracking Ray Lewis under the lights, and hurricane force winds, in Pittsburgh. This week, our Wired Raven was Haloti Ngata and we started our afternoon outside the locker room to roll tape on Haloti’s walk to the tunnel. As the team waited for their cue to emerge, you could see the players start to lose their patience, just itching to get on the field. The signs were easy to identify through the mix of fabricated fog and condensed breath: some would roll their necks from side to side; others would hammer the shoulder pads of the man in front of them; a few found the moment of silence soothing as they said a private prayer; and yet others were more vocal as I heard a few choice phrases that sounded something like second graders waiting to go on the roller coaster, “Come on already. What’s taking so long? Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

When the Ravens finally got their wish, Tim followed Haloti as I stayed behind to avoid being run over by Ngata’s enormous friends. My reward for remaining amidst the smoke was an up close coronation for three all-time Ravens as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Jonathan Ogden were individually honored for their selection to the 2008 Pro Bowl. However, before the present-day Raven greats were introduced, a few ghosts of the Ravens past presented themselves on the press level.

Two TV screens, situated on opposite sides of the room, broadcast the Browns/49ers and Seahawks/Falcons games simultaneously. On our left, Chris Redman relived his Louisville legacy with four touchdown passes. On our right, Derek Anderson continued his sensational season with a 54-yard scoring strike to Braylon Edwards. Both quarterbacks once wore purple and black and neither were expected to make much noise in the NFL once they left the Charm City. However, Anderson has blossomed this year playing ahead of Brady Quinn (who did see some snaps on Sunday) and Redman, who was selling insurance earlier in the year, took advantage of Atlanta’s ailments this season and probably earned himself a paycheck yesterday for 2008.

Back to the present and the possibility of ending the year on a 10-game losing streak. I didn’t care if we were facing Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch or Butch Cassidy; a win versus the Steelers counts the same in the standings no matter who the opposing quarterback is. And after bad bounces, inconvenient time-outs and a loss to the lowly Dolphins, RavensNation and this blogger were begging for the pain, and rain, to stop.

The game began with a bang as a Pittsburgh fumble on the opening kick gave Troy Smith incredible starting field position. Let’s review that sentence. Pittsburgh fumbled (not Baltimore), Troy Smith was at the helm of the offense (not Kyle Boller or Steve McNair) and we had good field position – even the action on the field was hard to recognize. The quick change of possession, however, did force me to get my sprints in early as I had already set up in the endzone for the first play, but retreated to the bench area as the fumble forced Haloti to wait a little longer to taste steel. The marathon would continue throughout the day as there is just no easy way to film a nose tackle. Joining me on my Sunday jog was Syreeta Hubbard, an intern with the Ravens broadcast department, and little did she know she was in for a wet weather workout. We had to shoot from the endzone on just about every defensive snap, which included a potential confrontation with the cheerleaders.

Not that I was paying attention, but there was a fleet of females lined up along the wall as the quarter was about to change, which is typically when the full squad performs. However, there was still a few plays left before the performance and my view was partially blocked by our Pro Bowl cheerleader, Crystal, and her case of abs. Not bad for a masters student. And of course I couldn’t get mad at her, especially since she never stops smiling. So I let the jubilant jumping continue until the quarter came to an end. I’m pretty sure the fans in the front row, yellow and purple alike were thankful.

As the game progressed, Musa Smith, Corey Ross and David Pittman (exactly) had led the team to a 27-7 lead late in the game. But just when we thought it was safe to start rooting for the Ravens again, we were reminded that 2007 was not over yet. A 59-yard touchdown pass by Batch, followed by a successful onside kick set the Steelers up with a 4th and goal in the 4th quarter in the very same endzone Tom Brady had burned us on in early December. For once on Sunday, the setting was all too familiar as Tim, Sereta and I watched from the back of the endzone. Batch hit Cedrick Wilson with a 7-yard scoring strike that Wilson seemed to scoop up off the grass. The fans behind us felt compelled to challenge the call and sans red flag, threw their beverage of choice on the field instead. The refs did not grant them the review; rather, security stepped in to escort them out of the stadium.

Down just 6 points, Pittsburgh would get the ball back with less than two minutes on the clock. Tim and I waited for the punt before deciding which end of the field to sprint to, but a funny thing happened on the way towards the sideline, the ball took a Ravens bounce and our special teams unit was able to down the ball at the 11-yard line. The resulting drive was thwarted when David Pittman (seriously) intercepted his second Batch pass of the day to seal the victory. I’m going to say those words a few more times –it’s been a while. Seal. The. Victory. Victory. Victory. Seal the victory!

Okay, now that it’s out of my system, I’ll move on the post game press conferences. Typically the line-up after a loss is limited to Coach Billick and possibly one or two players. However, with our first win in more than 2 months, the Ravens rolled out half the roster with Derrick Mason (who surprisingly began his comments by commenting on the Jets/Chiefs game being shown on the television in the room – he even asked the reporters if they were in overtime), Musa Smith, Corey Ross, Pittman, and of course, Troy Smith.

Big surprise, not only did Smith have a chance to perfect his PR persona during his Heisman Trophy winning senior season as a Buckeye, but the rookie quarterback majored in communications at Ohio State and his media savvy has been evident since his first day at camp. I remember listening to an interview with Troy during his first week of practice and he was sure to not only mention Steve McNair as a potential mentor, but he also mentioned Kyle Boller and Drew Olsen as signal callers he was hoping to learn from. On Sunday, Troy once again showed his press presence with a few choice quotes in describing the win. First off, his first words complimented the Steelers for playing so tough. He would go on to credit Rick Neuheisal’s parting words to the team as motivation and repeatedly commented on the character of his teammates. He even shared his spotlight for a second by reflecting on Corey Ross’ touchdown run when he solemnly stated, “When he scored, I scored,” alluding to the bond he has built with the other young players. His words also included phrases such as “We would not be denied,” and “There was something special about the field today.” But one quote stood out on a day in which the entire organization was forced to begin focusing on next year. “You have to be like a horse with blinders if you want to be the best.” said Smith. “The route to greatness starts now.”

A fitting final quote for the man who might just be the ghost of the Ravens future. End scene. Roll credits.

We Interrupt this Blog to Bring You Breaking News

I was literally in the middle of finishing up my Week 17 blog (in case you didn't hear, we won!) when ESPN News reported that Brian Billick has been fired after 9 seasons in Baltimore. From Scott Mitchell to Kyle Boller, Billick has lived and died by the quarterback sword and today his days in Owings Mills have come to an end.

Looking to start some rumors? How about Rex Ryan as Head Coach? Mike Martz as Offensive Coordinator?

More commentary to follow...

The Ravens are conducting a press conference right now, simulcast on ESPN News and WJZ, reviewing the firing of Coach Billick.

A few select quotes from Owner Steve Bisciotti:

"We are collectively 5-11."
"I have never met Bill Cowher."
"I do fear being wrong. I could be three coaches past Brian Billick nine years from now and trying to solve this puzzle."
"Jury's out on me. Brian's already got his Super Bowl. And I'll try to make you all proud."

Steve also commented that all assistants are free to use their offices to find other jobs, and there contracts for 2008 will all be honored, but none are guaranteed jobs next season with a new head coach.

A few quotes from Ozzie Newsome, General Manager:

"I did not just find out about this yesterday."
"Is Rex [Ryan] someone we will interview to be our head coach? Yes. If Rex is the best guy he will be the third coach in the history of the Baltimore Ravens."
"The next coach... next offensive defensive coordinator is going to have a lot of input as to what's the makeup of our 2008 roster."

A quote from Dick Cass, Ravens President:

"I did recommend to Steve that he go ahead and fire Brian."

Click here for Brian Billick's statement.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Orange + Purple = ?

Mike Duffy of is reporting that Adam Terry, Ravens offensive lineman and Syracuse University graduate, may play a few snaps at tight end on Sunday vs. the Steelers. Todd Heap, Daniel Wilcox and Quinn Sypniewski have all been declared out for the game, leaving only Lee Vickers on the active roster. Asked whether Vickers would start - seemingly a case of simply stating the obvious - Coach Billick responded, "We'll adapt some other ways as well." By 'adapt' this orange blogger can only hope that squeezing a lineman in to a tight end's jersey will be part of the plan.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Week 16 - Sling Shot

12/23/07 – Mahwah, NJ.

