Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Keeping Calm

Photo via @Ravens

This actually helped calm me down. Ozzie is almost always right. From JO & Ray to Flacco & Reed, he tends to have a knack for talent. And not just for finding it, but for knowing when to let it go (Anyone know what AD is up to?). In any case, the Free Agent Frenzy purge may prove to make the roster card look a little different come kickoff in September, but there's a reason John Fienstein's book, Next Man Up, was written about the Ravens. Keep Calm and Ozzie on.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

(Iced)Coffeeonthe50: Super Bowl XLVII Edition

Breathe. Just Breathe. Innnnnn. Ouuuuuuuuutttt. Breathe! C'mon this is easy, just in and out.

This was the conversation I was having with myself as the 49ers took the field following the two minute working in Super Bowl XLVII. The Ravens were up by 5. The 49ers had 2nd and Goal from the 5. They needed five yards in three plays or less to all but stop the breathing of an entire city, and half a Superdome, full of purple passion. The game was on the line. Careers were on the line. I was sitting near the opposite end zone so all I could do was stare at the backs of those in red and gold and hope....How did it all come down to this? 


First thing's first. New Orleans is the hostess with the mostess. As we arrived in to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport on Friday morning, we were greeted as soon as we de-boarded our plane by local volunteers whose primary job was simply to welcome you to their city and provide you with the first of many strings of those famous beads. The festivities had begun and we didn't even have our bags yet.

As you will see in the pictures, this trip was unlike those Lauryn and I took with the Ravens years ago. First - we flew commercial. Second - we flew with our daughter in our laps instead of a laptop to edit footage on. But you only live once, right? So as the clock ticked away in the AFC Championship Game two weeks earlier, Lauryn and I decided it was time for Lysbeth to attend her first Super Bowl (she was already 14 months after all). We even convinced Lauryn's parents to make the trip and we all descended upon the home of Lauryn's Aunt & Uncle - who just happened to live on the outskirts of the Crescent City - for a weekend that won't soon be forgotten.

We started the trip with a scenic tour of the French Quarter. Really all we wanted was iced coffee and beignets. As luck would have it, the world famous Cafe du Monde (open 24 hours as you'll see later) basically serves two things - iced coffee and beignets. As we sat down we had our first chance to people watch and what a feeling to see nearly all the patrons in the restaurant, let alone those passing by, dressed in purple. This wasn't Fed Hill, this was the French Quarter and yet it felt like Baltimore.

We proceeded to walk the streets, through historic Jackson Square (renamed CBS Super Bowl Park  for the weekend - nothing could escape the Super Bowl branding in this town). We weaved our way through the side streets until we made our way to the party capital of the south - Bourbon St. Even at 3:00 in the afternoon, it was a party. The lack of open-container laws certainly help, but it just seemed like everyone who was in town for the big game was just happy to be here. And who could blame them. I failed to mention that our afternoon stroll included a stroller as we brought Lysbeth with us. It made things a little cumbersome, but she enjoyed the show. Can you imagine what the sights and sounds of that city look like to a 1-year old? Like having Kaleidoscope glasses I might imagine. 

Fortunately, the city also served as the ideal destination for Lauryn to complete her photography homework for the week as the latest assignment focused on capturing color! The only thing more appropriate would have been if her teacher asked the class to focus on alcohol. So as Lysbeth, Aunt Lisa, our friend J.D. (in town with the NFL Network) and I waded through the streets, Lauryn found time to photograph just about every purple decoration in town - and not just those with a Raven on it. Since purple, green & gold happen to be the official colors of Mardi Gras, the many masks, flags and balcony dressings made for the perfect backdrop. 

Later that night, we got another taste of New Orleans, but this time thanks to the sounds of the Dirty Dozen Jazz Band at d.b.a. as Lauryn and I met up with a few friends from the Ravens to join the party they had been having all week. The band did not disappoint, and with ears ringing, Lauryn and headed back to the burbs after a jam packed day one.

On the opposite side of the spectrum was our mornings with Aunt Lisa, Penny and Gracie (her dogs) and Lauryn's parents as we walked the campus of Tulane University, situated down the block from our accomodations. The campus was just what you'd expect from a school in the south. The historic buildings, the spacious quad, the coffee shop….but one thing Tulane had that you may not find on any other campus in the country was a beaded tree. Yup, rather than leaves this tree had the most colorful beads strewn about its empty branches (think Toomer's Corner at Auburn but beads instead of toilet paper). And the best part was Lysbeth loved the play area at Audubon Park on the other side of campus. She made quick friends of course and even started to take a liking to the dogs.

