Monday, December 31, 2007

Week 17 - A Ravens Carol

Baltimore, MD -- 12/30/07.

We won! We won! Or at least I think it was the Ravens who beat the Steelers on Sunday. And I’m pretty sure the game was played in Baltimore.

Excuse me for being a little confused. First of all, I spent Saturday night rooting for the New York Giants. (Apparently the G-men used our blueprint for playing the Pats as they found a way to fight them off for three and half quarters, only to fall three points short and break the hearts of all football fans outside of Foxborough. Although, as the RaveTV crew learned on the elevator ride up to the press box, one Giant of the game was rooting for New England on Saturday night as Phil Simms admitted that 16-0 sounded pretty sweet to CBS). Second, the stands of M&T Bank Stadium were soiled with terrible yellow towels and the front row of the south end zone was littered with black and gold. The weather even matched our Monday night match-up at Heinz Field with a steady, cold rain that just wouldn’t stop or turn to snow.

And finally, on a day in which many NFL teams made the decision to rest their starters, the Ravens weren’t given much of a choice as the team that took the field for Baltimore bared little resemblance to the roster rolled out opening night in Cincinnati. Jake Nordin? Robert McCune?? Adam Terry at Tight End?! With our third string quarterback, third and fourth string running backs, fourth and fifth string tight ends, a backup middle linebacker, a defensive backfield featuring five players yet to prove themselves in the NFL and a special teams unit that included a few teammates most Ravens had yet to be introduced to, it was hard to remember the promise, potential and predictions of the previous summer.

The RaveTV crew suffered a similar setback as Jeff Atkinson, Director of Photography and Wired veteran, was sidelined with the flu for the season finale. Stepping into his shoes for the second time this year was Tim Matkosky, who also had the pleasure of tracking Ray Lewis under the lights, and hurricane force winds, in Pittsburgh. This week, our Wired Raven was Haloti Ngata and we started our afternoon outside the locker room to roll tape on Haloti’s walk to the tunnel. As the team waited for their cue to emerge, you could see the players start to lose their patience, just itching to get on the field. The signs were easy to identify through the mix of fabricated fog and condensed breath: some would roll their necks from side to side; others would hammer the shoulder pads of the man in front of them; a few found the moment of silence soothing as they said a private prayer; and yet others were more vocal as I heard a few choice phrases that sounded something like second graders waiting to go on the roller coaster, “Come on already. What’s taking so long? Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

When the Ravens finally got their wish, Tim followed Haloti as I stayed behind to avoid being run over by Ngata’s enormous friends. My reward for remaining amidst the smoke was an up close coronation for three all-time Ravens as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Jonathan Ogden were individually honored for their selection to the 2008 Pro Bowl. However, before the present-day Raven greats were introduced, a few ghosts of the Ravens past presented themselves on the press level.

Two TV screens, situated on opposite sides of the room, broadcast the Browns/49ers and Seahawks/Falcons games simultaneously. On our left, Chris Redman relived his Louisville legacy with four touchdown passes. On our right, Derek Anderson continued his sensational season with a 54-yard scoring strike to Braylon Edwards. Both quarterbacks once wore purple and black and neither were expected to make much noise in the NFL once they left the Charm City. However, Anderson has blossomed this year playing ahead of Brady Quinn (who did see some snaps on Sunday) and Redman, who was selling insurance earlier in the year, took advantage of Atlanta’s ailments this season and probably earned himself a paycheck yesterday for 2008.

Back to the present and the possibility of ending the year on a 10-game losing streak. I didn’t care if we were facing Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch or Butch Cassidy; a win versus the Steelers counts the same in the standings no matter who the opposing quarterback is. And after bad bounces, inconvenient time-outs and a loss to the lowly Dolphins, RavensNation and this blogger were begging for the pain, and rain, to stop.

The game began with a bang as a Pittsburgh fumble on the opening kick gave Troy Smith incredible starting field position. Let’s review that sentence. Pittsburgh fumbled (not Baltimore), Troy Smith was at the helm of the offense (not Kyle Boller or Steve McNair) and we had good field position – even the action on the field was hard to recognize. The quick change of possession, however, did force me to get my sprints in early as I had already set up in the endzone for the first play, but retreated to the bench area as the fumble forced Haloti to wait a little longer to taste steel. The marathon would continue throughout the day as there is just no easy way to film a nose tackle. Joining me on my Sunday jog was Syreeta Hubbard, an intern with the Ravens broadcast department, and little did she know she was in for a wet weather workout. We had to shoot from the endzone on just about every defensive snap, which included a potential confrontation with the cheerleaders.

