Thursday, September 27, 2007

Midweek Music Mashup: Matt Stover

I thought about keeping this video on file for a clever link in my week 4 posting, but I'm hoping our game against the Browns doesn't come down to another Stover Saver. Although if that is the case, I hereby promise not to step in front of the camera and block the shot of the ball going through the uprights. Rookie mistake.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Week 3 - The Reason

Baltimore, MD -- 9/23/07.

Tracy Chapman only asked for one. Hoobastank only found one. But this past Sunday in Baltimore, there were plenty of reasons to pick from. Just ask Terrell Suggs.

As an aspiring screenwriter - seriously, ask Terrell who he wants to be like when he grows up and I’m guessing he’d say Scorsese before Singletary – Suggs had some select words for his fellow linebackers as they huddled up before the game. (I will also have to be selective as to which words I reprint; this is a family blog.) Sensing the stage lights were upon him – we had Jarrett Johnson wired this week and Jeff was standing by to capture the conversation – Suggs stared into the eyes of each teammate to tell them, “You’re here for a reason.”

To Bart Scott, the un-drafted free agent turned Pro Bowler, “You’re here for a reason.” To Johnson, the five-year veteran and first year starter, “You’re here for a reason.” To Nick Griesen, who just signed with the Ravens last week and was making his Baltimore debut, “You’re here for a reason.” To Edgar Jones, who surprised many by making the roster back in August, “Reason.” Antwan Barnes? “Reason.” I think you get the gist. And although I can picture Suggs practicing his speech in the mirror, someone should make sure he knows that he’s here for a reason as well. His speech proved it.

Before every game, the Ravens legendary leader, Ray Lewis, gathers his troops in the endzone to ensure that each of his fellow soldiers is ready for battle. The 52 men in purple and black surround #52 as he asks them one simple question – “What time is it?” Rarely is the rebuttal longer than two syllables as the correct answer is always, “Game time!” There is some additional banter about some dogs in the house, but Ray controls all communication. However, although Ravens Nation won’t care to admit it, one day Ray Ray wont be standing in the center of the circle. One day a new face will have to stoke the fire. Who better than a sizzler?

Of course T-Sizzle wasn’t the only Raven to start figuring out their reason for being (on the field) on Sunday. In case the italics didn’t give it away, rookie kick returner Yamon Figurs found his way as well, literally, as he sliced through the Cardinals punt coverage to score his first NFL touchdown just two weeks after taking over for the injured BJ Sams. In just two games, Figurs has displayed the speed that earned him the title of “fastest man in the draft” and could soon warrant the media coverage fans of Devin Hester are demanding. Of course all he’s worried about at this point in his career is where his first touchdown ball ended up as I caught him asking the security staff after the game about its whereabouts. They seemed to have it in good hands as opposed to, say, the Barry Bonds record-breaking ball whose fate is being determined by the blogosphere. (Ed. Note: I voted to ‘BRAND IT’ – the inner ad man in me.)

Yamon’s score and subsequent M&T leap did lead to an excessive celebration penalty, but the party on the sidelines was even more exciting. Or at least soaking. That’s because Bart Scott shot up off the bench as Figurs was frolicking towards the end zone and gave Lauryn and I a premature Gatorade bath when he threw his cup in the air. He must have just filled it up too because the cascading waterfall caused by the celebration managed to spray us both pretty good.

Speaking of empty Gatorade cups, I too was reminded of a reason for being (on the field) this weekend. Now I will admit that it was warm on the sidelines, 80 degrees at kickoff, but I can’t remember a game in which I made so many trips to the water coolers to keep the crew hydrated. My colleagues will tell you, I hope, that I am more than just a glorified waterboy. Tripods, batteries, blogging – important stuff. But Jeff carried a 30-lb camera nearly two and half miles on Sunday and Lauryn, well, 2 years of marriage has taught me better than that. So I was happy to serve and protect from dry mouth and fatigue. Just don’t try to pull the same routine in Buffalo.