Our Saturday afternoon consisted of a trip to the NFL Shop. That's right, we made an outing just to visit the store. But this was no ordinary store. This was the NFL Experience with price tags. Jim Brown was signing autographs in one corner. A marching band paraded through the checkout lines. Larger than life cut outs of each team's stars welcomed you to the show. And we spent a small fortune to outfit ourselves for Ravens games for years to come. Despite some tired legs and empty wallets, we set out to find another Super Bowl landmark - the giant letters, or rather numerals, perfectly made for Facebook cover photos that noted Super Bowl XLVII. Little did we know that they were not so nearby and although we caught a glimpse in the distance, time was running short and Lauryn and I had dinner reservations to make. Maybe another day (or night - that's a hint).

Now for a little back story on dinner. Adam Jones, star center fielder for the Baltimore Orioles, was in town for the weekend to support the Ravens as he had done throughout the playoffs. Knowing he'd be headed to town for the festivities, I helped arrange for a pocket video camera to be sent to one of his friends who was with him so that he could document his weekend for As part of the story, since Adam is not only a big eater but he shares just about all his meals with his fans on Instagram, we hoped he might join us at one of the top restaurants in the country, Commander's Palace. Unfortunately he ended up not being able to make it, but the Lukins picked up the slack and enjoyed a 3-course meal that would make any New Orlinean(?) proud - crab bisque, pecan crusted fish, and a bread pudding with a whiskey infused sauce of sorts that was spectacular. Not to mention the Southern Hospitality - you would have thought I was a star center fielder.

And then came Sunday. As in Super Bowl Sunday. As in the Ravens are playing in the Super Bowl Sunday. I still can't believe it, but the Ravens would be on the global stage in a few hours and the whole family dressed in their Sunday 'best' before we headed downtown. (Lysbeth too of course, although she did not have a ticket to the game). Lisa dropped us off in the heart of it all and as she sped away our adventure began. We walked up Poydras street - i.e. Super Bowl Boulevard - and as we got closer to the Superdome, we began to see friends from Baltimore who like us had decided to descend upon New Orleans for the big game. Reba (who was the reason we had seats!), Laura, and even our former neighbors, the Dopkins.

When we made our way around the stadium, taking in all of the fanfest activities, it was a good feeling to see all the purple adorning the buildings, the TV sets, the stages, and the stadium itself! But the most impactful moment was when we finally made our way inside and saw that one end zone, the one we were sitting right above, was painted purple along with the Ravens name and logo. This. Was. Real! An emotional pre-game celebration included students from Sandy Hook singing along with Alicia Keyes. And then it was time. Nothing left to do but to do it...


Then a blur.

Then a touchdown (Ravens). Then another (Ravens). Before I could catch my breath and share my Vine video of Anquan Boldin putting Baltimore on the board, it seemed like we might just be on the verge of a blowout. 
Ed Reed, playing in his home town, had an interception. Flacco, proving is eliteness, had two touchdown passes already and then hit Jacoby Jones on a deep pass that seemed to ignite Ravens Nation. The echoes rang down off the domed roof: Ooh ooh ooh ooh oooooh oh. Ooh ooh ooh oo oooooh oh! By the time Beyonce took the stage, I was starting to let myself think about the best place to celebrate later that night! Beyonce brought her A-game, and her old friends (Destiny's Child reunion! Yay?). The mini-concert was lit up by the blue finger lights that awaited every fan when they got to their seats (rough job for the promo squad) and the visual was impressive as a majority of fans - Lauryn's mom included - waved their blue-lit fingers in tune with "Halo". The game had been heavenly so far, and when the blue lights went out, it was time for the second half to begin.

And all you heard was: Ooh ooh ooh ooh oooooh oh. Ooh ooh ooh oo oooooh oh! Jacoby Jones returned the kickoff 108 yards (tying a Super Bowl record) and just as Jermaine Lewis had done 12 years earlier, a kickoff return TD seemed to secure a ring for Ray Lewis and the entire Ravens organization. And then the lights went out. And not the blue ones. The BIG ones.