First off, let me explain the dateline of the article. As many of you may have been doing as well (and judging by the traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, I think all of you were doing it), Lauryn and I packed up on Saturday and headed north to my hometown for the holidays. With a Best of Wired scheduled to air this week, the RaveTV crew was kept to a minimum for the Ravens trip to the Emerald City and as a result, we spent our Sunday in the suburban sprawl of Northern New Jersey.

Now let me explain the title of the article. Since we were going to be watching Week 16 from the Garden State, the only games that we would have the chance to watch live would be those featuring the tri-state area’s two NFL teams, the Giants and Jets. And with the schedule makers making sure that most Jerseyites could watch both the green and blue without worrying about the remote, the chances of Lauryn and I catching the purple and black were, well, remote.

I give you the Slingbox. The Slingbox is the most underrated invention since the iPod (the iPhone doesn’t count since its just an iPod that rings). The Slingbox will change the way we all watch television one day, or at least where we watch. A brief overview: A Slingbox is a piece of hardware that is hooked up to both your cable box and an Internet connection. Consequently, users can access (i.e. watch) their cable box from any computer or in some cases, any video enabled phone. Skipping ahead to this past Sunday, with the Slingbox buzzing back in Baltimore, we watched the Ravens take on the Seahawks from the comfort of my parent’s couch, while they watched their hometown Jets. Not that we felt like fleeing the basement, but we could have taken a ride around town, visited old friends, picked up some milk or even some last minute gifts without missing a snap as the Slingbox could be transmitted to my Treo without any trouble.

Now I wish I could tell you that the novelty of watching the Purple on my PowerBook somehow made the loss less painful, but this season has not been kind to the heart. Troy’s touchdown toss was worth waiting until the final whistle to put the computer to sleep, but seeing Seattle stomp all over the Ravens left us sleepless in New Jersey.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Week 15 - 99 Problems...

Miami, FL -- 12/16/07.

...and now the Fins have one.

One win that is. And although Jay-Z certainly didn’t have yesterday’s Ravens/Dolphins game in mind when recording the Black Album, he is a member of the South Beach scene and was probably watching the war of the weak on Sunday.

With two teams totaling four wins between them heading into week 15 of the NFL season, it would have been hard to imagine a game that would receive much attention outside of Pro Player Stadium. And for the majority of the game, both teams ‘lived up’ to their pre-game billing. Even the stadium was lacking in fan support as a chorus of cheers greeted the Ravens running out of the tunnel, with at least a 50/50 spilt between purple and teal as kickoff approached. Kudos to the feathered faithful that made their way south for the winter, but after bearing witness to what would eventually become the Dolphins first win of the season, I can only hope they enjoyed the coastline and cuisine – you know we did.

Speaking of we, it’s not the ‘we’ you’ve become accustomed to reading about. For the first time in my brief Ravens career, I was sans wife/boss/date for an away game weekend. Don’t worry, it wasn’t the strained ligament that put her on the injured list earlier in the week, but with two shows to produce before Christmas, Lauryn stayed back in Baltimore while I forged on to South Florida and the home of Alex Rodriguez. Like many of the fans who flocked to the Sunshine Stte from the Charm City, I had made mini-vacation plans back in September and invited a few friends from New York City to join me. Marc Epstein and Jason Sherman, who are also both Orange alum and members of the ROFF, met me in Ft. Lauderdale Saturday morning for 36 hours of blog building.

The first stop was a quick trip down to South Beach to see the surf and sand by day. Not to make Lauryn jealous, but Jay and I found a gelateria off Ocean Avenue and dined on our deserts while walking along the beach. The ‘sightseeing’ was superb, although 70 degrees in December deserves a winter weather advisory, so the crowd was slightly smaller than the summer months. Surprisingly, many of the beach-goers were bathed in purple, with Ravens jersey’s dotting the art-deco landscape. We beach-hopped back north to the piece of the Atlantic adjacent to Marc and Jay’s hotel, which actually shared a parking lot with the Ravens residence for the night. Thus, the hotel bar, restaurant, lobby, gift shop, elevators and restrooms were more reminiscent of Reisterstown or Bel Air, rather than Broward County.

After another bocce ball battle – my training in San Diego really paid off as I proceeded to sweep both Marc and Jay – we put on our finest attire before returning to the hot spots down south. I was hoping my wardrobe would suffice as the restaurant defined their dress code as “South Beach Chic”. Now that could have been a problem considering no one in our foursome, which now included Matt Brevet of RaveTV, own anything that would qualify as ‘chic’. As it turned out, the restaurant was happy to welcome our open wallets as the meal would turn out to be one of most expensive dates I’d ever been on – and I was only paying for one!

As we entered Devito’s of South Beach, we were greeted by a hostess, a replica star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a series of flat screen TV’s embedded in the walls that were airing movies featuring the restaurants namesake and owner, Danny DeVito. The Penguin, as he first appeared to us on Saturday night in a scene from Batman Returns, apparently has a taste for the finer things in life as it took the waiter nearly 15 minutes to take us through the menu. By the time he was done, we had two new phrases to add to our inside-joke lexicon: “foodgasm”, which is pretty much self-explanatory, and the one that could earn me a Pulitzer as he described the cheese choice in their Caprese– “It tastes like the love child of cream cheese and mozzarella.” Well done DeVito disciple. As a result, we not only ordered a Caprese for the table, but we also took him up on a 3 ft long plate of carpaccio that lived up to its foodgasm fanfare.

Our 7:30 reservations at DeVito’s would have seemed to place us in the middle of the dinner rush; however, it wasn’t until we were cutting in to our steaks that the in-crowd began to arrive. I didn’t actually see the Paparazzi, but they might have been hiding in the bushes outside as Bentley’s and Rolls Royce’s lined the street in front of the entrance. I’m still convinced that the party of four that sat next to us included at least two famous/important people. If we were in LA, I would have bet money they were movie producers. However, since I assume South Beach’s biggest export is the social scene itself, maybe they were just socialites. Either way, we were rolling large, larger than our means of course, but for one night we lived like kings – even the chairs had a hint of royalty to them. I suppose it makes Danny feel taller when sitting in one of those thrones. Now I bet you’re expecting a few more hours of rebellion based on the city’s reputation, however, two problems were working against us. One, we had to wake up just a few hours after the bars close. And two, we didn’t really know where to go. Consequently, we ended the night with a costly quartet of ice cream cones, rather than cigars, and the opening scene of Twins, rather than the grand opening scene at the clubs.

When I awoke on Sunday (which was a problem after I decided to top off my DeVito’s dessert with a Red Bull laced smoothie before we left the night life behind) the weather reports were forecasting showers at kickoff. However, when we emerged on to the field for the first time, the Florida sunshine shone bright, the smell of real grass grazed our nostrils and we were stopped in our tracks at the sight of two enormous HD video boards. If you’ve ever watched the NFL on FOX, when they come back from a commercial break they usually show highlights on an animated television that appears to sit on top of the stadium. Just as imaginary as the robot that reveals the score and stats during the broadcast, the TV’s were probably just some producer’s sci-fi vision of sports in the future. The Dolphins apparently took him up on the dare.

The size of the screens worked well for the predominantly female fin fan close-ups, which seemed to energize the entire crowd regardless of team orientation, but it also was hard to hide the empty patches of orange seats when the director went to the wide shots. Maybe it was the threat of rain, which actually came for a few slippery minutes in the second quarter, but the stands just never filled up. Although I’d swear that by the time Miami tied the score in the fourth quarter, at least 10,000 more fans found their way to their seats. At least 30 or so of those cheering for Cleo Lemon and Co. were the last Miami team to make history as the undefeated 1972 Dolphins were honored at halftime. Appropriately, former Dolphin and Baltimore Colts coach, Don Shula, was the one to give a speech and his sense of optimism seemed to energize the class of 2007.