I also wasn’t the only RaveTV crewmember to reveal a reason for being (on the field) on Sunday as Don DiRaddo displayed a bit of deftness of his own. Early in the third quarter the sound level in the stadium started to wane. I asked Don if he had the means to magnify the music with little hope for help. Now Sprint would have you believe that their cell phones could be used as a crime deterrent or a toaster, but who would have thought they could make an entire crowd get up off their feet.

Don reached for his phone, presumably to make a call to the big man upstairs (that’s you Larry), but DiRaddo didn’t even have time to flip it open before the roar came over us. Of course the third down facing the Cardinals probably helped the cause more than the cellular signal, but it was a fascinating coincidence worth noting.

Okay, enough of the funny. At least for a few paragraphs. That’s because there were quite a few additional performances on the field yesterday that helped prove Suggs a remarkable seer. Earlier in the day I noticed a guy sitting on the bench wearing a gold chain, designer jeans and a t-shirt. Cleary not part of the RaveTV crew, but he looked awfully familiar so I left my post behind the yellow lines and wandered in front to find that the mystery man was starting cornerback, Samari Rolle, who had apparently failed to recover form a mid-week illness. But everything happens for a reason, right? At least in this article as Corey Ivy stepped in for Rolle and recorded a sack (the only one for the Ravens all day), a fumble recovery (the only forced turnover for the Ravens all day) and broke up the potential go-ahead touchdown pass towards the end of the fourth quarter (saving the Ravens day).

Derrick Mason also had a good reason for showing up big on Sunday, in addition to supporting his family and playing the game he loves, as regular readers of Coffee on the 50 know that Mase is a starter for BushMaroney’07. Against Arizona he delivered and caught 8 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown – a 20+ point day that gave me a chance to start 3-0 this fantasy football season. That was until Donovan McNabb, apparently of the Delaware Blue Hens, put up 4 touchdowns against me.

But the player with the most important reason for being there on Sunday, as it is in every NFL stadium each week, is the back-up quarterback. It’s true that 22 other men are official starters, and another 11 are likely to play on special teams, but the reason a backup quarterback is so critical is the unknown. The game revolves around the signal-caller and if QB1 goes down, the other 52 guys geared up don’t matter much if QB2 can’t step up and fill those shoes. Luckily for Ravens fans, our #2, Kyle Boller, has been #1 more often than not this season and entered the game on Sunday with a chance to pick up another victory. (That is assuming they keep score in baseball terminology since the game was tied after the starting quarterback took a seat, hence handing the ball and the decision over the to the bullpen).

The back and forth and forth and forth was reminiscent of another nail bitter that I had witnessed the day before. While fasting the day away I sat glued to my computer, watching the time slowly tick away for Louisville as my Orange attempted to claim victory for the first time in what feels like 3 years. My atoning was rewarded as the ‘Cuse upset the Cards. But there is a reason I bring this up, other the fact that I was actually able to enjoy college football for one Saturday afternoon, and that’s to explain that Syracuse had already tested my tolerance for tension. By the time Matt Stover lined up for the game-winner, I was able to remain calm and collected. Of course since I was the one responsible for the water, I wasn’t quite cool, but calm and collected will do. And although the Ravens would have preferred a less breath taking finish, another win will do. Chorus: No need to start over new. The reason is two (and one)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Week 2 - Wipe Out

Baltimore, MD -- 9/16/07.

I was thirsty.

Jeff and I had just crossed the 2-mile mark on his wrist pedometer, which we’re using to track how far we run along the sidelines this season, and after following Derrick Mason around all day, I was seriously lacking in electrolytes. I’m just guessing I’d sweat purple if Gatorade had its way, although despite Syracuse being called quite possibly the worst football team in Division 1-A, I still bleed orange.

Well in order to quench said thirst, I ventured over to the hydration center on the field. Each week, two tables are set up between the benches and both are consistently covered in cups, some with water, some with the yellow. Bobby Boucher would certainly approve as the tabletop is rarely seen through the sea of green and orange. Therefore, it would stand to reason that there would be more than enough fluid for the camera crews to stay cool. But when I grabbed a cup from the back of the assembly line I was immediately told to return to sender, the cup in question belonged to Mr. Heap.