Not that I was paying attention, but there was a fleet of females lined up along the wall as the quarter was about to change, which is typically when the full squad performs. However, there was still a few plays left before the performance and my view was partially blocked by our Pro Bowl cheerleader, Crystal, and her case of abs. Not bad for a masters student. And of course I couldn’t get mad at her, especially since she never stops smiling. So I let the jubilant jumping continue until the quarter came to an end. I’m pretty sure the fans in the front row, yellow and purple alike were thankful.

As the game progressed, Musa Smith, Corey Ross and David Pittman (exactly) had led the team to a 27-7 lead late in the game. But just when we thought it was safe to start rooting for the Ravens again, we were reminded that 2007 was not over yet. A 59-yard touchdown pass by Batch, followed by a successful onside kick set the Steelers up with a 4th and goal in the 4th quarter in the very same endzone Tom Brady had burned us on in early December. For once on Sunday, the setting was all too familiar as Tim, Sereta and I watched from the back of the endzone. Batch hit Cedrick Wilson with a 7-yard scoring strike that Wilson seemed to scoop up off the grass. The fans behind us felt compelled to challenge the call and sans red flag, threw their beverage of choice on the field instead. The refs did not grant them the review; rather, security stepped in to escort them out of the stadium.

Down just 6 points, Pittsburgh would get the ball back with less than two minutes on the clock. Tim and I waited for the punt before deciding which end of the field to sprint to, but a funny thing happened on the way towards the sideline, the ball took a Ravens bounce and our special teams unit was able to down the ball at the 11-yard line. The resulting drive was thwarted when David Pittman (seriously) intercepted his second Batch pass of the day to seal the victory. I’m going to say those words a few more times –it’s been a while. Seal. The. Victory. Victory. Victory. Seal the victory!

Okay, now that it’s out of my system, I’ll move on the post game press conferences. Typically the line-up after a loss is limited to Coach Billick and possibly one or two players. However, with our first win in more than 2 months, the Ravens rolled out half the roster with Derrick Mason (who surprisingly began his comments by commenting on the Jets/Chiefs game being shown on the television in the room – he even asked the reporters if they were in overtime), Musa Smith, Corey Ross, Pittman, and of course, Troy Smith.

Big surprise, not only did Smith have a chance to perfect his PR persona during his Heisman Trophy winning senior season as a Buckeye, but the rookie quarterback majored in communications at Ohio State and his media savvy has been evident since his first day at camp. I remember listening to an interview with Troy during his first week of practice and he was sure to not only mention Steve McNair as a potential mentor, but he also mentioned Kyle Boller and Drew Olsen as signal callers he was hoping to learn from. On Sunday, Troy once again showed his press presence with a few choice quotes in describing the win. First off, his first words complimented the Steelers for playing so tough. He would go on to credit Rick Neuheisal’s parting words to the team as motivation and repeatedly commented on the character of his teammates. He even shared his spotlight for a second by reflecting on Corey Ross’ touchdown run when he solemnly stated, “When he scored, I scored,” alluding to the bond he has built with the other young players. His words also included phrases such as “We would not be denied,” and “There was something special about the field today.” But one quote stood out on a day in which the entire organization was forced to begin focusing on next year. “You have to be like a horse with blinders if you want to be the best.” said Smith. “The route to greatness starts now.”

A fitting final quote for the man who might just be the ghost of the Ravens future. End scene. Roll credits.

We Interrupt this Blog to Bring You Breaking News

I was literally in the middle of finishing up my Week 17 blog (in case you didn't hear, we won!) when ESPN News reported that Brian Billick has been fired after 9 seasons in Baltimore. From Scott Mitchell to Kyle Boller, Billick has lived and died by the quarterback sword and today his days in Owings Mills have come to an end.

Looking to start some rumors? How about Rex Ryan as Head Coach? Mike Martz as Offensive Coordinator?

More commentary to follow...

The Ravens are conducting a press conference right now, simulcast on ESPN News and WJZ, reviewing the firing of Coach Billick.