Most notably was Miami’s lone remaining possible Pro Bowler, Defensive End Jason Taylor, who not only recorded two sacks, which was rewarded with a little 99 Problems over the PA, but also lined up as a towering wide receiver on a second and three near the goal line. Taylor, who looked just slightly smaller than the robotic replica on display in London earlier this year, had a decent chance at a touchdown before the ball was knocked away by Jermaine Winborne, who seemed slightly smaller than Taylor’s shadow. The play happened right in front of us and Lauryn claimed she saw at least Don on TV during the play, as well as me, Matt and Ravens VP of Broadcasting, Larry Rosen, who pinch-hit for Lauryn at the clipboard on Sunday, at periodic points throughout the game.

The final few minutes once again provided the pain for Ravens fans, still wondering ‘what if’ Phil Dawson’s field goal bounces left and ‘what if’ Rex doesn’t call a timeout. Once again, the Ravens put themselves in a ‘what if’ situation, which of course they never would have had to worry about if they kept the Dolphins at bay after taking an early lead. This time, the ‘what if’ was set up by Troy Smith, who replaced a concussed Kyle Boller in the fourth quarter. On just his third drive as an NFL quarterback, Smith was given the ball on the 40-yard line with less than two minutes to play, no timeouts, and trailing by three points. Welcome to the NFL, please check your Heisman Trophy with the maitre de.

However, Smith delivered a two-minute drill that defied his experience (although judging by his media moxie, the kid knows how to handle himself). Smith led the Ravens to the half-yard line (yes, less than one yard) setting up a fourth and goal with only 18 seconds left in the game. And here comes the ‘what if’ – with a tough decision to make, Coach Billick decided to go for the field goal and send the game to overtime to give Troy his first extra innings appearance. And it nearly worked.

After Stover tied the game, the Dolphins took a knee to wind the clock down to 00:00 with the score knotted at 16. At that point, the entire stadium was unhappy. Dolphins fans wanted Cam Cameron to try at least one hail mary, while Ravens fans were still simmering over the decision to kick. You would have thought both teams had already lost, and considering Miami and Baltimore had the two longest losing streaks in the league coming into the game, it was hard to blame them.

We won the coin flip and once again Smith was handed the ball with a chance to lead his team to victory. And it nearly worked. Just one problem, for the first time in his career, Matt Stover missed a field goal in overtime. He made no excuses, and even apologized to Troy Smith in the locker room. Unthinkable most years, but not this season. So the rest, unfortunately, is history. A month after failing to deliver the knock out blow to the undefeated Patriots, Baltimore ended Miami’s chances at going defeated for the year. A twist of fate that finds the Ravens with 4 wins, 10 losses, 99 problems and now the Fins are one.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Baseball Cards are Now Worthless

As a blogger, I felt it was my duty to report on the story of the day, the release of the trailer for LOST Season 4:

Actually, I'm kidding. The Mitchell Report was released today, describing all that Major League Baseball has come to learn about the steroid problem in its sport. As many readers know, I grew up a somewhat fanatical supporter of Mark McGwire and defended his place in history until the moment he was pitch-hit for by Kerry Robinson. Sadly, McGwire ended his public life before congress two years ago and now the rest of my childhood heroes are following suit.

With the release of the list, close to 80 players were named in connection to illegal steroids, including many Yankees (my hometown team) and Orioles (the team that apparently resides in the town I now live in). At least the Yankees were able to win a few World Series games while on the juice; the O's have basically gotten worse. In any case, it is a sad day for baseball, just as the Congressional Hearings in March 2005 were for McGwire fans. In the end, the report reveals that Barry Bonds did not act alone, my baseball cards are probably now worthless, there was a reason Chuck Knoblauch couldn't find first base, Rick Ankiel is the opposite of natural, Lenny Dykstra had more than just big-league chew in his back pocket and Glenallen Hill chose the more expensive checks.

Monday, December 10, 2007

RaveTV Injury Update

Lauryn Lukin, Manager of Broadcasting for the Baltimore Ravens, was diagnosed with a sprained Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) by team doctors today. The injury does not appear serious, but will require additional attention from her husband (i.e. your favorite blogger) for anything that would involve a trip up and/or down the stairs. The sprain was suffered during a typical two-hour pre-game run on Sunday with fellow Ravens employee, Reba Koppelman, who did offer to carry Lauryn back to their cars on her back. The injury is the same as that endured by NFL Rookie of the Year candidate, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. The good news for Lukin, Peterson was back on the field within three weeks. The bad news, he rushed for just 3 yards on Sunday. With trips to both South Beach and Seattle looming, here's hoping for a speedy recovery and as few trips to the grocery store as possible.

Week 14 - Heisman Hopeful

Baltimore, MD -- 12/9/07.

I'm tired of getting depressed while I write and I bet you’re tired of reading such mournful musings, so this week I'm going to start my story with a smile.

Fittingly, on the weekend in which Ravens Quarterback Troy Smith bequeathed his title as the reigning Mr. Heisman, No. 10 made his NFL debut to the delight of the die-hards at M&T Bank Stadium in the waning moments of last night's game. Serving as the team's QB2 the last four weeks due to the season ending injury suffered by Steve McNair, Troy stepped in, stepped up and even stepped aside when faced with pocket pressure during his inaugural drive at the wheel.

His first paying pass attempt briefly took the air out of the stadium as he fired a forty yard missile towards Yamon Figurs. The two rookies failed to connect on the play, but a buzz began to build among the bird lovers left in attendance. After completing a few passes to get within smelling distance of the end zone, Smith threw a bullet to this week's Wired Raven, Daniel Wilcox, but the play was well defended and the ball fell incomplete. Wilcox, and the RaveTV crew, would have loved to be a part of history, as Wilcox would tell Smith, "I would have liked to catch your first touchdown." Of course Smith still found a way to put points on the board as he scampered 6 yards to record his first NFL score. The fans finally had reason to cheer as Troy and his sparkly whites shined brightly under the lights on Sunday Night.

Unfortunately, for most of the game, the Ravens appeared to be Running on Empty (which would have been the title of the blog had TS not shown up in time – apologies to Jackson Browne and Martha Plimpton.) The saying goes, “leave it all on the field”, and it appeared as if the Ravens did just that – last week. After nearly shocking the world on Monday Night Football, the Ravens were dealt some shocking blows to the body before the first 15 minutes were over. Not only had the Colts amassed a 23-0 lead, but it seemed like someone in black was on his back after every snap. First it was Bart Scott, then Haloti Ngata, followed by Willis McGahee. Each had to be taken off the field before returning to the fight, but Peyton Manning made sure to deliver the knock-out blow before the first half came to a close. I can only assume that the ratings subsequently dipped in the second half, unlike last week when the Ravens attempt to derail the Patriots pursuit of perfection surpassed High School Musical 2 as the top-rated cable program of all time – a rating that peaked in the fourth quarter when Baltimore had Brady on the ropes. In fact, as the previous link alludes to, nearly one-third of all televisions still turned on across the county were watching the final minutes of the madness on Monday.

The NBC crew was probably hoping for some more of that magic – after all, they were denied the right to flex in either the Steelers/Patriots or Lions/Cowboys match-ups from earlier in the day into primetime. They had to be hoping that the Ravens would repeat their performance from six days earlier and give another perennial a power a run for their money. Al Michaels was even out on the field before the game, talking to Rex Ryan and Kyle Boller, presumably asking them both to do their parts in creating another instant classic. Joining Al on the field was another sports icon – no, not his broadcasting partner, John Madden, who doesn’t like to fly and apparently, doesn’t even like to leave the booth before the game – as Cal Ripken Jr. took in warm-ups with his family by his side. It was hard to tell who he was at first as he was clearly prepared for the winter weather, wool hat and all – did I mention the weather yet? In case you missed the game, it was not only near freezing, but it started to precipitate mid-way through the second quarter, which would have been fined had it actually been colder (who doesn’t love a snow ball fight) but again, it was only near freezing, with a 100% chance of miserable.