Now I could understand if number 86 was hovering nearby and waiting for a drink. But Heap was nowhere to be found. What I found out next were not only fascinating facts for the blog, but a few finds that may have actually factored into the outcome of the game. Seriously.

I’ll start at the end, or at least with the end result, since I had a front row seat. As I alluded to earlier, we had Mason wired on Sunday and he ran us ragged in the first half as Jeff and I sprinted up and down the sidelines while the offense drove up and down the field. We finally got a chance to catch our breath in the end zone just before halftime as the Ravens faced third and goal. Now Mason had been a primary target throughout the first two quarters, which was good news for this fantasy GM as D-Mase was holding down the spot left open by Greg Jennings and his apparent disappearance from fantasy relevance. And even though my fellow team managers would have you believe that somehow the wire worked both ways on Sunday, allowing me to give some extra incentive for #85 to rack up the receptions, he seriously just decided to have a good game. Thank you Kyle Boller and thank you Red Bull as Derrick routinely referenced the taurine tornado for the extra pep in his step. It might not give you wings, but it does seem to help with the hands.

As I was saying, Jeff and I were squatting in the corner of the end zone and on third and goal, Kyle threw a fade route to me, or so it seemed, until Todd Heap came to the rescue to reel in the catch. Now the referees called him out of bounds initially and I have to say, in real time, watching his hand and toes simultaneously is nearly impossible. And I apologize, because when Heap spun back and asked the ref to take another look, I had flashbacks of Monday night, when no replay would reverse the touchdown taken away from Todd.

Upon further review, not only was the pass intended for Heap the whole time, he managed to make a one handed catch and tip toe two toes in the end zone for the touchdown. “They tried to take that one away from me.” Said Heap on the reversal of fortunate. “I tried to get my feet in as best I could. I really didn’t know, or couldn’t see. I thought I was in.”

The focus on his feet, however, managed to curtail the comments about the catch itself, which happens to be much more relevant to my Waterworld theme. Dick Enberg did touch on it during the CBS broadcast as he commented, “Talk about talent. One handed catch and having the presence to get both the feet in bounds.”

So what does an acrobatic catch have to do with my attempt to swipe some high quality H2O? Well the scoring strike would prove to be the game winner against the Jets and the hands that hauled in the pass had to be dry to avoid a drop. But what’s a tight end to do when he needs a drink on the bench and all the cups are covered in condensation? Well, you ask the water warden to prepare a few pints just the way you like it: half-full and wiped down. That way, you wont get any water on your hands when you pick up the cup and you wont get wet while you’re holding the cup either. It seems simple enough, yet according to the man in charge, that was the first time Heap had made such a hydration request. I’m not saying it was the reason he was able to make the one-handed grab, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say its harder to handle a pigskin with your palms greased.

Now its no surprise that Heap played an important role in the Ravens first victory of the season, but the wipe down may have been foreshadowed earlier in the day as the beats leaking out from under the locker room door before the game included the latest from Lil Boosie.

The title of the song is appropriately, “Wipe Me Down”, although that’s about the only clean verse of the song. Luckily for all my Ravens Rookies reading this, the YouTube link above is the censored version.

Lil Boosie may not have the motivational firepower of, say, a former Gladiator - Russell Crowe had a previous engagement with the Michigan Wolverines - but his lyrical stylings did mange to set the tone for the day as Baltimore was able to…wait for it…wipe the slate clean after the mess on Monday Night Football. They earned their first win of the season. Willis McGahee caught the first receiving touchdown of his career, which also happened to be his first points in purple. And Ed Reed and Ray Lewis wiped out any chances the Jets had at a comeback with a mutual interception in the end zone to seal the game.

I’ll admit, I pumped the fist Kirk Gibson style after the play, and I even entertained the possibility of performing an aerial version, but I thought Coach Billick got enough air for all of us after the Heap TD. The legs were also a little tired at that point in the game, and not just because of Mason. The real quad burner came on Ed Reed’s punt return in the fourth quarter as I raced the length of the field after an apparent runback to near the fifty. As I started to set up the tripod, the ref announced that there had been an illegal block in the back and the drive would start back inside the twenty. So I popped up and sprinted sixty yards to the other side of the field. Upon my arrival, Jeff wondered if we should get the shot from the previous spot. I stalled for a moment and then thankfully action resumed and we were able to set up shop where we stood. After all, we logged a total of 2.2 miles Sunday afternoon and combined with the heartbeats skipped while watching the final plays unfold, when the game came to an end, I was…wait for it…wiped out.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Week 1 - Speechless

Cincinnati, OH – 9/10/07

Good thing I’m a blogger. Because without the written word, my 30 hours in Cincinnati would have been worthless.

Maybe it was something in the sauce (more on that in a moment) but my mouth went mute on Monday night as the NFL season finally started for the defending AFC North Champs. It was a longer wait than most teams had to endure as nearly half the league had posted final scores by the time we landed in Northern Kentucky. Don’t be confused, we still played the Bengals in the Buckeye State, but the airport is situated to the south of the Queen City, just over the Ohio River amongst the Bluegrass.

Upon further review, we probably should have opted to take on the Wildcats in Lexington, but as ESPN’s national audience witnessed, we maintained our course and continued on to Ohio. A little back-story, I was at happy hour Friday night in Canton and happened to meet a couple that was at least 50% Bengalese. Despite their affinity for the orange and black, I took their advice on where to eat in their hometown. For those new to the blog, my articles will typically be comprised of equal parts restaurant reviews, sportscaster sightings and even a little news about the game itself.

Surprisingly, according to my new friends at the Pickled Parrot, Cincinnati is known for its ribs, or at least a rib restaurant, and its chili. I didn’t think the RaveTV crew was up for a night out at the chili stand, so we headed to The Montgomery Inn on Sunday to see if they could compete with Kansas City (my personal favorite road-cuisine in ’06). The verdict? Not so much. Although the potato-chip-and-bbq sauce appetizer was a nice way to start the meal, the sweet potato recommended by our cab driver left a little to be desired, like another 30 minutes in the oven.

We ended the night watching the Sunday night game in Fountain Square. And that’s not a bar or restaurant, Fountain Square is an open-air courtyard downtown that has two prominent features – the Tyler Davidson Fountain and an enormous television mounted on the top of Macy’s. Considering the bar and restaurant association of the Midwest apparently bans fun after 9 o’clock on Sundays, it was pretty much the only place to watch the game. Romo and the ‘boys took care of business, leaving just a Monday night double dip to round out opening weekend.

After digesting the ribs all day, and putting 6 hours on the books for Exit10, we boarded the busses and made our way to the stadium. While we prepared our cameras for the evening, Ravens President Dick Cass came by to wish us a good game. Knowing my connection to RaveTV (my wife is an Emmy Award winning editor and producer for the team – nice plug, right?) Mr. Cass affectionately greeted us both as most of the organization has caught on to the fact that the couple in row 34 has become a permanent fixture on the flights around the league.

The prep time also exposed me to a few new changes for the crew this year as we not only had some new equipment to learn, but I had some new wardrobe choices to show off. The easiest to spot were my new kicks - standard issue by the NFL - Reebok whites! They may not make a fashion statement on the street, or at least a positive one, but on the field they felt official. And in case the glare off my feet wasn’t enough to signal me out as a team employee, all on-field staff are now required to wear a vest as well. Not quite the green and gold plaid vest Zach Morris and I rocked in ‘92, but a black vest with an NFL logo branded on the front and back to solidify my status and allow me to take the field.

Our wired Raven for opening night was Bart Scott. Apparently Bart said his peace earlier in the week during a verbal battle with Cincinnati’s Chad Johnson in the press because as game time neared, Scott’s stance on the matter was simply, “Tonight’s not about words.” Bart, I couldn’t agree more.

