Monday, January 01, 2007

Week 17 – Hawaiian Fusion

Baltimore, MD -- 12/31/06.

Mele Kalikimaka gets all the love, but there is another Hawaiian saying that deserves some attention this time of year. Hau'oli Makahiki Hou (pronounced how-OH-lee mah-kah-hee-kee ho) is the island greeting for Happy New Year and for at least one weekend, the Baltimore greeting as well.

Over the past sixteen weeks I have tried to capture the thrill of being on the plane, along the sidelines, and in the locker room of one of the NFL’s elite teams in 2006 (I picked quite a season, right?). Well every time I sit down and write about one of our road trips, I inevitably describe the Saturday night dinners we’ve treated ourselves to in cities across the country. From steak to sushi in Nashville to New Orleans, ‘On the Road with Ravens’ has been as much of a culinary crusade as it’s been a football fan’s fantasy.

However, I have yet to highlight the cuisine of the city we call home, that is until now. On the eve of our last game of the regular season, the RaveTV broadcast department enjoyed a night out at one of Hawaii’s best-known restaurants (I know, I said Hawaii, but you’ll understand in a minute). Roy’s, named after its founder Roy Yamaguchi, is known for its Hawaiian Fusion cuisine. Not surprisingly, the chain includes six locations spread amongst the islands of Hawaii including the original Roy’s of Honolulu. Now there are Roy’s restaurants in 10 continental states, but only three in the entire northeast, so I say its still best known back home. Although word has apparently spread to Owings Mills.

The Inner Harbor is host to one of the three Roy’s in the East and that is where we celebrated the night before New Year’s Eve. An appetizer canoe for two, macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi, and a chocolate lava soufflé cake validated our choice, and Roy’s reputation. And we weren’t the only Ravens employees, or should I say employers, to dine in paradise as Ravens team owner Steve Biscotti happened to be seated at the table next to ours. A surprise for sure, but a welcome one as I introduced myself, we all wished him and his wife a Hau’oli Makahiki Hou, and he even requested to be included in our team picture. (I don’t think he realized that the photo now became blog-worthy, but the rest of the table sure did.)

Game day started a few hours later than usual this week to expose the rest of the country to the Ravens defense they were going to see in this years playoffs. It had been exactly two weeks since the last Ravens home game and in that stretch of time, the team had clinched the division title, five players had been named to the Pro Bowl, they handed the Steelers another blowout loss on Christmas Eve, and had put themselves in place for a first round bye. Not a bad two weeks of work and the Ravens faithful were more than ready to show their appreciation.

The game-day entertainment staff obliged and introduced their own dish of Hawaiian fusion by introducing all of the 2006 Pro Bowl starters and alternates, along with Pro Bowl players of the past. The line up was not only lengthy, but legendary, and Jeff, Lauryn, and I managed to make our way into the tunnel to be a part of the pre-game party.

The smoke machine was apparently set to ‘Tornado’ as the white clouds engulfed the players while the last four men to be introduced, Adalius Thomas, Terrell Suggs, Steve McNair, and Ray Lewis, paced in the hallway. To make the scene even scarier, the Ravens were wearing their alternate all-black uniforms making their faces and feet the only visible views. My role was to spot Jeff as he weaved in and out of the big bodies, but it was hard for me to see where he was going. I just held on to the back of his jacket and eventually found myself face to back with some rather familiar jersey numbers. I decided to keep my distance and attach my back to one of the walls as I watched in awe. Just imagine Ray Lewis, dressed in full pads and an all black uniform, pumping himself up in a sea of smoke. Hollywood has nothing on M&T Bank Stadium. George Lucas would be jealous.

The game stayed closer than expected. The only first half highlight was courtesy of this weeks wired Raven, Terrell Suggs, who recorded a big sack on Bills quarterback, J.P. Losman. Sizzle, as he is affectionately known by his teammates, celebrated during the ensuing timeout and even called over J.P. to thank him for the opportunity. I’m sure Losman was thrilled.

The score in the third quarter was 9-7 and Ray knew his defense needed to make a play. “Ray came on the field in the middle of the third quarter and said, ‘Good teams don’t let teams hang around.” Chris McAlister repeated. “Somebody has to do something, we have to all make a play.” Of course in 2006, the difference has been that when the defense decides its time to make a play, they almost always do. Sunday was no different. Moments after Ray rallied the troops in the huddle, C-Mac intercepted a pass and returned it to Jeff and I. Fortunately we were in the endzone and the return counted for a touchdown. The game was out of reach. The bye was secured.

As the game ended, Jeff and I followed Suggs into the locker room. After 16 weeks, I assumed I had witnessed just about everything an official press pass could get me. I was mistaken. The locker room doors closed behind us this time and I had the privilege of listening to Brian Billick give his post game speech. Chills filtered down my back as I watched players congratulate each other and surround their coach. Billick made sure everyone understood how special it is go 13-3. I understood. He closed with the familiar and possibly Hawaiian phrase, ‘takeanee’, before the team prayer. And if our prayers are answered, we will get to celebrate again from another land where palm trees sway.

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