Listening to Wilcox before the game, we had reason to believe that there was still something special left in the tank. Wilcox waxed poetic about the season that got away, with injuries keeping him on the sidelines for all but three games before Sunday night. His speech was simple, “Make every snap count.” He was determined to play each and every snap as if it was his last and we were hoping that since No. 83 played both offense and special-teams, we were in for quite a show.

As always, Ray Lewis also seemed ready to redeem himself against the team that knocked him out of the playoffs last season. In the pre-game huddle, Ray chanted, “We owe them! We owe them!” before beginning his customary cadence. Apparently Ray was right. Since we held what was considered the highest powered offense in the league last year to just 15 points in the Divisional Playoff game, we owed Peyton and Coach Dungy roughly 44 points. Hopefully we’re even now considering we are scheduled to play at Indianapolis in 2008.

Even the crowd appeared to have left their lungs at the stadium last Monday, with some silent spells during the early part of the game. Even more glaring, RavensNation had left their seats by the time we emerged from the tunnel to start the second half. We barely had time to eat the free cookies we’re given as part of a boxed lunch each week, yet 30,000 people found a way to file out of the building. It’s hard to blame them; given the sleet and the score, we would have liked to pull up a couch in the bowels of the stadium and watch the last 30 minutes on TV while finishing off those boxes.

I can only imagine what Brian Billick was thinking as his team made their way out to the field, trailing by 30 after just 30 minutes. Interestingly, at least one person does know exactly how he was feeling as we watched NBC’s Andrea Kramer approach Billick as he left the locker room. Seemingly at a loss for what we all just witnessed, she asked the coach, “Hey, so how’s it going?” It was almost as if the two had ran into each other at the mall during the holiday shopping crunch – they didn’t have long to chat, but Andrea thought it would be polite to make a little small talk before continuing on to The Gap for new gloves. (Coffeeonthe50 Holiday Shopping Tip: One style of glove you won’t find at The Gap – game-worn – as in the nearly half a dozen game-worn gloves given out by Ravens players, including Wilcox, Derrick Mason and Ben Grubbs, both before and after the game. Talk about holiday spirit! Legal disclaimer: Not sold in stores.)

Of course, Kramer and Billick didn’t have to worry about mall traffic, nor the stadium traffic as it would turn out, as they headed back out into the cold to watch Indy run up the score for a few minutes before handing their keys over to Manning’s back-up, Jim Sorgi. With Troy Smith at the helm for Baltimore, the game had turned into a battle of the back-ups in the final minutes. And although the war was lost, our Heisman hero won the battle, perhaps a sign of hope on the horizon.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Week 13 - Bubble Burst

Baltimore, MD -- 12/3/07.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Innnn. Ouuuut. Innnn. Ouuuut. Okay, how do you feel now? Relaxed? Calm? At peace with the world? Yea, me neither.

Breathing exercises just don’t stand a chance against a gut-wrenching, nail-biting, rage-inducing, coulda, woulda, shoulda game against the undefeated New England Patriots. Yuck. Just saying the word undefeated in my post-game blog makes me a little nauseous. And it’s not just the fact that we lost. We were 20-point underdogs; we were supposed to lose – by a lot. But we weren’t supposed to be tied at halftime either. And we definitely weren’t supposed to be leading with less than one minute to play. So what happened?

The night felt different right from the start, and it wasn’t just the near-freezing temperatures. Camera crews from ESPN and NFL Films battled for position inside the hallways leading out to the field to get a shot of players like Ed Reed and Kyle Boller heading out to warm up. The close quarters forced the ESPN crew to improvise as Kyle trotted down the stairs, resulting in a deft display of agility from one Production Assistant who jumped from the top step to the ground while holding onto the camera cord. As a fellow follower on the field, I salute you. We should really lobby for a Bud Light ‘Real Men of Genius’ commercial, Mr. “wire-running, tripod-carrying, still just a fan who just happens to have a credential” guy.

Apart from the traffic on the sidelines, which included Ms. Suzy Kolber and an entire stage built for ESPN’s Monday Night Primetime near the twenty-yard line, the emotion on the field was at a fever pitch. As part of the league-wide recognition of Sean Taylor’s death, a moment of silence was called for before kickoff. After the stadium salute, the former Miami Hurricanes – Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and this week’s Wired Raven, Willis McGahee – huddled near the bench to pay their respects to their brethren and former teammate. Ray even had the number 21 penciled in on his eye-black and all players, from both teams, wore a No. 21 sticker on their helmets in memoriam. The game day emotions slowly began to take over the real life ones early in the first quarter. With the fans on their feet, the Ravens defense held the Patriots to a field goal on their opening drive. It was a sign that tonight would not be like other nights as the game proceeded to unfold unlike anyone could have predicted.

As I mentioned, we had Willis Wired, and he must have really cared about making sure RaveTV had a good show because No. 23 had the best game of his brief Ravens career. We should have seen this coming as McGahee shared a conversation with Coach Brian Billick on their way into the tunnel before the game. Billick basically told him that he would put the team on McGahee’s shoulders tonight. Fortunately for RavensNation, Billick, Willis, RaveTV, the ESPN crew and sports fans around the country, Willis delivered and carried the Ravens to a near victory that coulda, woulda, shoulda been one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.

Play after play, Willis would fight for each and every yard, culminating in a 17-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. As I said, Willis apparently appreciates good TV as he was kind enough to wait until Jeff and I could set-up in the end zone before beginning his scoring scamper. Cue the Artic Monkey’s because Willis took advantage of his time in front of the cameras with a few good looking dance moves out on the end zone floor. Willis would also cross the 1000-yard mark for the season later in the night, a feat that would have been properly recognized had it not been for Tom Brady and those damn Patriots. That’s right, I said damn.

Which leads me to my original question – what happened? What could possibly happen that would leave fans feeling faint, despite the fact that everyone expected us to lose. The only explanation comes from the movie The Truman Show. That’s right, my explanation for the Ravens loss to the Pats is that the game was played inside a bubble, or perhaps a snow globe considering the random flurries that fell from a cloudless sky, yet never seemed to make their way to the ground. My bubble theory would lead you to believe that somehow, somewhere, the game was controlled by a greater force, not spiritual or mythical, rather, something more technical. Like Ed Harris in the movie, its possible one of the six ESPN trucks parked under the stadium housed an Executive Director and an entire production crew carefully orchestrating the on-field excitement. I mean if you had to script a game, Monday night was damn near Oscar worthy. Especially if New England continues to run the table towards perfection. In fact, we overheard before the game that NFL Films will now be following just about every move the team makes on their history-in-the-making season – I smell commemorative DVD’s – which is pretty much the premise of The Truman Show, just substitute Tom Brady for Jim Carrey and Coach Belichick for Laura Linney (seriously, have you seen his headband?).

There really is no other way to explain how Ed Reed intercepts Tom Brady, only to fumble the ball during his return. There is no way to describe the dagger to the stomach caused by the time-out taken just before a failed fourth-and-one attempt by Brady. There is absolutely no way to find words to portray the pain caused by the penalty against the Ravens on another fourth down later in the drive, allowing Mr. Perfect (no way he deserves a Bud Light commercial) another chance to break Baltimore’s heart. Sounds awfully dramaticized to me. And I thought the writers were on strike.

After the dust had finally settled, I decided to seek out this secret studio in which the NFL and the Moon Landing are apparently both filmed. Instead, I happened upon the Primetime set as Sal Paolantonio, Steve Young and Emmitt Smith debated the details of the defeat. I couldn’t hear their commentary, but I did catch a glimpse of Sal Pal adjusting the electric blanket under his chair; Emmitt getting some retouching done by the make-up girl (first Dancing with the Stars, now this!); and watched as they rolled out Rodney Harrison from the Patriots locker room to join the trio on set for some post-game sound bites. Again, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I don’t think I wanted to hear them either.