A few select quotes from Owner Steve Bisciotti:

"We are collectively 5-11."
"I have never met Bill Cowher."
"I do fear being wrong. I could be three coaches past Brian Billick nine years from now and trying to solve this puzzle."
"Jury's out on me. Brian's already got his Super Bowl. And I'll try to make you all proud."

Steve also commented that all assistants are free to use their offices to find other jobs, and there contracts for 2008 will all be honored, but none are guaranteed jobs next season with a new head coach.

A few quotes from Ozzie Newsome, General Manager:

"I did not just find out about this yesterday."
"Is Rex [Ryan] someone we will interview to be our head coach? Yes. If Rex is the best guy he will be the third coach in the history of the Baltimore Ravens."
"The next coach... next offensive defensive coordinator is going to have a lot of input as to what's the makeup of our 2008 roster."

A quote from Dick Cass, Ravens President:

"I did recommend to Steve that he go ahead and fire Brian."

Click here for Brian Billick's statement.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Orange + Purple = ?

Mike Duffy of is reporting that Adam Terry, Ravens offensive lineman and Syracuse University graduate, may play a few snaps at tight end on Sunday vs. the Steelers. Todd Heap, Daniel Wilcox and Quinn Sypniewski have all been declared out for the game, leaving only Lee Vickers on the active roster. Asked whether Vickers would start - seemingly a case of simply stating the obvious - Coach Billick responded, "We'll adapt some other ways as well." By 'adapt' this orange blogger can only hope that squeezing a lineman in to a tight end's jersey will be part of the plan.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Week 16 - Sling Shot

12/23/07 – Mahwah, NJ.

First off, let me explain the dateline of the article. As many of you may have been doing as well (and judging by the traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike, I think all of you were doing it), Lauryn and I packed up on Saturday and headed north to my hometown for the holidays. With a Best of Wired scheduled to air this week, the RaveTV crew was kept to a minimum for the Ravens trip to the Emerald City and as a result, we spent our Sunday in the suburban sprawl of Northern New Jersey.

Now let me explain the title of the article. Since we were going to be watching Week 16 from the Garden State, the only games that we would have the chance to watch live would be those featuring the tri-state area’s two NFL teams, the Giants and Jets. And with the schedule makers making sure that most Jerseyites could watch both the green and blue without worrying about the remote, the chances of Lauryn and I catching the purple and black were, well, remote.

I give you the Slingbox. The Slingbox is the most underrated invention since the iPod (the iPhone doesn’t count since its just an iPod that rings). The Slingbox will change the way we all watch television one day, or at least where we watch. A brief overview: A Slingbox is a piece of hardware that is hooked up to both your cable box and an Internet connection. Consequently, users can access (i.e. watch) their cable box from any computer or in some cases, any video enabled phone. Skipping ahead to this past Sunday, with the Slingbox buzzing back in Baltimore, we watched the Ravens take on the Seahawks from the comfort of my parent’s couch, while they watched their hometown Jets. Not that we felt like fleeing the basement, but we could have taken a ride around town, visited old friends, picked up some milk or even some last minute gifts without missing a snap as the Slingbox could be transmitted to my Treo without any trouble.

Now I wish I could tell you that the novelty of watching the Purple on my PowerBook somehow made the loss less painful, but this season has not been kind to the heart. Troy’s touchdown toss was worth waiting until the final whistle to put the computer to sleep, but seeing Seattle stomp all over the Ravens left us sleepless in New Jersey.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Week 15 - 99 Problems...

Miami, FL -- 12/16/07.

...and now the Fins have one.

One win that is. And although Jay-Z certainly didn’t have yesterday’s Ravens/Dolphins game in mind when recording the Black Album, he is a member of the South Beach scene and was probably watching the war of the weak on Sunday.

With two teams totaling four wins between them heading into week 15 of the NFL season, it would have been hard to imagine a game that would receive much attention outside of Pro Player Stadium. And for the majority of the game, both teams ‘lived up’ to their pre-game billing. Even the stadium was lacking in fan support as a chorus of cheers greeted the Ravens running out of the tunnel, with at least a 50/50 spilt between purple and teal as kickoff approached. Kudos to the feathered faithful that made their way south for the winter, but after bearing witness to what would eventually become the Dolphins first win of the season, I can only hope they enjoyed the coastline and cuisine – you know we did.