As the world wondered what was happening, half the lights inside of the dome simply went out. The scoreboards went out too. It was, well, eerie. My first thought - turn to twitter! What were tweeps saying. What is actually going on? Anything to be worried about (other than losing momentum - although we will get to that)? Fortunately, the first wave of tweets got through to my phone and from what I could tell, it was simply a power outage. Very unfortunate timing, but twittercasm about Beyonce blowing out the lights was enough to put my mind at ease. Players started stretching in the middle of the field. Ray Lewis started having a catch to stay warm. Then came a series of text messages asking me everything  from 'what happened?' to 'post a picture!'. About 20 minutes in, I decided I might as well get some food for the family. Of course, the concessionaires weren't expecting a 3rd quarter rush just after halftime so most of the hot food was gone! Hot dogs were being thrown on the grill as fast as possible. It was popcorn or bust at most places but I fortunately found a vendor serving chicken fingers and waffle fries. In a town known for its rich cuisine, nothing could have tasted better.

Lights on!

So, we had a comfortable lead. 28-6 with just about 10 minutes left in the 3rd Quarter. Nothing to worry about, right? But the 3rd Quarter wouldn't end for quite some time. And not just because of the 34-minute power outage, but because a light must have gone on inside Colin Kaepernick's head as well because by the time the quarter did come to an end, it was, to my dismay, a game. Our friend Alex was sitting nearby and she looked scared. Same with Lauryn's parents who sort of just stared in silence. It was 28-23. What. Just. Happened.

The 4th Quarter was just as blurry. I had a few beverages and even more waffle fries so my stomach was already spinning. As the clock, the season, Ray's career, and the Super Bowl started to tick away, my nerves got nervous. Back and forth, field goal here, field goal there. It was 34-29. About 4 minutes left and I had a very bad feeling. As I tweeted:

And the 49ers didn't seem to care. They marched down the field with ease and as the 2 minute warning sounded, they had 2nd and Goal from the 5…


On third down, a harmless pass to Michael Crabtree was knocked out of his hands by Jimmy Smith to set up 4th and Championship. I like to have fun with words, but this is not hyperbole. I felt my heart beating to the point where I looked down to make sure I couldn't SEE my heart beating. I tried to calm myself. I remembered some of the breathing  techniques Lauryn had to learn in childbirth class. I don't know how many centimeters 5 yards is, but there was not a breathing plan for this!

Breathe out….in…..out….hike.

The ball left Kaepernick's hands. The world stopped. The lights, fortunately, stayed on. And then, almost in slow motion, the ball sailed out of the end zone, not even touched by a player in red. The game was going to be ours. A strange series of plays, including a Sam Koch safety - punters are people too is right - which led to a final free kick to Ted Ginn Jr. Ginn ended up tossing the ball out of bounds in hopes of finding another 49er to carry the ball. But as it travelled over the sideline, the Ravens bench stormed the field. Cue the confetti - the Ravens were World Champs! We watched our friends chase down some of the players on the field to film their reactions and celebrations. And as the NFL wheeled out the stage to give Steve Biscotti the trophy, Joe Flacco the MVP, and Baltimore a win they couldn't have dreamed of just a month ago, two images stand out. Well one image - Ed Reed, facing straight up with arms open, welcoming the confetti as if it was raining in the desert. And one sound that still echoes in my head today. With Ray Lewis wrapping up his career on that stage, he took to the mic, Lombardi in hand, and yelled loud enough for those in Fells Point to hear him, "BALTIMORRRRRRRE!" Chills, right? Chills.

We had to leave the dome eventually, we just floated from what I recall, and Lauryn and I braved the elements (not the weather) to take a walk down Bourbon St. to see Ravens fans take over. Flags. Jerseys. Chants. Some alcohol. Lots of purple. Okay, more than some alcohol. Lots of beads. And a sea of joy amongst those rooting for the purple and black. We partied as we walked through the French Quarter, but had two more stops to make. First, more coffee and beignets - Cafe du Monde is open 24 hours for a reason. And at last, a scavenger hunt to finally find those larger than life roman numerals. And with most fans still in a frenzy in the French Quarter, the calm of the waterfront was welcome. The letters, now dark, still stood out amidst the moon light and Lauryn and I got to savor the Super Bowl one last time together. Breathe it in.