The best words I could come up with when Lauryn and I finally made it back to the car were something to the effect of, “Ahhhhhhhh.” Lauryn chimed in with an, “Eeeeeeeeeeek.” Don’t worry, no snakes in the Prius, just two speechless souls whose marriage is measured in seasons rather than years. Boller, fortunately, was able to find a few words in reference to his 52-yard, last-second bomb that must have skimmed the bottom of the bubble before being caught by Mark Clayton on the three-yard line, “We just came up a little short,” said Kyle.

A little short on time. A little short on luck. And just three yards short of shocking the world, or should I say, bursting the bubble.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Week 13 Preview - Black Out

Purple Power is so 2006. Fortunately for Ravens fans, this Monday night, in front of the entire (American) football-watching world, Baltimore’s best will be bathed in black for their showdown with the undefeated New England Patriots. The players will all be wearing black uniforms. The cheerleaders will all be wearing black skirts. The night sky – most likely black by kickoff. And this blogger will join the party and put on my Monday’s best for the black out. I recommend you do the same.

In the tradition of the great American White Out (I don’t think it’s ever actually been called that, but from Miami, FL to State College, PA, the art of wearing white has won over sports fans across the country) I propose a black out. Why? First, the blimp shot will look much cooler if everyone is wearing the same color. Second, the show of camaraderie among fans will reflect the ‘one-for-all’ team message/musketeer motto that Brian Billick has preached the last few weeks. And third, with the switch of a letter, a black out may just help us block out the first 11 games of the season. Consider this Week 1 (of 5) in which the Ravens, and their fans, get a chance to show the NFL what we’re made of. With nationally televised games against New England and Indianapolis, coupled with match-ups against two division leaders – Seattle and the Steelers – the Ravens will be relevant the rest of the way. We might as well make a little noise.

Of course the color scheme won’t actually affect the outcome of the game. A game that Samari Rolle has called, “our Superbowl.” And he might be right. Consider that fans of every team will be watching, as well as casual sports fans following the Pats pursuit of perfection. We are playing the best team in the league; a team that John Madden proclaimed to have the best offense he’s ever seen; and a team that Billick described as, “…as good a team as I've seen in this league in a long, long time. They're as advertised."

Speaking of advertising, although commercials during the broadcast cost closer to $300K per 30 seconds, rather than the $3 Million commanded by the penultimate game, the promotion of Monday Night Football has been in full swing since August. Commercials depicting some of the greatest moments in MNF history have been running on the Worldwide Leader, including an upset of Brady and the boys by Nick Saban’s Dolphins last year. I don’t know if that’s proof that the Patriots will perform poorly on Monday night, considering Jabar Gaffney was only the receiver on the field still on the active roster, but it does deliver a message that most NFL fans flock to – don’t underestimate the underdog. Especially under the lights.

Breaking up the black on Monday will be white rally towels, distributed prior to the game, courtesy of Snapple and GMC. Adding a little light to the night, a fireworks display is also scheduled for the pre-game introductions. Both promotions are intended to fire up the crowd and show the audience at home just how passionate Ravens fans can be. After all, our stadium experience is ranked 5th in the NFL and the Ravens Brand is considered the 12th strongest out of all teams in the three major sports and hockey (sorry, eh). The special effects will also be intended to give ESPN, whose broadcast starts around sunrise, a few clips to beam back to bars and living rooms around the country. The footage, known as ‘b-roll’ in the business, will most likely include a few beauty shots of our fair Baltimore, which the camera crews will capture over the weekend. So my plea for wearing your colors on your sleeve is not just for Monday, but break out the black (and purple) this weekend. You never know, you might just wind up on TV. Coffeeonthe50 Tip: If you’ve watched most Monday night games, you’ll notice that the scenic shots usually involve each city’s specific cuisine, so your best bet at stardom may be at the crab houses near the harbor.

The spread (as of this blogging) is at +20. We’re not only favored to lose, Vegas would consider it a victory if we stayed within 3 touchdowns. So what?! If we can’t beat the Patriots at home, than making the playoffs would have been pointless. It’s not as if Bill Belichick gets to adopt Ed Reed if we don’t win. No, the only thing on the line is our pride. Pride in the city. Pride in the Ravens. And on Monday night, our pride for the men in black.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Week 12 - California Games

San Diego, CA -- 11/25/07.

To paraphrase The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, "I wish they all could be California games." That's because a loss on the road doesn't burn as bad when you already have a base tan. And lucky for Lauryn, Matt and I, we found time to soak in the sunshine and sunsets of sunny San Diego during the Ravens west coast road trip.

Even in November, the weather in Southern California lived up to its reputation as we were greeted with a cloudless sky and seventy-degree temperatures on Saturday morning. Our tour guides for what would prove to be a spectacular day were our friends Devin, who was also the best man at my wedding, and Santana, who grew up in Kansas, went to KU and for good reason had another football game on her mind this weekend (more on that in a moment).

Our coastal excursion began with avocado laced Omelets at The Cottage in La Jolla, CA, 20 minutes to the north of our hotel. The eggs were good, but the out-of-towners agreed that we should have followed the local's lead and ordered the stuffed French toast - I'm not sure what exactly they stuffed it with, but it included mascarpone, which might just be the most deadly substance a restaurant is allowed to legally serve. We proceeded to walk off the 'pone and headed down the hill to get our first views of the Pacific. (One fun fact worth noting is that Matt had seen both the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean within 36 hours as he spent his Thanksgiving evening in Atlantic City, NJ.)

Within a few minutes we had a view of the coast, the famous coves of La Jolla and even a few seals that have wisely chosen to make San Diego their home. As we watched the seals scurry up the rocks I hoped that there might just be a connection to this week's blog. "Seal the Deal" perhaps, if we had a last second score to put the game out of reach. Or maybe, "Sealed with a Miss", if fate found a way to grant us victory thanks to a missed field goal attempt. Of course neither of those options had a chance of seeing the light of day by halftime, but I thought the slippery little guys still deserved some pub. Before continuing on our tour, Lauryn managed to sneak into a few stores. Unfortunately the beach shops of The Jolla are not your standard variety tourist traps. No hermit crabs or salt-water taffy for sale, rather Louis Vuitton and Coach bags. Sensing danger, Devin, Matt and I not only waited outside the store for the girls, we pulled up in the car with the engine running to limit the damage.

The next stop was a few miles to the south and Mission Beach. We weren't necessarily planning a trip to the ocean but we were in California and for some reason we had a feeling we should make the most of our Saturday. We also learned that in just a few weeks an ordinance was about to pass that would prohibit drinking alcohol on the beach. Clearly something had to be done before it was too late, like having a few drinks on the beach.

Now this is about the time that I decided I would go home smiling no matter what the outcome on Sunday. The landscape featured endless rows of beach volleyball courts, full of physically fit folks who actually knew how to play and how to look cool while doing so - Devin and I were itching to get out there just so that we could recreate the Top Gun round-the-world high-five between Maverick and Goose, but neither of us would have had any clue what to do if the ball came our way. (Fun fact #2 – the bar in Top Gun where Goose plays the piano was actually located right across the street from our hotel – the Kansas City Barbeque.) The California games also included a basketball court on the beach in which Matt and I each won a game of HORSE despite being on Devin's home turf. And then, just over the small sand dunes, a thin sliver of salt water appeared; a reflecting pool painted from pier to pier. The water projected back the mirror images of anyone who walked along the surface, from the surfers heading out to sea to our group getting a taste of what it must be like to live in paradise.

After we had a chance to reflect on just how perfect a place this was, and made sure to send a few pics via text message to friends in cooler climates, we began what would become the most competitive sporting event of the weekend. For Lauryn and I, it was our debut on the bocce ball court and the spouse-to-spouse combat was fierce. For those who either don't know what I'm talking about or think that I just misspelled basketball, bocce is in fact a sport that pre-dates the game played with the pigskin, and you can even buy your very own set at Target.

Team Lauryn jumped out to an early 11-3 lead, led by some veteran leadership (i.e. Devin's friends who joined us in the afternoon and have thrown a ball or two in their day) and Lauryn’s rookie of the day performance. But Team Josh (Matt and Santana were on my team as well, but since I was using the whole spouse theme, Team Josh works well) fought back to tie the score at 12. Then, after trailing 13-12, we had our ball closest to the pallino and proceeded to stick two more shots to earn 3 points and the victory. Scintillating stuff, I know, but if you saw the game on Sunday, you know that the paragraph above contains slightly more drama than any of the fourth quarter drives from Qualcomm Stadium.