Speaking of we, it’s not the ‘we’ you’ve become accustomed to reading about. For the first time in my brief Ravens career, I was sans wife/boss/date for an away game weekend. Don’t worry, it wasn’t the strained ligament that put her on the injured list earlier in the week, but with two shows to produce before Christmas, Lauryn stayed back in Baltimore while I forged on to South Florida and the home of Alex Rodriguez. Like many of the fans who flocked to the Sunshine Stte from the Charm City, I had made mini-vacation plans back in September and invited a few friends from New York City to join me. Marc Epstein and Jason Sherman, who are also both Orange alum and members of the ROFF, met me in Ft. Lauderdale Saturday morning for 36 hours of blog building.

The first stop was a quick trip down to South Beach to see the surf and sand by day. Not to make Lauryn jealous, but Jay and I found a gelateria off Ocean Avenue and dined on our deserts while walking along the beach. The ‘sightseeing’ was superb, although 70 degrees in December deserves a winter weather advisory, so the crowd was slightly smaller than the summer months. Surprisingly, many of the beach-goers were bathed in purple, with Ravens jersey’s dotting the art-deco landscape. We beach-hopped back north to the piece of the Atlantic adjacent to Marc and Jay’s hotel, which actually shared a parking lot with the Ravens residence for the night. Thus, the hotel bar, restaurant, lobby, gift shop, elevators and restrooms were more reminiscent of Reisterstown or Bel Air, rather than Broward County.

After another bocce ball battle – my training in San Diego really paid off as I proceeded to sweep both Marc and Jay – we put on our finest attire before returning to the hot spots down south. I was hoping my wardrobe would suffice as the restaurant defined their dress code as “South Beach Chic”. Now that could have been a problem considering no one in our foursome, which now included Matt Brevet of RaveTV, own anything that would qualify as ‘chic’. As it turned out, the restaurant was happy to welcome our open wallets as the meal would turn out to be one of most expensive dates I’d ever been on – and I was only paying for one!

As we entered Devito’s of South Beach, we were greeted by a hostess, a replica star from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a series of flat screen TV’s embedded in the walls that were airing movies featuring the restaurants namesake and owner, Danny DeVito. The Penguin, as he first appeared to us on Saturday night in a scene from Batman Returns, apparently has a taste for the finer things in life as it took the waiter nearly 15 minutes to take us through the menu. By the time he was done, we had two new phrases to add to our inside-joke lexicon: “foodgasm”, which is pretty much self-explanatory, and the one that could earn me a Pulitzer as he described the cheese choice in their Caprese– “It tastes like the love child of cream cheese and mozzarella.” Well done DeVito disciple. As a result, we not only ordered a Caprese for the table, but we also took him up on a 3 ft long plate of carpaccio that lived up to its foodgasm fanfare.

Our 7:30 reservations at DeVito’s would have seemed to place us in the middle of the dinner rush; however, it wasn’t until we were cutting in to our steaks that the in-crowd began to arrive. I didn’t actually see the Paparazzi, but they might have been hiding in the bushes outside as Bentley’s and Rolls Royce’s lined the street in front of the entrance. I’m still convinced that the party of four that sat next to us included at least two famous/important people. If we were in LA, I would have bet money they were movie producers. However, since I assume South Beach’s biggest export is the social scene itself, maybe they were just socialites. Either way, we were rolling large, larger than our means of course, but for one night we lived like kings – even the chairs had a hint of royalty to them. I suppose it makes Danny feel taller when sitting in one of those thrones. Now I bet you’re expecting a few more hours of rebellion based on the city’s reputation, however, two problems were working against us. One, we had to wake up just a few hours after the bars close. And two, we didn’t really know where to go. Consequently, we ended the night with a costly quartet of ice cream cones, rather than cigars, and the opening scene of Twins, rather than the grand opening scene at the clubs.

When I awoke on Sunday (which was a problem after I decided to top off my DeVito’s dessert with a Red Bull laced smoothie before we left the night life behind) the weather reports were forecasting showers at kickoff. However, when we emerged on to the field for the first time, the Florida sunshine shone bright, the smell of real grass grazed our nostrils and we were stopped in our tracks at the sight of two enormous HD video boards. If you’ve ever watched the NFL on FOX, when they come back from a commercial break they usually show highlights on an animated television that appears to sit on top of the stadium. Just as imaginary as the robot that reveals the score and stats during the broadcast, the TV’s were probably just some producer’s sci-fi vision of sports in the future. The Dolphins apparently took him up on the dare.

