Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ray Q. Public

He has been described as “fearsome”, “larger-than-life”, and even “the best damn football player in the world” by Football Digest. But last Friday, on a playing surface just 17 miles to the north of his home field, Ray Lewis appeared more human than superhuman. A mere mortal like you and me. That’s because on Friday night, Ray Lewis went bowling.

Following in the choppy footsteps of Dick Weber, Roy Munson, and Jeffery Lebowski (a.k.a. “The Dude”), #52 suited-up, or rather suited-down as I’ll explain in a moment, and took center stage at Perry Hall Lanes for the K Bank Celebrity Bowling Tournament. The tournament was one of myriad events during Ray’s Summer Day – a four-day charity event benefiting the Ray Lewis Foundation.

Although there was no red carpet to make his entrance on, the beige and olive linoleum served as an appropriate runway on this night for Ray and his high powered entourage, which included Steve McNair and Willis McGahee. Lewis arrived wearing a three piece, but his first brush with mortality struck quickly as he had to change out of his suit, take a seat and put on his bowling shoes, one foot at a time, just like you and me. There’s really no other way to do it, no matter how many tackles or sacks or stare-downs you’ve recorded.

Of course the ten pins awaiting his first toss were not buying the ‘John Q. Public’ act and ducked for cover as soon as the ball got close. Ray’s first roll was a strike. After a few more frames, Lewis left his post and returned to his role as Mayor of Ceremonies. As he party hopped from lane to lane, a throng of guests began to form in the aisle behind the bowling area, armed with digital cameras and craned necks, in a scene reminiscent of the gallery following Tiger on the 12th at Augusta.

Another lesson learned during the course of the evening was that the popularity of bowling must be at least partially due to the ability to feast in-between frames. With the smell of barbeque in the air, players and guests alike helped themselves to the free food and drink, including McGahee, who seemed happy to be seven hours closer to the sweet taste of southern Q. The beverage sponsor for the evening, Vitamin Water, was also on hand to distribute free product including one variety appropriately labeled, “Defense”. The mix of vitamin-C and zinc proved almost as potent as C-Mac and Sizzle and washed down the wings nicely.

The guest list for the evening included Ravens owner Steve Biscotti, who rolled a strike on cue with RaveTV filming and a celebratory cigar in-hand; stars of Baltimore morning radio, Mikey and Amelia from 98 Rock, whose team won the group competition; current Ravens such as Mark Clayton, Samari Rolle and Ed Reed, who finished second in the celebrity competition with a 182; new Ravens like Troy Smith and Willis McGahee, who beat Reed with a 191; former Raven Adalius Thomas; former Redskin LaVarr Arrington; and even Nathan Corbett of HBO’s The Wire, who has become a regular at Ravens related activities typically reserved for teenagers. But no one in the alley, not even the “best damn football player in the world”, commanded more attention than Magic Johnson.

Arriving fashionably well past late, the only thing accompanying the Magic Man as he entered the building was the buzz he brought with him. Johnson’s appearance added to an already strong track record of support for The Charm City as he previously partnered with Baltimore-based developer Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse on projects in Mount Vernon and Charles Village. As Magic made his way on to the hardwood, Ray and his Ravens were once again relegated to the real world. They were now the ones in awe of a sports legend and looked up to Magic, literally, as Johnson stands 6’9”, much taller than any of the purple and black in attendance, and the same height as Jonathan Ogden. But could you ever imagine JO running the point or driving by Jordan?

Another clear sign that Magic wasn’t your typical league bowler was that none of the bowling balls on hand fit the glove responsible for more than 10,000 assists during his Hall of Fame career. To solve the problem, the Pro Shop went into Pit Crew mode, measuring Magic’s fingers and drilling a new ball for him on the spot. I think he could have palmed the ball just as easily, but the emergency excavation made for an entertaining side note to the blog, right?

The action resumed soon thereafter and the celebrity bowler’s showdown was underway. McGahee would emerge victorious, but not before summoning the Arctic Monkeys. Willis did look good on the dance floor with celebrations ranging from a high-stepping sprint across the lanes; a walk away hook shot in which he threw the ball, turned his back, glanced over his shoulder and watched all ten pins scatter; and even a few push-ups during an impromptu frame-by-frame competition with another guest. Ravens fans can only hope the multi-talented tailback displays those fleet feet on the field come this fall.

Reed, on the other hand, was rewarded with a second-place trophy and a few memorable high fives and hand pounds. After rolling a strike midway through the final game, Ed was congratulated by his teammates, just a couple of dudes seemingly enjoying what could have been guys-night out at the bowling alley, with a few pitchers on the table and onion rings on order. (Speaking of onion rings, am I the only one who liked the final scene of The Sopranos?) Of course these Regular Joe’s had won six world championships in their respective sports and were named to a combined total of twenty all-star teams, but for one night, they were just Edward, Ray and Earvin. Dudes just like you, me, and Lebowski.

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