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.

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