Monday, October 01, 2007

Week 4 - To the Left

Cleveland, OH -- 9/30/07

Neo took the red pill. Indiana Jones choose the plain cup. Clemens picked the Yankees. And the Ravens chartered busses made a left (instead of their usual right) when leaving the training facility on Saturday afternoon sending the team, and the broadcasting department, in the wrong direction for the rest of the weekend.

Despite the atypical turn, we did land in Cleveland on schedule. However, upon our arrival, the only thing more startling than the unusually long ride to the team hotel was Yamon Figurs’ plaid pants. I’m sure the rookie received his fair share of shots from the rest of the Ravens, but how many people could legitimately pull off plaid below the belt? I’m thinking athletes, actors and the occasional hip hop artist looking to amplify his wardrobe. But what do I know? The closest I come to running in those circles is the fact that I was rocking, or would it be rapping, the new Kanye West album aboard our chartered flight. I have to imagine at least one of the players parked in the 32 rows in front of me was singing some “Stronger” along with Kanye and I.

Back to the ride to the hotel as the busses bristled past the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Jacobs Field and then through some of the underdeveloped areas of the Forest City (ironic considering we didn’t see a tree for at least 20 minutes). The hotel was brand new and nicely appointed, but the distance to downtown would demand a taxi cab or two to take us out on Saturday night, which would prove to play a prominent role in the evenings events.

Cleveland is apparently known for its polish cuisine and micro-brews, however, one restaurant has become a ritual for RaveTV over the years and the tradition continued this weekend with a ten-top table at Sushi Rocks. I don’t want to know where they get their fresh tuna from but the soft shell crab, shrimp tempura and even one roll topped with kiwi covered the table for all to consume. The reviews were all positive after the feast was finished, but the tastes were just a tease for what hopefully lies ahead next weekend in San Francisco. I can only assume that the fish is fresher when you can actually see where the seafood is caught. For all my west coast readers, recommendations are welcome.

Our next stop of the night was at a local sports bar called The Blind Pig. Being a Saturday night in Ohio, all of the TV’s were fixed on the Ohio State-Minnesota game, which was pretty boring for anyone not born in the Buckeye State. By my reasoning, I would have to believe that just about everyone else in the bar was bred within the Columbus city limits as a cheer went up from wall to wall whenever OSU would score. Seeing that none of us cared about the Big Ten match-up, and our respective rooting interests had all lost that day (Syracuse, Rutgers and Penn State to name a few) we decided to pick up and head to the hotel for a few hands of poker. Now this is where the night really got started.

Enter Harry. Harry was our cab driver. Harry is the man. Harry didn’t know what he was getting into when he picked up the 7 of us that still remained on the streets of the Warehouse District. That’s because our first thought upon stepping into the cab was if we were going to play cards, we would need some refreshments. Harry knew just the place and didn’t even start the meter until Don Barto Jr., our audio technician and self-certified beer aficionado, returned with two twelve packs. But Junior wasn’t the only one who needed Harry’s help as Don DiRaddo, Director of Broadcasting and newly appointed Secretary of Energy, realized that our shoot on Sunday would be sabotaged without a new supply of 9-Volt batteries. Okay, a beer run followed by a battery run doesn’t sound real exciting even as I’m writing this, but the laughs we had…

So where can you find batteries at eleven o’clock in Cleveland? Apparently nowhere. Harry, what a saint, radioed in to headquarters (?) and asked dispatch where to find a CVS in C-Town. The response was 15 minutes away in Lakewood, OH. Now I trust Harry, who wouldn’t, but this seemed a little odd. Our hotel was not only 20 minutes outside the city, but it was 30 minutes from Lakewood. Just another wrong turn taken on the road to 2-2.

Not to be mistaken for a group of high schoolers fleeing from a homecoming dance; Don, Junior, Jeff, Matt Brevet, Scott O’Hara, Lauryn, Harry and I were just cruising around the suburbs looking for a pharmacy in the middle of the night. At this point we had all grown close to Harry and he was talking up a storm about the city, the Indians and eventually the Browns. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

All of a sudden, through the trees (maybe they meant to give the nickname to Lakewood?) and picket fences of suburbia, I spotted the neon lights flashing in the window like a beacon calling out to us. “Open 24 Hours” read the sign on the side of a CVS and Don was able to secure over 100 volts of electricity for just under $100. Unfortunately Matt was unable to secure a bathroom during the purchase and as he hopped back in the cab, you could tell he wasn’t going to make it through the road trip without another stop. Who knew it would be on the side of the highway. I hope Harry doesn’t get fired for all this; he really was a sweet guy. Although he was a big Browns fan and he kept talking about Jamal Lewis.

You see Harry had a few opinions about the big storyline for Sunday’s game (i.e. J. Lewis vs. R. Lewis). In Harry’s words, “You made a big mistake letting him go,” as if Matt was staring at a Yahoo Draft Tracker in early spring and decided to take Willis McGahee over J-Lew. Of course the media made the story a bit sensational earlier in the week as they used Jamal’s quote about knowing the Ravens strengths and weaknesses to get Ray fired up. And as the Ravens took the field on Sunday, it seemed to work. (By the way, I felt 1000 words about how RaveTV spent their Saturday was more than enough for most of my readers, but to sum up the rest of the night: the cab fare was $38.00; Lauryn won what seemed liked the first 10 games of poker despite needing a tutorial before each hand was dealt; and by the end of the night, the beer was gone and we were reduced to playing a game just a notch below War in terms of the mental skill required – you could call it “Higher or Lower than a Seven”.) As you can tell, it was long night, but according to the Ravens scouting department, who apparently scout the craft services in addition to the cover-2, Cleveland’s press box has “the best coffee in the NFL.” We were going to need a few pots to recover.

There really was a game to play on Sunday and the Brownies were out in full force to root on their team. An hour before kickoff, the dawg pound was already fired up taunting McNair, Bart and Derrick Mason who returned the favor by pointing out one Browns backer who shouted out to Mase – “I have you on my fantasy team so don’t suck too much!”. And I’m not kidding when I say that that was the nicest thing anyone said us to all day. Grandma, cover your ears, but the fans in Cleveland didn’t like anyone wearing Purple, including Jeff and I who had to venture within reach of the pound to get shots of Terrell Suggs, our wired Raven for the week. Comments ranged in vulgarity and included one that may have been dirtier than most with an emphatic, “Film this!” (Don’t worry, we didn’t turn around.)

Fortunately, Ray seemed unfazed by the fans and after inviting a few new faces to help him lead the pre-game huddle; he took over the linebacker meeting and told Suggs and Co., “Every time you hit Jamal, ask him where the weaknesses are!” Powerful stuff, and going by the run defense on display, they listened. J. Lewis finished with just 64 yards, with 28 coming on one play, but one play was all that he needed to claim victory over his former teammates (not to mention drive off in style with what looked like a brand new Rolls Royce leaving the players parking lot). But that one play should have been reversed. I was there and faithful followers of the blog, I swear to you, he wasn’t in.

For the second time in three weeks, I found myself standing at the spot of a controversial touchdown call and once again I was sure he wasn’t in. Of course no one bothered to ask my opinion, but other than the ref standing on the goal line, I can’t imagine anyone had a better view than I did. It is possible that the line judge is a fan of Coffeeonthe50 and read about my missed call on Todd Heap’s twinkle-toe touchdown against the Jets, but I didn’t miss this one. On a second and goal from the one, Jamal took the hand off and jumped over the pile into a wall of purple. He bounced back and landed two yards away from pay dirt, but the ref proclaimed that #31 broke the plain. I was stunned. I wanted to tell someone. The ref ran away from me and Billick seemed so far away, so I told Jeff. Jeff agreed with me, but unfortunately they don’t let cameramen challenge the calls. The touchdown stood.

So the game didn’t quite go as planned, none of the defeats do, but there was a silver lining in the loss. It goes a little something like this:

Now Watch Me Do
(Crank Dat Soulja Boy)
Now Watch Me Do
(Crank Dat Soulja Boy)
Now Watch Me Do
(Crank Dat Soulja Boy)
Now Watch Me Do
(Crank Dat Soulja Boy)

Don’t worry, you don’t need plaid pants to enjoy this one. And when I say this is what all the kids are listening to, I really mean all the kids, as more than fifty youth football players lined the sideline before the game on Sunday and when this song came on, every last one started dancing in step with each other. The “kids” at Texas know what I’m talking about.

And so do the “kids” on the Ravens as Bart Scott and Sizzle not only enjoyed the show, but showed off step #5 in the Crank That routine called, “The Superman”. (Click here to learn the moves.)

The little soulja boy’s were not only hard to ignore, but hard not to like. Most of the kids were from the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, but all of them stood in awe of the Baltimore players and as they headed into the locker, they were rewarded with a wink and a wave from Ray Lewis. How cool is that. I know I’m looking for a thin sliver of silver, but this is what the game is really all about. The kids from Shaker Heights dream of meeting their NFL heroes. Bloggers from New Jersey dream of watching the game from the sidelines. Women of all ages dream of seeing Luke Perry in person (random, I know, but Dylan McKay was on hand to lead the crowd in a rendition of “Hang on Sloopy” to start the fourth quarter). Even Phillies fans dared to dream of making the playoffs. On Sunday, all of those dreams were achieved. So despite boarding the plane with another loss, it would appear that some things turned out right on Sunday, despite starting the weekend to the left.

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