The day wasn't quite complete as we headed to the appropriately named Sunset Cliffs to, you guessed it, watch the sunset. Now sunsets are why digital cameras were invented because without them, you would waste rolls upon rolls of film thinking you got the best shot when in fact, the best shot is probably still a few minutes away. Such was the case on the cliffs as Lauryn and I proceeded to take about fifty shots of the sun setting and our silhouettes against the glow. But just when we thought we had the picture nailed, Matt stepped in, right next to me, and Lauryn captured it for all our fans to enjoy. Truly a memorable awkward moment.

By now you're either waiting to hear about the game already, decided to move San Diego, or both. So I'll wrap up our non-football activates with our evening in the Gaslamp District. Again, San Diego doesn't mess around with names as the reason for the area’s title is, you guessed it, the lamps that line the streets are gas powered. We could have been convinced to do some serious celebrating had the Jayhawks pulled it out against the Tigers (is Missouri really going to be in the National Title game? Sportswriters better come to an agreement on how many Z's to put in Mizzou real soon). Instead, we did a little people watching in the outdoor mall - yes their malls are outdoors - and along 5th street. I think everyone would agree that people watching in San Diego could be considered the city’s official sport. Either way, a professional sporting event was still set to take place the following day and we could only wish for a day, and a game, as action packed as our city tour.

As we approached the stadium I was surprised to see a parking lot full of RV's. I suppose the sun of Diego is welcoming to those who live for the outdoors, but I don't get the asphalt attraction. Another tailgate option, at least for the players, appeared to be a breakfast buffet served in the same room in which the visiting team delivers their post game press conference and all photographers download their shots to their Apple’s. (It was quite the scene after the game with thumbnail galleries everywhere you look; of course most shots seemed to feature those with the white helmets.) One advantage we should have looked to exploit was the fact that at least some of the Chargers, including LT, went without their avocado omelets as the catering staff was forced to bare the bad news when the MVP came looking for egg whites prior to the game, no breakfast today, landing an early blow to the stomach.

The introductions were eerily similar to the scene at M&T Bank Stadium, as Shawne Merriman performed his best Ray Lewis impression with a pre-game huddle round-up speech and, excuse the pun, an electric entrance as the last player to emerge from the tunnel. He continued to show Ray what he's learned from No. 52 with a first quarter introduction/collision with Willis McGahee that Jeff and I had a front row seat for. It truly is a unique experience to watch a game from the end zone because you can actually see holes in the o-line open up (and wish you had a Playstation controller in your hand that would allow you to make Willis cut and run up field when you want) and you notice when a blitzing linebacker is not picked up by a blocker. Of course we also had the luxury of watching No. 23 battle over the goal line to score our first points of the game, but the next 20 minutes or so put a damper on his touchdown dance.

Another interesting aspect of the end zone POV is that we get heckled by opposing fans on the road thanks to our Ravens branded attire. But our Wired Raven this week, Jonathan Ogden, correctly pointed out during warm-ups that California fans can’t trash talk, and he should know after spending three years at UCLA. It makes so much sense though. What do you really have to be angry about if you live in a city in which you can have a few drinks and play bocce ball on the beach at the end of November – well I guess that drinking ban may put a damper on things – but bocce and the beach ain't bad.

As the clock began to wind down, an announcement could be heard dictating that fans were not allowed on the field after the game. I thought they were just rubbing salt in our wounds, but it turns out they were talking to a certain intoxicated Charger fan who sprinted past Lauryn and I, weaved through the cheerleaders (who had stunned looks on their faces, not that I was looking at their faces, um, I mean not that I was looking at them) and made it close to the end zone before a security staffer zipped past us in pursuit, tackled and cuffed him. The faint cheer from the fans will hopefully keep him company as he spends a night in jail.

The non-reaction to the runaway could have been in part due to the fact that the Bolt faithful were already consumed and amused by an air show of the paper variety that was taking place. Again proving that the residents of sunny SoCal are of the free spirited type, fans began to make paper airplanes with promotional signs that were given away before the game, courtesy of Chevy and possibly soon to be Southwest if they have their ear to the ground, or a subscription to the blog. Cheers rang down from all corners of the stadium when a plane would make it onto the field, with one majestic flight path that made its way into the grasp of one of the San Diego players. As the paper projectiles made their way to the grass, they became a solemn reminder of the meaning of the loss and the looming trip home; we had been brought back to earth; we were heading back to the east coast; and it would be another three weeks before we were back on the beach. I guess they don’t all have to be California games, Miami ones are okay too.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Week 11 - Rewrite

Baltimore, MD -- 11/18/07.

Where were you when you first heard that Phil Dawson’s last-second game-tying field goal was good?

In your car? (Judging by the empty seats in the upper deck during OT, I’m guessing that at least 10,000 of you fall into this category.) In the locker room? (Where most of the Ravens and some of the coaches sat, taking off their cleats and taking a deep breath after seemingly surviving a scintillating game.) In a corporate suite? (Where I can only assume Hollywood stars Jimmy Fallon and Kevin Connelly were watching as they were in town for the filming of “He's Just Not That Into You” and were VIP guests of the team – more on them later.)

Me? I was running across the field following this week’s Wired Raven, Mark Clayton, through his congratulatory tour of former teammates when Derek Anderson came up to us to tell Clayton that the game wasn’t over – the field goal was good. At first we laughed at his unbridled optimism. Okay Derek, I bet they’re going to make us play overtime too. Good one!

As it turns out, Derek Anderson sucks as a comedian. His exuberance was no joke. And after a 10-minute emotional roller coaster that took all of the energy and some of the fans out of M&T Bank Stadium, the game was back on. The game was back on despite the SmartVision boards reading, “Final Score: Baltimore 30, Cleveland 27”. The game was back on despite the fact that members of both teams had already conducted their post-game prayer session at mid-field. The game was back on despite the impassioned pleas from the men in purple – both Adam Terry and Willis McGahee were standing near me when the refs made the fateful ruling and both were convinced that the game was still over. And who could blame them; technically the game had already come to an end. I didn’t want to be the one to tell them they were wrong so I backed away slowly and let the shower of boos from the stands tell the story.

Throughout the course of overtime a pit in my stomach began to grow. By the time Dawson knocked through the winning field goal, I not only felt feverish, but I couldn’t bring myself to words (Lauryn can confirm). Only once before had I experienced such a devastating loss and when I say experience, I mean as a fan, not as an actual member of a team – professionals tend to deal with these things better, they are, after all, professionals. I, on the other hand, was 13 at the time and other than getting a girl in homeroom to look at you, not much else matters to an 8th grade boy. As previously mentioned in the blog, I was a fan of the Dallas Cowboys at the time and according to tradition, the ‘Boys play on Thanksgiving each year, which conveniently allowed the rest of my family to bare witness to my teenage fanaticism. One particular game galvanized my reputation and resembled the turn of events that took place yesterday.

I am talking, of course, of the Leon Lett Game in which the Miami Dolphins attempted a game winning field goal, had it blocked, and were then given a second chance at victory after The Big Cat attempted to recover the ball, only to slip in the snow and kick it forward, allowing Miami to recover, re-kick and rewrite history. . Now for the worst part, for some reason I felt that I should take my frustration out, in front of my family no less, on my Aunt’s furniture. Adrenaline took control of my foot as I proceeded to kick the couch I had been sitting on, before banishing myself to another part of the house. Not my finest moment, but despite 14 years of supposed maturation, I could have done some serious sofa damage on Sunday had their been a couch in the vicinity.

Before I continue down this path of misery - I do apologize, but seriously, what would you write about - let me return to happier times. They weren’t that long ago. In fact, they were only a few minutes before the Dawson daggers described above.