The size of the screens worked well for the predominantly female fin fan close-ups, which seemed to energize the entire crowd regardless of team orientation, but it also was hard to hide the empty patches of orange seats when the director went to the wide shots. Maybe it was the threat of rain, which actually came for a few slippery minutes in the second quarter, but the stands just never filled up. Although I’d swear that by the time Miami tied the score in the fourth quarter, at least 10,000 more fans found their way to their seats. At least 30 or so of those cheering for Cleo Lemon and Co. were the last Miami team to make history as the undefeated 1972 Dolphins were honored at halftime. Appropriately, former Dolphin and Baltimore Colts coach, Don Shula, was the one to give a speech and his sense of optimism seemed to energize the class of 2007.

Most notably was Miami’s lone remaining possible Pro Bowler, Defensive End Jason Taylor, who not only recorded two sacks, which was rewarded with a little 99 Problems over the PA, but also lined up as a towering wide receiver on a second and three near the goal line. Taylor, who looked just slightly smaller than the robotic replica on display in London earlier this year, had a decent chance at a touchdown before the ball was knocked away by Jermaine Winborne, who seemed slightly smaller than Taylor’s shadow. The play happened right in front of us and Lauryn claimed she saw at least Don on TV during the play, as well as me, Matt and Ravens VP of Broadcasting, Larry Rosen, who pinch-hit for Lauryn at the clipboard on Sunday, at periodic points throughout the game.

The final few minutes once again provided the pain for Ravens fans, still wondering ‘what if’ Phil Dawson’s field goal bounces left and ‘what if’ Rex doesn’t call a timeout. Once again, the Ravens put themselves in a ‘what if’ situation, which of course they never would have had to worry about if they kept the Dolphins at bay after taking an early lead. This time, the ‘what if’ was set up by Troy Smith, who replaced a concussed Kyle Boller in the fourth quarter. On just his third drive as an NFL quarterback, Smith was given the ball on the 40-yard line with less than two minutes to play, no timeouts, and trailing by three points. Welcome to the NFL, please check your Heisman Trophy with the maitre de.

However, Smith delivered a two-minute drill that defied his experience (although judging by his media moxie, the kid knows how to handle himself). Smith led the Ravens to the half-yard line (yes, less than one yard) setting up a fourth and goal with only 18 seconds left in the game. And here comes the ‘what if’ – with a tough decision to make, Coach Billick decided to go for the field goal and send the game to overtime to give Troy his first extra innings appearance. And it nearly worked.

After Stover tied the game, the Dolphins took a knee to wind the clock down to 00:00 with the score knotted at 16. At that point, the entire stadium was unhappy. Dolphins fans wanted Cam Cameron to try at least one hail mary, while Ravens fans were still simmering over the decision to kick. You would have thought both teams had already lost, and considering Miami and Baltimore had the two longest losing streaks in the league coming into the game, it was hard to blame them.

We won the coin flip and once again Smith was handed the ball with a chance to lead his team to victory. And it nearly worked. Just one problem, for the first time in his career, Matt Stover missed a field goal in overtime. He made no excuses, and even apologized to Troy Smith in the locker room. Unthinkable most years, but not this season. So the rest, unfortunately, is history. A month after failing to deliver the knock out blow to the undefeated Patriots, Baltimore ended Miami’s chances at going defeated for the year. A twist of fate that finds the Ravens with 4 wins, 10 losses, 99 problems and now the Fins are one.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Baseball Cards are Now Worthless

As a blogger, I felt it was my duty to report on the story of the day, the release of the trailer for LOST Season 4:

Actually, I'm kidding. The Mitchell Report was released today, describing all that Major League Baseball has come to learn about the steroid problem in its sport. As many readers know, I grew up a somewhat fanatical supporter of Mark McGwire and defended his place in history until the moment he was pitch-hit for by Kerry Robinson. Sadly, McGwire ended his public life before congress two years ago and now the rest of my childhood heroes are following suit.

With the release of the list, close to 80 players were named in connection to illegal steroids, including many Yankees (my hometown team) and Orioles (the team that apparently resides in the town I now live in). At least the Yankees were able to win a few World Series games while on the juice; the O's have basically gotten worse. In any case, it is a sad day for baseball, just as the Congressional Hearings in March 2005 were for McGwire fans. In the end, the report reveals that Barry Bonds did not act alone, my baseball cards are probably now worthless, there was a reason Chuck Knoblauch couldn't find first base, Rick Ankiel is the opposite of natural, Lenny Dykstra had more than just big-league chew in his back pocket and Glenallen Hill chose the more expensive checks.