Enter the Hall of Famer’s. Since ESPN was covering the game, we were treated to a multitude of stars from the Worldwide Leader. I saw both PTI pontificators in the press box, Stuart Scott give Ray Lewis a hug on the bench, and Sal Paolantonio report live from the field. Right before kickoff, however, Sal Pal seemingly disappeared and was replaced on the spot by Suzy Kolber, who is much cuter than Sal in person (and on TV and even in print). Lauryn was also sure to point out Suzy K’s new hairdo to Jeff, our Director of Photography, and I, which I’m sure was a hot topic in the blogosphere last night.

In addition to the professional press, two former pros now working for ESPN also made their way on to the field for the game and just happened to be standing next to me during a series in the first half. It was just Emmitt Smith, Steve Young and I standing on the sidelines waiting for Carson Palmer to call the next play. I’m surprised I got that sentence out. I’ll repeat. Emmitt Smith, Steve Young and me! (There were about 20 other people in the vicinity at that point, but they really don’t matter.) You see, Emmitt and I go way back. He doesn’t know it, but I grew up idolizing #22 and have the Sports Illustrated covers and commemorative watch/football/faux marble plaque collection to prove it. And this was my chance to meet the man, shake his hand, one “journalist” to another (I’ll leave it to my readers to determine who I was referring to in the quotes).

When I first noticed Smith on the field, I shot Lauryn a few knowing glances. And after more than two years of marriage, she knew what the glances meant. Don’t blush, they meant I caught a glimpse of the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and if I didn’t have a blogging career on the line, I might just drop my tripod and ask Emmitt to sign my vest.

Alas, no words were actually spoken between Smith and I, but we did share a moment as we watched the game from the best seats in the house. Ed Reed launched himself (don’t worry, shoulders first) at an unsuspecting Cincinnati receiver and neither of us knew what to say. It was an unspoken response, Emmitt thinking that he knows what its like to get hit that hard, and me thinking that Emmitt was thinking that he knows what its like to get hit that hard. See you in Pittsburgh, E. Let’s do lunch.

Back to Ms. Kolber. Suzy and her personal television holder (seriously, there was a PA with her all night whose job was to hold a pole with a TV attached that was broadcasting the ESPN feed of the game) seemingly followed me the entire night as she made sure not to miss a play, but the cameras couldn’t tear themselves away from Ray Ray. From the pre-game stretching, when a rather adept cameraman had to bob and weave with each of Ray’s dance moves, to the overhead skycam with a heat seeker set to #52, the network must have had an eye or two on Lewis all night. The pinnacle of the publicity may have been when Lewis got up slowly after a monster hit on TJ Houshmandzadeh. The trainers formed a semi-circle around him when he got back to the sidelines and the camera crews completed the Lewis eclipse by surrounding him on the other side of the bench. I’d like to see the skycam shot of that!

The injury was a sign of things to come as players on both teams were taken off the field one by one, requiring two new sets of crutches to accompany us back to Baltimore. The sloppy play produced more bad news for the men in purple and black, as the Ravens turned the ball over six times in all. One of the most decisive in the defeat was a fumble by Steve McNair that was caught mid-air and returned for a touchdown. But the circumstances prior to the snap were suspect as a momentary rain shower sprinkled the field for a few minutes during the series. The rain came and went, but the drizzle had just enough time to collect on the pigskin, resulting in the slippery pass attempt. The only explanation is that the “Who Dey” song performed by Bootsy Collins on the jumbotron before the game was in actuality a rain dance that predicted wet weather for those precious few plays. There really isn’t any other explanation, for the music video at least.

The most exciting moment of the game for Ravens fans came on a punt return in the fourth quarter. As the special teams unit set up, I commented to Lauryn, “Reed’s returning the punt.” I didn’t think she heard me at first, so as the ball was in the air I told her again, “Reed’s returning the punt!” As Reed juked and jolted his way towards his first career punt return for a touchdown, I found myself jumping on the sidelines yelling back at her, “Reed returned the punt!”