As I mentioned, Baltimore played host to Hollywood with Fallon (of Saturday Night Live fame) and Connelly (the “E” in Entourage) roaming the sidelines before the game. In person, they are about what you would expect, only shorter. In fact I ran past Connelly while carrying my tripod and had trouble placing his face as I continued my sprint. It took a few moments, but when I finally figured out who it was, Laura Lewis, another one of our RaveTV crewmembers, made sure to point out Fallon standing right behind him. They were easy to miss and despite Lauryn staring at the stars a few seconds longer than I’d like, I was able to exploit one advantage over the two actors.

Kevin Connelly (short guy, black coat) looks on as Antwan Barnes gets ready for the game

Jeff and I took our places on the field during the pre-game introductions to get a shot of Clayton emerging from the tunnel. The Ravens were introduced as a team and all 53 players, not to mention the cheerleaders, smoke and fire whizzed by our position as we watched it all unfold from the best seats in the house. Even better than the sidelines, where Kevin and Jimmy had to stand behind the yellow rope. Of course they get to stand behind their fair share of velvet ropes back west, but for the moment, it felt good to be a Raven.

The game itself was a scoring festival in comparison to previous weeks, with a fourth quarter that should still be recognized as nothing short of remarkable. Trailing by thirteen, having scored just one offensive touchdown all day, it was hard to imagine that we would witness a comeback by Boller and the boys. We were wrong. Kyle completed passes to just about everyone on the team over the course of the next 15 minutes, including a touchdown toss to Devard Darling to tie the game at 27. Jeff and I were camped out in the end zone for most of the period and not only saw Darling’s dazzling catch, but we could have caught Matt Stover’s go-ahead field goal with less than 30 seconds left. The crowd was in a frenzy after we took the lead and I even saw our mascot, Poe, jump from the field into the stands (no easy feat in that costume) to celebrate with the feathered faithful. It was a joyous time aboard the SS Raven, unfortunately, an iceberg was looming.

After Devin Hester, err, Joshua Cribbs returned the kickoff to near mid-field, Derek Anderson proceeded to lead the Browns to the 34-yard line to set up a field goal attempt that has already earned Phil Dawson the nickname, Pinball Wizard, and the play itself, The Immaculate Deflection or if you prefer, Dawson-Gate. The ball hit the upright, followed by what appeared to be the crossbar, but in actuality was the support bar that connects the crossbar to the ground, before bouncing straight in the air and landing in front of the goal posts. The Ravens sprinted on to the field, seemingly claiming victory for the first time in more than a month. Even the broadcasting crew (i.e. me) leaped victoriously to celebrate the salvation of our season. But a strange thing happened on the way to the prayer circle, and the rest, as they say, is history. History that’s been rewritten.

History being rewritten...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Week 10 - Broken

The saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don't fix it.” But what if it is broke?

As an official homeowner for 4 full months, I've had to learn to deal with many of these daily dilemmas. Take this past Saturday, my first weekend at home in more than a month. I fixed a towel rack, a vacuum, a smoke detector and a light bulb. Well I guess you don't actually fix a light bulb, you replace it, but I was rather proud of my man-of-the-house accomplishments and technically, the light wasn’t working (i.e broken) and I took care of it (i.e. fixed it). In any case, the ability to deal with such problems leads me to Sunday’s game and what used to be the AFC North Champion Baltimore Ravens.

The team appears to be broken. Not mentally, not yet at least, but for some reason they just don't seem to be working right. Fumbles, false starts and just plain ugly football have left the team winless since mid-October. Brian Billick, in his press conference following the game, admitted that he was frustrated. Probably because he can’t seem to figure out who broke his 13-3 team from 2006. It was working just fine, that is until the clock struck 2007.

It's not the batteries, as Ray Lewis' motor never seems to stop. It's not the parts, as Pro Bowlers fill the roster on both sides of the ball. And as far as I know, no one has been recalled back to the plant, or in this case, the “U”. So what could it be? According to this week's Wired Raven, Gary Stills, "There's a dark cloud hanging over us."

Although Stills can’t be serious, it would explain a lot. Take, for instance, the pre-game flyover. The C-130J cargo-style planes (I know, usually they’re fighter jets, but Navy apparently used up the entire fleet during their 74 point explosion at North Texas) seemed to cautiously creep along from one side of the stadium to the other, as if they were trying to avoid a storm cloud hanging overhead. The pilots may have also been aware that the stage was not solely theirs on Sunday as a live video feed from Iraq was transmitted into the stadium just moments before kickoff. A Maryland Army National Guard unit that call themselves “Task Force Ravens” pre-empted the singing of the national anthem and then introduced the Ravens, with Derrick Mason carrying the American flag as the lead horse leaving the stable. Some of the soldiers on screen gave shout outs to specific sections of the stands before giving one final salute as the slightly less important battle in Baltimore began.

It’s hard to put into words what followed, but a blogger’s got to do what a blogger’s got to do. So here it goes (courtesy of burst, busted, collapsed, cracked, crippled, crumbled, crushed, damaged, defective, demolished, disintegrated, dismembered, fractured, fragmentary, fragmented, hurt, injured, mangled, mutilated, pulverized, rent, riven, ruptured, separated, severed, shattered, shivered, shredded, slivered, smashed, split. Maybe I should have just stuck with ‘broken’, although ‘riven’ is new to my vocabulary and its similarity to the name of our feathered friends could be useful in the future. But back to being broken.

On a third and goal just before halftime, Steve McNair tried to find Todd Heap in the end zone for a go ahead touchdown. Unfortunately the ball was tipped and caught by a Bengal instead. Under similar circumstances, the same thing happened on opening night when Kyle Boller tried to find Heap for a score but was awarded an INT when a Cincinnati defender wound up with a deflected pass. Well, at least we’ve pinpointed the problem. Although the fortuitous bounce did seem to break the spirit of the sold-out crowd and the scant few following the game from the sidelines. (A clear indication of where the Ravens rank in the NFL was that the media presence on the field seemed to be limited to one NFL Films cameraman and the CBS crew covering the game, although they only lasted into the third quarter – see below.)

The team wasn’t the only defective part on the field on Sunday. Apparently unwilling to continue recording sub-standard football, the camera cart that drives along the sidelines broke down near the south end zone in the third quarter. The crew tried to fix it and at one point I actually saw them taking a rubber hammer to the side of the cart. Now I’m still limited to towel racks and light bulbs, but that can’t work, could it? Maybe if there was a dent that they were trying to bang out, but when a vehicle ceases the ability to move, a rubber hammer cannot be the answer. It was unfortunate for the network, because all of the action during the next 15 minutes seemed to take place on the other side of the field.

Four fumbles followed by four field goals without ever crossing the fifty seemed to put the game out of reach. At that point, the crowd began showing signs that they too were shattered, or maybe shivered, perhaps riven? Okay, that was forced, but the hometown fans did begin to boo during the second half. After being on the road for the last two games, we’ve become used to the boo birds, but I didn’t realize they had flown in for the weekend. A cheer did rise up from those still left in the building when Kyle Boller hit Mark Clayton for a 48-yard pass late in the fourth quarter. Thus proving that the way to fix the quarterback, just like a light bulb, is to replace rather than repair. Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch as Kyle added an interception of his own to the six total turnovers, but his near-scoring strike at least seemed to fix the fans for a moment.

After the game came to a close, the press conference was eerily silent as even the microphones at the podium appeared to be, well, broken. Billick’s words to the press were barely audible and none of the Ravens players even made it into the interview room. So where does that leave us? How do we fix this? What do we do now, Trip?! (Meatballs reference for those scrolling back up looking to see who ‘Trip’ was.)

The answer isn’t easy. It’s not as simple as a change of batteries. There are no replacement parts available. Will Ferrell has moved on to basketball season (see below). And I’m pretty sure the rubber hammer won’t work on these guys. All we can do to salvage the season is reboot, regroup and return to the stadium next Sunday for a date with Derek Anderson and the Cleveland Browns. The season is on the line; it's time to get sweaty (again, see below); it’s time to go for broke.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Week 9 – Coming Home

Pittsburgh, PA -- 11/5/07.

