Saturday, May 19, 2007

London Calling

“Swim across the Atlantic Ocean - 3,462 mi”

This is the 24th of 63 steps Google Maps offers when you request directions from New York to London. Estimated travel time is 29 days, 10 hours; however, Google typically forgets to take into account stops at the gas station or drowning. Well short of coughing up a few hundred pounds to fly across the pond, I’ll have to stay stateside when New York plays Miami in the first ever regular season NFL game in the UK this October. I suppose its for the best, I probably couldn’t get tickets anyway.

The first 40,000 seats to watch American Football at Wembley Stadium sold out in 90 minutes earlier this week. The lucky ‘few’ were chosen from more than half a million requests made to the NFL after they announced the game in February. The stunning show of support is in contrast to the lack of interest typically shown by Americans when the best of the pitch come to town. It’s not as if London is deprived of sport in the Fall. The Premier League is underway, Cricket could be interesting I suppose, and Wimbledon, well, is just 9 short months away

Okay, so maybe the arrival of the NFL is a welcome sight to the fans of Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham. A duel between the Giants of New York and the Dolphins of Miami sounds like a stress free way to spend a Sunday afternoon. After all, soccer club affiliations are passed down from generation to generation and if you’ve ever read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, you get the feeling that no one in England really enjoys being a fan, its just something you have to endure. Like the taste of vinegar on your French fries.

So what does this mean for the future of the NFL? Could an annual regular season game on the banks of the Thames become a reality? The league is already considering adding a 17th game to the regular season that would allow all 32 games to play at least one match abroad each year. And apparently, London is just the beginning. Mexico, Germany, Canada, and maybe even Australia await visits from Tom Brady, Ladanian Tomlinson, and TO. But is the world ready for the Ravens?

A defense-led team could possibly be accepted amongst those used to watching nil-nil finals. And according to Chris Quayle, an NFL fan in the UK, the purple and black could become quite popular. “I’d been aware of the Ravens’ defense from 2000 and found it exhilarating to watch Ray Lewis perform.” Says Quayle on his UKRavens fan website. “The fact that watching your team defend could be as exciting as watching them attack was new.”

Here that Mr. Goodell? Sounds like London’s calling for the Ravens.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tappy Tap Tap Tapparoo

It might still be May, but on the greens of Mitchell’s Golf Complex last weekend, the action was reminiscent of a Monday Night at M&T Bank Stadium. There was drama. There was trash talking. There was a DJ, door prizes, and an ice cream break.

Okay, so maybe the game day comparison is a bit of a stretch, but there were at least a few Ravens on the field this past Saturday at the first annual Empowerment M.I.N.D.S. Miniature Golf Tournament, hosted by Daniel Wilcox (yes, of rival blog, 83 Degreez). The event raised money for Wilcox’s foundation, which provides young people in Baltimore with growth and learning opportunities they might not otherwise have a chance at. To help the cause, Wilcox and a few of his famed friends played a little putt-putt. Apparently the event organizers caught Wilcox “doing the bull dance, feeling the flow” at AD’s charity golf event last year and thought #83 might be better suited for windmills rather than Winged Foot.

The ‘professionals’ in attendance included Quinn Sypniewski, Evan Oglesby, Justin Green, Romby Bryant, Attiyah Ellison, and straight from the shores of Miami – Ed Reed. Bart Scott showed up just in time for dessert, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Another famous face on hand for the event was Nathan Corbett of HBO’s, “The Wire”. Appropriately, Corbett plays “Donut” on the Baltimore-based series, as he spent the entire afternoon looking for the hole. Ba-Dum-CHING!

The funny thing about watching 6-foot tall football players play miniature golf is watching 6-foot tall football players play miniature golf. These men are anything but mini and to see a man like Sypniewski, standing 6’6”, line-up for a putt with a 3-foot piece of aluminum in his hands, you almost expect the club to crack at first grip.

Of course the players did find a way to not only make the action more physical, but also managed to take an early lead on the Steelers this season. Reluctantly, Wilcox allowed some good friends to participate in the party who just happened to be fans of the black and gold. One of them was paired with Justin Green and they made a friendly bet that required the loser of each hole to do 15 push-ups. Fortunately, for RaveTV and fans of the purple and black, we showed up just in time to see the Steelers fan put one in the drink. He got on his knees, started to pump and was quickly joined by Green and Wilcox who were happy to shout out the push count.

The main event on Saturday, apart from the De La Hoya-Mayweather battle to save boxing, was a closest-to-the-hole competition featuring the Ravens, Donut, and a guest appearance by the Chick-fil-A Cow. The chicken chain provided food for the event and just happened to have a mascot on hand to test his skills on the green. “Play Mor Golf?” More like “Practice Mor!” The Cow nearly missed the ball as his shot immediately sliced to the right.

The real drama began as Reed took aim using a University of Miami approved orange ball. His shot came within a few feet of the hole and provided a mark for the rest of the Ravens to attack. Nathan and Attiyah hit their shots way too far and “Q” and Oglesby came up about 15 feet too short. Bryant stepped up next and his ball barely nudged past Reed’s to give him the clubhouse lead with just Bart and Dan left to play.

Bart, wearing a quasi golf uniform (madras shorts – very trendy), sent a bullet right at the hole and as the fans looking on collectively breathed in, the ball hit the left side of the rim and kept on rolling. Breathe out….

Then came #83. The kids lining the green began cheering, “Wil-cox! Wil-cox!” Of course golfers typically require silence as they begin their backswing, but anyone who has seen Dan waving the white towel on the sidelines knows that he thrives on the crowd noise. Unfortunately, Wilcox just didn’t have his golf game going and he too came up short. On this day, Romby reigned supreme.