I suppose my fleeting cheer proves that I still didn’t have much to say on Monday night, but at least my choice of words was versatile. It was also more than I could muster in the presence of Emmitt, more than Todd Heap could conjure up after his touchdown was negated, and pretty much the only thing worth saying after losing to our division rival in front of a national audience (Thank you ESPN for showing Lauryn twice – My Mom in NJ caught them both). I suppose Bart was right, last night just wasn’t a night for words.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

King Peter

Letterman has his daily Top 10. Fortune releases their top 500 each year. Craig Newmark built an international empire with his. And now Peter King has a list to call his own with The King 500 printed in the latest edition of Sports Illustrated.

King must have had the sports blogsphere in mind when ranking the 500 best players in the NFL. After all, lists are made to be scrutinized and criticized, unless of course you agree with said list. In that case, the record is recognized and revered. So what should RavensNation make of King’s creation? We better recognize.

During a week in which front offices around the league were forced to filter their rosters down to their top fifty-three, Ravens fan should rejoice in knowing that nearly one-third of the men in purple and black made King’s cut. Even more impressive, eight Ravens earned a spot in the top 100, matching San Diego for the most nominees one through ninety-nine. The highest hometown hero was Ed Reed at number 12, sandwiched between Shawne Merriman and Dwight Freeney. Peter’s note next to Reed says, “B+ Cover Guy, A+ Hitter.” The grades give Ed a 3.65 GPA and I’m sure I’m not alone in agreeing to sport a bumper sticker that reads, “My Safety is an Honor Roll Student.”

Next up for the Ravens was #57 at number 53, as Bart Scott not only scored a spot on the list, but a four-page feature by Tim Layden. The story sheds light on Bart’s battles with both his sisters and Joey Porter, his $500 signing bonus and how eating an apple earned him a six-game suspension in college. But the purpose of the profile came through loud and clear in the call out quote labeled, ‘Scott on Scott’, which reads, “I wasn’t supposed to make it out of Detroit. I wasn’t supposed to get a scholarship. I was supposed to be [covering] kicks the rest of my life. But here I am. I’m a man playing with the house’s money, and that’s a dangerous man.”

Danger may have a new first and last name, but the middle still belongs to #52 who was ranked 86th. According to King, “80% of classic Ray is still pretty good.” Pretty good? Pretty good!? To quote Johnny Knoxville, “There's no such thing as a pretty good gator wrestler,” and there’s no such thing as a pretty good middle linebacker/defensive captain/crowd controller for the number one defense in the entire NFL. Three of Ray’s disciples did finish in front of the professor including Scott, Terrell Suggs (#56) and the since departed Adalius Thomas (#21), and seven of the top 88 were defenders of the North – but how does Ray rank as the 86th best player in the league, one spot below Ben Roethlisberger? Alas, the scrutiny portion of the blog.

Speaking of 86, the highest Ravens offensive player on the list was #86 as Todd Heap took home 59th place. Heap pulled a double in the NFL Preview Issue as he was among eight NFL heavyweights photographed for the latest Campbell’s Chunky Soup ad campaign. Not sure which honor is more prestigious, but I’m guessing the residuals from The King 500 are overmatched by the multi-million dollar media buy from the Soup That Eats Like a Meal.

The future of the Ravens could also be found a little further down the line as three sophomores (Clayton #254, Landry #267, Ngata #312) and even one frosh (Grubbs #460) received recognition. However, the more immediate future of the franchise was nowhere to be seen as Willis McGahee was left off the list. For all the praise imparted to Peter in the paragraphs above, there is no way forty-one other running backs are better than McGahee. Fortunately for Willis and all Ravens fans, the NFL is not a feudal system; Arturo and Marcus are the only Freeman’s; the closest Baron plays in the NBA and there is no King Peter, just Peter King and his list to loathe (or love).

Complete List of Ravens Players Included in The King 500:

Ed Reed (12)
Bart Scott (53)
Terrell Suggs (56)
Todd Heap (59)
Trevor Pryce (61)
Kelly Gregg (83)
Ray Lewis (86)
Chris McAlister (88)
Jonathan Ogden (114)
Steve McNair (156)
Mark Clayton (254)
Dawan Landry (267)
Haloti Ngata (312)
Jarrett Johnson (358)
BJ Sams (443)
Ben Grubbs (460)

Source: Sports Illustrated, September 3rd, 2007