Friday, July 27, 2007

Keep Me Floating

“What I want is what I've not got. But what I need is all around me.”
- Dave Matthews Band

What I want should be obvious. It’s what every NFL player, coach, cheerleader, mascot, general manager, scout, trainer, fan and blogger from Baltimore to the Bay Area wants – a trip to Arizona next February for Super Bowl XLII.

But what I need isn’t so clear. That’s because what I need is what we all wanted just one year ago. A winning season. A season sweep of the Steelers. A Division Title. A playoff berth. A first round bye. The spotlight. Respect.

So where does that leave me? Where does that leave all of us? What are we to think? What are we to do? What are we to, well, want?

Over the course of my first two years living in Baltimore, and during the additional four years spent following Charm City sports from afar, it has appeared that all Baltimore fans have wanted was to be competitive, win games, and win respect from the world of sports and the Worldwide Leader.

Consider that most Orioles fans were predicting a .500 season this March and an even greater majority would admit now that if Tremblay can carry the birds to 80 wins, the season could still be considered a success.

Football fans have had slightly higher hopes over the last few years, but the 2000 title run caught most of the city by surprise, and the 2001 team had a championship ring in their pocket to temper the depression dealt to the Ravens in the Divisional Playoffs. The salary purge that followed kept expectations in check, and two AFC North Championships in the last four years satisfied our voracity for victory.

But this year is different. Although the team is not as old as most pundits would have you believe, the combination of rising stars and veteran superstars is special. And sportsnation has taken notice. Many publications put the Ravens as the 4th best team in the entire league. And if it wasn’t for Peyton, Brady, and LT, we might be sitting atop those same rankings. Talk about respect.

Of course the schedule makers decided to have a little fun with the purple and black this year as they’ve staged a non-elimination, character-evaluation triple header for the second half of the season when the Ravens face the Chargers, Patriots and Colts in succession. But again, at least two of those games are slated for nationwide viewing, including back-to-back weeks of playing host to Football Night in America and Monday Night Football. Talk about respect.

Further proof of the reversal of fortune, just this week, both Ray Lewis and Bart Scott were featured in Sports Illustrated’s cover story about big hits in the NFL. Ray’s quote landed on the cover, however, Bart’s quote about his legendary hit on Ben Roethlisberger was brilliant, “He was weightless, like I hit him in outer space.”

That weightless feeling isn’t reserved just for Big Ben or any of the other signal callers sacked by Scott, Sizzle, and the boys last year. It’s the same feeling all of RavensNation feels right now heading into the 2007 season. After 13 wins in ’06, our ascent to the top has already taken off, but we haven’t reached the pinnacle yet. We find ourselves somewhere between satisfied and salivating. Between anxiety and anticipation. Grounded and just plain giddy. Because this team is special and all we ask, in the words of Mr. Matthews, “If you could keep me floating, just for a while…

Thursday, July 19, 2007


4 8 15 16 23 42

For any fan of ABC’s hit show LOST, this list of seemingly unrelated numbers probably sends chills down your spine and puts a smile on your face. A knowing smile that implies, “I’m a LOST geek and I’m damn proud of it!” Well for those of you who consider yourselves avid supporters of the show and fans of the purple and black, here are two more numbers in the sequence that will thrill you:

20 85

The thought process of a typical LOST fan might go something like this:
“2085 must be the year that the survivors finally get off the island!” or
“20 must be the number of others and 85 is the number of survivors.” or
“20+85=105 which has to be the number of miles off the coast of Guam that the secret island sits!”

I’m serious, this is what the writers of the show have done to us. They make you question every detail, every number, every book, and even every character name you hear. “The writers are very mindful our writing is under a microscope.” Says Jeff Pinkner, Executive Producer and a writer for the show. “And most things do have a meaning.” They just don’t always have something to do with the whereabouts of Oceanic Flight 815. For instance, the names of the two detectives appearing in a flashback of one of the show’s main characters, John Locke, who introduce themselves as, “Detective Mason. That's Detective Reed. Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?”

Detective Mason (l) and Detective Reed (r) question Locke in "The Man from Tallahassee"

That’s right, Mason and Reed. Sound familiar?

Pinkner, one of the writers for the season 3 episode entitled, The Man from Tallahassee, acknowledges that the inclusion of the two Ravens’ surnames is no coincidence. The Pikesville native used Mason and Reed as a tribute to his hometown team. “One of the incidental pleasures [of writing] is to make characters do things that mean something to you.” Pinker says, who also found ways to include the dates of his children’s birthdays in scripts written for his previous super secret show, Alias.

So why did Pinkner pick Mason and Reed? Apart from their talents on the field, Derrick just happens to count himself among the millions of LOST fanatics who DVR the episode each and every week, “I like to rewind. Sometimes they might throw something in there you might miss. A silhouette here. Some numbers in the smoke.” I wouldn’t say this to his face, but he sounds like a true LOST geek to me.

The news of Mason’s devotion to the show was passed on from Raven’s Senior Director of National Partnerships & Sales, Kevin Rochlitz, to a business associate who also happens to be Jeff’s dad and when father and son met in Kansas City last year to watch Baltimore battle the Chiefs, the fuse was lit. Of course Pinkner couldn’t just run home and create a new storyline in which Jack, Sawyer and Hurley flashback to their time together on the Ravens practice squad, this isn’t Quantum Leap. But he did send Derrick a few LOST action figures to satiate his appetite and then, as he was writing Tallahassee, realized that the episode called for two new characters from the past – detectives investigating the murder of boy that knew Locke. Detectives almost always introduce themselves by their titles, at least in Hollywood, so Pinkner needed names – last names. Enter “Mason” and another one of Pinkner’s favorite Ravens, “Reed”.

Of course, Detective Mason ended up being played by an actress, but nevertheless, #85 and #20 were written into television history, which according to Mason, will at least impress his youngest fans. “It’s pretty cool. I'm an avid LOST watcher. And at least I can tell my kids something.” Mason considers the show the best on TV “by far” as he explains, “It leaves you hanging. You always want a show that has that suspense. Has that doubt. Then in the end, when you think you have it, you really don’t…The producers are just playing mind games with you.”

The mind games are mystifying, but the real suspense could come next February as the return of LOST coincides with SuperBowl XLII. When asked which momentous occasion he was anticipating more, Mason responded, “Oh Man! If were in it, the Super Bowl. But if some strange things happen, and were not in it, of course LOST.” Don’t worry Detective, keep your focus on the field, your DVR will have the show waiting for you when you get back from Arizona.