The event came to a close as Ed and Dan played one more hole on the Championship course. It was a serious course; one shot even required you to chip the ball off a wall so that it would ricochet over to the second half of the hole. Wilcox lined up for his last shot and a-la Happy Gilmore, preceded to take a full swing, knock the ball high in the air, off our cameraman, and into the rough. Not the ideal first stroke, but the day was not about wins and losses. It was about the nearly one hundred kids in attendance who had the chance to spend an afternoon with their heroes and the hundreds more that Wilcox gets to help through Empowerment M.I.N.D.S. in an attempt to bring them all to a Happy Place.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Draft Dodger

Ten years from now, I will still remember where I was the day Ben Grubbs was drafted.

I wasn’t at Radio City in New York or the war room in Owings Mills. I wasn’t enjoying the Spring Football Festival at the stadium or at Coburn’s in Canton (this blogger’s recommendation for best bar food in Baltimore). In fact, you could say I wasn’t even in the country as I spent draft weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, in the heart of NASCAR Nation.

I promise to do my best to give you my thoughts on the Ravens draft, although by now you’ve probably learned more about Grubbs’ sophomore year of college than you can remember about your own, but you’ll have to forgive me if I start to stray. This was my first NASCAR experience and I’m still wiping the impression of my face (apparently when you sit close to the track, its common to be sprayed with specs of rubber coming off new tires).

First off, what was I doing in Alabama? My day job brought me to The Cotton State on behalf of my client, CSX, to promote safety at railroad crossings. Our slogan, “Keep on Living”, was printed on thousands of promotional items, including free t-shirts. We brought about 10,000 shirts to hand out, however, my team at Exit10 underestimated one very important aspect of racing fans – many of them don’t bother wearing shirts to the race. Maybe they knew we’d be providing free wardrobe this weekend, but the line in to our tent was out the door at 8AM! It was clear I wasn’t going to have a break all day, but luckily I had my trusty Treo by my side to track the draft – I’m sure this is what my boss had in mind when he decided to arm me with internet access everywhere I go.

At about 2:00 EST I was able to check in on the progress in New York for the first time and I was astonished to find that only a handful of choices had been made in the first two hours. My first thought was if the NFL allowed fans into the stadium to watch the paint in the end zones dry, would it sell out? My second thought was now that Dawan Landry’s brother will be playing just down the road in DC, my prediction for a new satellite radio show called “Washing the Landry” could actually happen, considering XM’s headquarters is located in The District.

As for Baltimore, I knew it would be a while until I learned who would be the next to put on the pads for the purple and black. The Busch Series race was just about over when pick #29 appeared on my screen and ironically our top choice’s Alma Mater was just down the road from me in Auburn, AL. I was tempted to ask some of the locals about the potential of our newest guard, but the football chatter was kept to a minimum amongst the crowd. All they cared about was Junior, Smoke, the Rainbow Warrior, or Kasey Kaaaaaaahne (that’s how the women say it). It was also easy to see which racer they were supporting as the fashion du jour appeared to be t-shirts with full length faces of their favorite driver, along with matching hats, pants, and beer coolers.

Day two of the draft started early for Exit10 as our 4:45 wake-up call was necessary just to beat the traffic created by 200,000 fans lining up for the Nextel Cup race on Sunday. That’s almost three sellouts at M&T Bank Stadium combined.

The sponsor seating section was halfway around the track from our tent – fortunately we had golf carts all weekend – and when we arrived I was greeted by former Raiders quarterback Kenny Stabler, who stared for the Crimson and hosts a radio show in Birmingham. Stabler wasn’t the only Raider that caught my attention on Sunday as the Randy Moss trade was broadcast on my Treo to the dismay of, well, at least to me. No one else seemed to notice.

My PDA was put to shame, however, by the scanning devices available to fans at the race. This is going to take a few minutes to describe, but it’s worth it. For those of you who are NASCAR novices like myself, the fan development department at the Association’s headquarters in Charlotte clearly knows what they are doing. You see, you can rent a scanner that comes with Bose-like headphones and a portable television for the weekend at $70 a pop! You can then listen to the broadcast of the race – a mix between the radio call and the PA announcer – or you can decide to listen into the conversation between pit crews and their drivers. Any driver! The radio frequencies are published in the program and local papers and fans are allowed to hear the chatter throughout the race. Can you imagine if NFL fans had access to the conversations between coordinators, coaches, and the quarterback? Sort of like Ravens Wired on Red Bull. But that’s not all.

Remember the little TV I told you about, well not only can you watch the broadcast of the race, but you can also switch back and forth to individual driver cams placed on the front and rear bumpers. You can see the race from the driver’s point of view. I know you don’t need a football comparison to realize what it would be like, but sports writing is nothing without similes and metaphors so here it goes – it would be like strapping a camera to Steve McNair’s helmet as he drops back to pass, or better yet, tapping into camera #52 located behind Ray’s eyes.

Again, I digress. Troy Smith was a nice pick. Headline prediction: “McNair Apparent”.

Okay, back to ‘Bama. Our seats were just off the track and about 110 laps in, two cars crashed right in front of us. I had no clue how to react, so at first I ducked (not sure what that would do) and then stood up and took pictures (wouldn’t you?). In either case, it was by far the most exciting moment of the race and I don’t know what that says about me, or more importantly, the sport.

When the dust, smoke, and rubber debris settled, Jeff Gordon had won the Aaron’s 499;
JaMarcus Russell had won the lottery; Boy Wonder was headed to the Browns; the Heisman winner won a trip to the Charm City; and NFL fans everywhere were left wondering what will be in 2007. And after watching 500 miles of drafting strategy, while following the drafting strategy of 32 NFL teams, I believe Ricky Bobby and General Ozzie share at least one common belief, if you ain’t first your last.