Crab cakes. Coburn’s. My very own couch. These are the things I covet after spending close to five days on the road in four cities and two time zones (not to mention daylight savings throwing me completely off kilter somewhere near the Alabama/Georgia border). So thankfully, despite losing all but my wallet on Monday Night Football, I’m finally coming home.

My football double-dip began in Auburn, Ala. as Exit10, in order to promote rail-safety for our client, CSX, traveled to SEC country and the most charming college town in the country. It was homecoming weekend for the Tigers and the 48 hours spent in the grasp of Southern hospitality helped confirm a story in the November issue of Men’s Journal, as they listed 64 reasons we still love sports. The 65th entry could read something like this:

65. College football in the Southeast. Fans show up days in advance (thanks to all that training on the NASCAR circuit) and line the campus parking lots with RV’s and officially licensed tailgate tools. Entire families share in the joy of not just winning, but their excitement seems to rely solely on the opportunity to attend a game. The rivalries, however, are as real as they come. Case in point – during Saturday Night’s LSU-Alabama game, all of the patrons at the Mellow Mushroom (the best little college eatery in the East) kept their hands on their pies and their eyes on the TV’s as they cheered for their Tiger brethren (also a rival most weekends) to take out their in-state siblings from Tuscaloosa. And don’t forget about the traditions. I’m sure all schools have some sort of celebratory song and dance, but the orange and blue do their best imitation of their color counterparts in Syracuse and ‘make it snow’ at Toomers Square after every victory. The act of toilet-papering the trees, bushes and buildings only adds to the feeling that you are indeed inside some sort of sports wonderland.

Our time in the Dixie State concluded Sunday morning and my co-workers and I parted ways as they flew home to Baltimore while I boarded a flight to Pittsburgh. Upon arrival, my euphoria immediately began to deflate. Pittsburgh is gray and cold – not a surprise I suppose for a Steel City – and the warm feelings I had for football faded as soon as I reached baggage claim. A life-size Franco Harris figurine greeted me at the door and Steelers fans flanked in gold and black seemed to be eyeing me up from all angles (the only fleece I brought was obviously purple).

After waiting for the rest of the Ravens and the RaveTV crew to arrive, Lauryn and I looked to find some fine dining downtown. You would think it would be a tough task to in such a blue-collar corner of Pennsylvania. However, the tasting menu alone at our eventual restaurant choice, Eleven, was enough to make you mistake the three rivers for the River Seine. Smoked salmon puree, ahi tuna salads, caramel fudge squares – and those were just the compliments of the chef. Of course as soon as we walked back into the night we were reminded of our whereabouts as an arctic blast greeting us at the door. When we arrived back at the hotel for one last drink, Steeler Country had already started a tab and were serenading Ravens GM, Ozzie Newsome, with a catchy little tune that goes something like this, “Here we go Steelers. Here we go.” Not quite War Eagle, but still effective in confined spaces.

Despite a police escort on Monday night, the busses to the stadium got stuck in traffic. It was as if all of Pittsburgh decided to delay the Ravens from getting to Heinz Field so they announced on the radio for all vehicles to clog the interstate just as we were making our way across the river. As we waited to move, I was talking to MASN’s Amber Theoharris and we both had the same hopeful thought - we saw a patch of clear skies ahead and wondered (hoped) that it was a sign of better weather to come as the rain was already knocking on the roof. We were both proven to be poor meteorologists as the precipitation only intensified in the hours leading up to kickoff.

As we prepared the camera equipment in the hallway adjacent to the Steelers locker room, we were given a sneak preview of the evening’s festivities. The Steelers were honoring their All-Franchise Team to commemorate their 75th Anniversary and former stars such as Franco Harris, Joe Greene and Jerome Bettis lingered near our staging area. Eventually the entire honorary team would walk by and the chill in the air was no longer the effect of the dropping barometric pressure, rather, the pressure of playing under the gaze of these giants of the game.

The action continued to unfold under the safety of the underground concourse as the stadium issued a warning to stay out of the stands as a lightning storm passed. With the added electricity in the air, and the field still covered by a tarp, players began to warm up inside with Mark Clayton catching passes from special teams coach John Fassell before Ben Roethlisberger practiced his throws for the ESPN crew to cover. Sal Paolantonio was on hand for the Worldwide Leader and with a television tuned to the pre-game broadcast we received word from Sal Pal that Todd Heap was not going to be active. Paolantonio also revealed that the Ravens team captains for the game would not include Ray Lewis, rather, the trio of young starting defensive backs would be given the honor as David Pittman, Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin walked to mid-field for the coin-flip. Unfortunately, this gesture hurt my chances at a second straight trip to the fifty as we had Ray Lewis wired for the evening, but thankfully for us and all of Ravens Nation, he gave us plenty to work with.

Photo courtesy of

We were not the only ones zeroing in on No. 52 as both ESPN and NFL Films crews converged on Ray after the traditional team huddle. During the warm-up session, Ray seemed to be auditioning for a role in the next season of Flight of the Concords as he displayed such dance moves as The Eagle (flapping his arms a la TO on Sunday Night Football in Philly), The Conductor (a variation on The Eagle, but with arms bent at the elbows as if to lead a symphony orchestra), and The Stover (an inexplicable display of emotion involving a powerful kick of the ground and the launching of dirt below his feet).

After the pre-game stretch was complete, our cameraman for the night, Tim Matkosky, and I headed to the tunnel to track Lewis into the locker room. Tim was replacing Coffeeonthe50 regular Jeff Atkinson who was on location in China with Cal Ripken Jr., spreading baseball to a billion Chinese. Back in Pittsburgh, Tim and I back peddled the length of the field as the locker rooms were located well beyond the tunnel entrance. On our journey we were able to catch Ray give encouraging words to fellow linebackers, to Willis McGahee, and as always, to himself in an emotional display of self-motivation.

Unfortunately, no amount of emotion was going to stop neither the Steelers nor the sleeting rain. As kickoff approached, the wind and wet seemed to pick up steam and for a brief moment, became hardened hail just as Pittsburgh’s first possession was starting. Hail? Oh Really?!?! What else could possibly go wrong? Oh wait, there’s more.

I tried covering Tim up as best I could but I can’t imagine his shot was very good. I have to believe it would be similar to being sprayed by a fire hose and trying to see who was firing at you. The rain wasn’t kind to the crew or the Ravens, who fumbled three times in the first half and gave the Steelers an insurmountable lead before the first quarter came to an end. As one Steelers fan in the crowd concluded at the first two-minute warning, “Thanks Billick. Now I can get out of the rain and go home after halftime.”

Despite the 35 points posted by Pittsburgh in the first 30 minutes, the real stars of the night were to be introduced in between quarters. The All-Franchise team members returned home as heroes and were announced one-by-one. Each player was greeted with a terrible towel salute, except for Joey Porter, who seemed to receive a mixed reaction after being dismissed from the team last spring. The loudest ovation was for four-time Super Bowl quarterback, Terry Bradshaw, who must have received some solace despite Big Ben passing him on a few franchise lists by the end of the night.

The game appeared out of reach in the second half, but the ugliness continued. Players were covered in mud, jerseys were ripped and the only heat left in the building was on the field as you got the sense that every play could end up in a personal foul on either team. The carnage made me long for a seat on the couch at my friend’s house where I typically spend Monday Nights and partake in a little tradition of our own called power hour. I wont get into the details, but lets just say it makes games like this a little easier to swallow.

Tim, Lauryn and Jay (his sign reads "Rain Man") bundle up for the game

As the rain turned to an annoying mist, the wind stepped up its efforts to knife through the soaked fleece I was wearing. Unfortunately I hadn’t packed any rain gear as I prepared for the road trip way back on Thursday. My travels took me to homecoming in Auburn and the return home to Pittsburgh for some of the greatest men to ever play the game. But after playing just once in Baltimore over the course of six weeks, not to mention becoming quite adept at making coffee using those hotel room single serve coffee makers, I find myself thankful for my neighborhood Starbucks, a seat on my couch and the comforts of home.