Monday, December 10, 2007

RaveTV Injury Update

Lauryn Lukin, Manager of Broadcasting for the Baltimore Ravens, was diagnosed with a sprained Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) by team doctors today. The injury does not appear serious, but will require additional attention from her husband (i.e. your favorite blogger) for anything that would involve a trip up and/or down the stairs. The sprain was suffered during a typical two-hour pre-game run on Sunday with fellow Ravens employee, Reba Koppelman, who did offer to carry Lauryn back to their cars on her back. The injury is the same as that endured by NFL Rookie of the Year candidate, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. The good news for Lukin, Peterson was back on the field within three weeks. The bad news, he rushed for just 3 yards on Sunday. With trips to both South Beach and Seattle looming, here's hoping for a speedy recovery and as few trips to the grocery store as possible.

Week 14 - Heisman Hopeful

Baltimore, MD -- 12/9/07.

I'm tired of getting depressed while I write and I bet you’re tired of reading such mournful musings, so this week I'm going to start my story with a smile.

Fittingly, on the weekend in which Ravens Quarterback Troy Smith bequeathed his title as the reigning Mr. Heisman, No. 10 made his NFL debut to the delight of the die-hards at M&T Bank Stadium in the waning moments of last night's game. Serving as the team's QB2 the last four weeks due to the season ending injury suffered by Steve McNair, Troy stepped in, stepped up and even stepped aside when faced with pocket pressure during his inaugural drive at the wheel.

His first paying pass attempt briefly took the air out of the stadium as he fired a forty yard missile towards Yamon Figurs. The two rookies failed to connect on the play, but a buzz began to build among the bird lovers left in attendance. After completing a few passes to get within smelling distance of the end zone, Smith threw a bullet to this week's Wired Raven, Daniel Wilcox, but the play was well defended and the ball fell incomplete. Wilcox, and the RaveTV crew, would have loved to be a part of history, as Wilcox would tell Smith, "I would have liked to catch your first touchdown." Of course Smith still found a way to put points on the board as he scampered 6 yards to record his first NFL score. The fans finally had reason to cheer as Troy and his sparkly whites shined brightly under the lights on Sunday Night.

Unfortunately, for most of the game, the Ravens appeared to be Running on Empty (which would have been the title of the blog had TS not shown up in time – apologies to Jackson Browne and Martha Plimpton.) The saying goes, “leave it all on the field”, and it appeared as if the Ravens did just that – last week. After nearly shocking the world on Monday Night Football, the Ravens were dealt some shocking blows to the body before the first 15 minutes were over. Not only had the Colts amassed a 23-0 lead, but it seemed like someone in black was on his back after every snap. First it was Bart Scott, then Haloti Ngata, followed by Willis McGahee. Each had to be taken off the field before returning to the fight, but Peyton Manning made sure to deliver the knock-out blow before the first half came to a close. I can only assume that the ratings subsequently dipped in the second half, unlike last week when the Ravens attempt to derail the Patriots pursuit of perfection surpassed High School Musical 2 as the top-rated cable program of all time – a rating that peaked in the fourth quarter when Baltimore had Brady on the ropes. In fact, as the previous link alludes to, nearly one-third of all televisions still turned on across the county were watching the final minutes of the madness on Monday.

The NBC crew was probably hoping for some more of that magic – after all, they were denied the right to flex in either the Steelers/Patriots or Lions/Cowboys match-ups from earlier in the day into primetime. They had to be hoping that the Ravens would repeat their performance from six days earlier and give another perennial a power a run for their money. Al Michaels was even out on the field before the game, talking to Rex Ryan and Kyle Boller, presumably asking them both to do their parts in creating another instant classic. Joining Al on the field was another sports icon – no, not his broadcasting partner, John Madden, who doesn’t like to fly and apparently, doesn’t even like to leave the booth before the game – as Cal Ripken Jr. took in warm-ups with his family by his side. It was hard to tell who he was at first as he was clearly prepared for the winter weather, wool hat and all – did I mention the weather yet? In case you missed the game, it was not only near freezing, but it started to precipitate mid-way through the second quarter, which would have been fined had it actually been colder (who doesn’t love a snow ball fight) but again, it was only near freezing, with a 100% chance of miserable.

