Sunday, January 14, 2007

Divisional Playoffs – The Party’s Over

Baltimore, MD -- January 13th, 2007.

That hurt. Not like a punch in the mouth, but like watching your best friend get punched in the mouth. Then again in the stomach.

As most of the country watched on Saturday, the Ravens storybook season came to an ugly end against, gulp, the Colts. It was a bitter pill to swallow as the city’s purple passion surged over the last two weeks, peaking in the parking lots prior to the game.

When we arrived at the stadium, nearly four hours before kickoff, the lots were full. These weren’t just the diehard fans that like to get to the game early; this was every ticket holder and their extended family. It didn’t matter if you had a ticket to the game, this was the biggest party in Baltimore in more than twenty years and the city was ready to celebrate. Even the tollbooths on the way downtown were decorated in Ravens gear, with a team logo pasted on the wall right before you entered the Harbor Tunnel.

Up in the press box, or should I say ‘press box 1’ since they had to double the number of seats for the media this week, the national attention the game was receiving was clear. Michael Wilbon of PTI fame and Peter King, who appears in print and on screen for just about every NFL news outlet, joined the local beat writers in the cafeteria. Speaking of which, the food on display also received a post-season upgrade as we were treated to prime rib and roast turkey in place of Cheerios and lasagna-like egg squares.

The cafeteria also provided good working space for those in charge of the in-stadium entertainment. This week they were planning the traditional fighter jet flyover and guess who was in on the meeting – the fighter jet pilots! Of course their stay was brief as they still had to drive out to the airfield, but it was pretty cool to hear Larry, the team’s Senior Director of Broadcasting, give orders to the Air Force. Civilians probably don’t get that chance too often.

The best part of all was since the game would be broadcast on CBS, all the TV’s were already set to WJZ and the 2:00 timeslot was filled with Big East basketball – Syracuse vs. Villanova. As an Orange alumna, I couldn’t have picked a better pre-game show. Although I should have noticed an omen posted on screen as they showed that the Colts featured four former Syracuse graduates while the Ravens roster included just one. Two hours before the game, the Colts already had a 4-1 lead.

On the field before kickoff was the only Baltimore sports icon to make it through the week on top, Cal Ripken, who was on hand as the team’s honorary captain. Cal is much taller than you might imagine, and a little older, but he looked good in his purple fleece. He was on the field with his whole family and for those who watch the O’s each night, his wife and daughter are just as familiar faces as Cal. He obliged many fans’ requests for photos and had a perma-grin for at least an hour as I think even Ripken was enjoying the magic of the Ravens.

As you can probably tell, I’ve spent a good portion of my posting on the pre-game because replaying the big moments of the actual game still gives me heartburn.

As opposed to our weekly wiring, the RaveTV crew split in two this week, one to cover the offense, one for the defense. Lauryn, Jeff, Terry and I were assigned to Ray Lewis and his band of brothers and we were treated to a chess match that would make Gary Kasparov proud. Ray vs. Peyton was special, but Reed vs. Manning became the main event as Ed snatched two interceptions and had a third tipped away. The defense continued to overwhelm the great Colts O and forced them into five field goal attempts. Unfortunately, Indy signed the greatest post-season kicker in history this past off-season and he made them all, including a 51-yard boot that bounced over the cross bar right to the left of Jeff and I. This is an easy pun, but things just seemed to be bouncing their way all day.

Holding the Colts to field goals kept the game within reach. But that’s just it; it was always within reach, but never in our grasp. That’s what made it so hard. The fans felt the same way we did on the sidelines. Swings of excitement would shake the stands every time the defense would get a stop, but the offense couldn’t overcome four turnovers. Credit to Ravens Nation, some of the signage in the stadium should receive Emmy consideration. Their were slogans that referenced the distant past - “19 Will Always Be Greater Than 18”; as well as those that referenced more recent history – an empty TV screen cut-out that read, “Pittsburgh’s view of the playoffs”.

When it was over, the game, our season, and my fairytale came to a sooner than expected finale. Once the pain wears off, I’m sure I will look back on the excitement of a once in a lifetime experience with joy. But there is no joy in Mudville, or at the top of Brewer’s Hill, so I now have to head back to my office at the Natty Boh Tower. It’s time to turn out the lights.

No comments: