Monday, December 10, 2007

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.

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