Listening to Wilcox before the game, we had reason to believe that there was still something special left in the tank. Wilcox waxed poetic about the season that got away, with injuries keeping him on the sidelines for all but three games before Sunday night. His speech was simple, “Make every snap count.” He was determined to play each and every snap as if it was his last and we were hoping that since No. 83 played both offense and special-teams, we were in for quite a show.

As always, Ray Lewis also seemed ready to redeem himself against the team that knocked him out of the playoffs last season. In the pre-game huddle, Ray chanted, “We owe them! We owe them!” before beginning his customary cadence. Apparently Ray was right. Since we held what was considered the highest powered offense in the league last year to just 15 points in the Divisional Playoff game, we owed Peyton and Coach Dungy roughly 44 points. Hopefully we’re even now considering we are scheduled to play at Indianapolis in 2008.

Even the crowd appeared to have left their lungs at the stadium last Monday, with some silent spells during the early part of the game. Even more glaring, RavensNation had left their seats by the time we emerged from the tunnel to start the second half. We barely had time to eat the free cookies we’re given as part of a boxed lunch each week, yet 30,000 people found a way to file out of the building. It’s hard to blame them; given the sleet and the score, we would have liked to pull up a couch in the bowels of the stadium and watch the last 30 minutes on TV while finishing off those boxes.

I can only imagine what Brian Billick was thinking as his team made their way out to the field, trailing by 30 after just 30 minutes. Interestingly, at least one person does know exactly how he was feeling as we watched NBC’s Andrea Kramer approach Billick as he left the locker room. Seemingly at a loss for what we all just witnessed, she asked the coach, “Hey, so how’s it going?” It was almost as if the two had ran into each other at the mall during the holiday shopping crunch – they didn’t have long to chat, but Andrea thought it would be polite to make a little small talk before continuing on to The Gap for new gloves. (Coffeeonthe50 Holiday Shopping Tip: One style of glove you won’t find at The Gap – game-worn – as in the nearly half a dozen game-worn gloves given out by Ravens players, including Wilcox, Derrick Mason and Ben Grubbs, both before and after the game. Talk about holiday spirit! Legal disclaimer: Not sold in stores.)

Of course, Kramer and Billick didn’t have to worry about mall traffic, nor the stadium traffic as it would turn out, as they headed back out into the cold to watch Indy run up the score for a few minutes before handing their keys over to Manning’s back-up, Jim Sorgi. With Troy Smith at the helm for Baltimore, the game had turned into a battle of the back-ups in the final minutes. And although the war was lost, our Heisman hero won the battle, perhaps a sign of hope on the horizon.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Week 13 - Bubble Burst

Baltimore, MD -- 12/3/07.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Innnn. Ouuuut. Innnn. Ouuuut. Okay, how do you feel now? Relaxed? Calm? At peace with the world? Yea, me neither.

Breathing exercises just don’t stand a chance against a gut-wrenching, nail-biting, rage-inducing, coulda, woulda, shoulda game against the undefeated New England Patriots. Yuck. Just saying the word undefeated in my post-game blog makes me a little nauseous. And it’s not just the fact that we lost. We were 20-point underdogs; we were supposed to lose – by a lot. But we weren’t supposed to be tied at halftime either. And we definitely weren’t supposed to be leading with less than one minute to play. So what happened?

The night felt different right from the start, and it wasn’t just the near-freezing temperatures. Camera crews from ESPN and NFL Films battled for position inside the hallways leading out to the field to get a shot of players like Ed Reed and Kyle Boller heading out to warm up. The close quarters forced the ESPN crew to improvise as Kyle trotted down the stairs, resulting in a deft display of agility from one Production Assistant who jumped from the top step to the ground while holding onto the camera cord. As a fellow follower on the field, I salute you. We should really lobby for a Bud Light ‘Real Men of Genius’ commercial, Mr. “wire-running, tripod-carrying, still just a fan who just happens to have a credential” guy.

Apart from the traffic on the sidelines, which included Ms. Suzy Kolber and an entire stage built for ESPN’s Monday Night Primetime near the twenty-yard line, the emotion on the field was at a fever pitch. As part of the league-wide recognition of Sean Taylor’s death, a moment of silence was called for before kickoff. After the stadium salute, the former Miami Hurricanes – Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and this week’s Wired Raven, Willis McGahee – huddled near the bench to pay their respects to their brethren and former teammate. Ray even had the number 21 penciled in on his eye-black and all players, from both teams, wore a No. 21 sticker on their helmets in memoriam. The game day emotions slowly began to take over the real life ones early in the first quarter. With the fans on their feet, the Ravens defense held the Patriots to a field goal on their opening drive. It was a sign that tonight would not be like other nights as the game proceeded to unfold unlike anyone could have predicted.

As I mentioned, we had Willis Wired, and he must have really cared about making sure RaveTV had a good show because No. 23 had the best game of his brief Ravens career. We should have seen this coming as McGahee shared a conversation with Coach Brian Billick on their way into the tunnel before the game. Billick basically told him that he would put the team on McGahee’s shoulders tonight. Fortunately for RavensNation, Billick, Willis, RaveTV, the ESPN crew and sports fans around the country, Willis delivered and carried the Ravens to a near victory that coulda, woulda, shoulda been one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.

Play after play, Willis would fight for each and every yard, culminating in a 17-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. As I said, Willis apparently appreciates good TV as he was kind enough to wait until Jeff and I could set-up in the end zone before beginning his scoring scamper. Cue the Artic Monkey’s because Willis took advantage of his time in front of the cameras with a few good looking dance moves out on the end zone floor. Willis would also cross the 1000-yard mark for the season later in the night, a feat that would have been properly recognized had it not been for Tom Brady and those damn Patriots. That’s right, I said damn.

Which leads me to my original question – what happened? What could possibly happen that would leave fans feeling faint, despite the fact that everyone expected us to lose. The only explanation comes from the movie The Truman Show. That’s right, my explanation for the Ravens loss to the Pats is that the game was played inside a bubble, or perhaps a snow globe considering the random flurries that fell from a cloudless sky, yet never seemed to make their way to the ground. My bubble theory would lead you to believe that somehow, somewhere, the game was controlled by a greater force, not spiritual or mythical, rather, something more technical. Like Ed Harris in the movie, its possible one of the six ESPN trucks parked under the stadium housed an Executive Director and an entire production crew carefully orchestrating the on-field excitement. I mean if you had to script a game, Monday night was damn near Oscar worthy. Especially if New England continues to run the table towards perfection. In fact, we overheard before the game that NFL Films will now be following just about every move the team makes on their history-in-the-making season – I smell commemorative DVD’s – which is pretty much the premise of The Truman Show, just substitute Tom Brady for Jim Carrey and Coach Belichick for Laura Linney (seriously, have you seen his headband?).

There really is no other way to explain how Ed Reed intercepts Tom Brady, only to fumble the ball during his return. There is no way to describe the dagger to the stomach caused by the time-out taken just before a failed fourth-and-one attempt by Brady. There is absolutely no way to find words to portray the pain caused by the penalty against the Ravens on another fourth down later in the drive, allowing Mr. Perfect (no way he deserves a Bud Light commercial) another chance to break Baltimore’s heart. Sounds awfully dramaticized to me. And I thought the writers were on strike.

After the dust had finally settled, I decided to seek out this secret studio in which the NFL and the Moon Landing are apparently both filmed. Instead, I happened upon the Primetime set as Sal Paolantonio, Steve Young and Emmitt Smith debated the details of the defeat. I couldn’t hear their commentary, but I did catch a glimpse of Sal Pal adjusting the electric blanket under his chair; Emmitt getting some retouching done by the make-up girl (first Dancing with the Stars, now this!); and watched as they rolled out Rodney Harrison from the Patriots locker room to join the trio on set for some post-game sound bites. Again, I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I don’t think I wanted to hear them either.

The best words I could come up with when Lauryn and I finally made it back to the car were something to the effect of, “Ahhhhhhhh.” Lauryn chimed in with an, “Eeeeeeeeeeek.” Don’t worry, no snakes in the Prius, just two speechless souls whose marriage is measured in seasons rather than years. Boller, fortunately, was able to find a few words in reference to his 52-yard, last-second bomb that must have skimmed the bottom of the bubble before being caught by Mark Clayton on the three-yard line, “We just came up a little short,” said Kyle.

A little short on time. A little short on luck. And just three yards short of shocking the world, or should I say, bursting the bubble.