Thursday, September 11, 2014

Week 1 - Magic Moment

Borrowing from the birds who play across the parking lot, there was some magic in the air at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

At least for a moment.

Week one of the NFL season is always special, especially if you get to open at home. And for the 2014 home opener, I invited a life-long Ravens fan, Iggy (who grew up in LA and lives in Chicago, go figure) to attend his first game at the Big Crabcake.

As a result, I tried to show Iggy a bit of Baltimore before kickoff and after grabbing a coffee (big surprise) we walked around the harbor and straight to the Purple Patio at Mother's. Not a place I'd take my mother, before a game or really at any point, but it does know how to host a tailgate party, especially on a gorgeous morning in Maryland. Fresh off finishing the coffee we switched to beers (note - no food yet) and took in the crowd. Purple from wall to wall, with a few foreign colors thrown in. Don't worry - the red &yellow were sported by fans wearing a C.J. Mosely Alabama jersey and a Joe Flacco Delaware #5. Very strong.

Our next stop was the Stadium as we wanted to be sure to catch a glimpse of the newly installed Ray Lewis statue on the Unitas/Lewis Plaza. As Iggy correctly predicted, there was quite the statue-selfie line surrounding #52, but just as we made our way to the front, I spotted a few familiar faces behind a camera. Jeff and Laura, both of whom Lauryn and I worked with for countless Ravens games, were outside filming the masses meeting statue Ray. And since they needed a few 'models' to help get the shot just right, we volunteered and I can only assume made the final cut. (UPDATE: We did!)

We ventured inside and made our way to the seats after a little Team Store shopping. Yes, I showed Iggy my writing that still adorns the Club Level walls, and then it was time for kickoff. And then nothing. I mean nothing good. Nearly 30 minutes went by without the Ravens scoring and although the defense was miraculously keeping the Bengals to all Field Goals, the game did not seem to be going our way. Case in point, with a chance to finally get some points on the board before the half, Flacco took a snap with :08 left and a shot at the End Zone before (at minimum) getting to a try a FG. Of course he took about :09, found no one and was sacked. Half over. Iggy was not impressed.


We should have known things were about to turn around as the man immortalized outside the stadium made a special appearance on the field along with the wife of the late Johnny U. Ray gave a sermon/speech, he did his dance (there will never be a 'last dance') and the second half was about to begin on a brighter note.

A blocked field goal here, a defensive stop there, a few points and by the 4th quarter the Ravens were within striking distance. A long strike, but still. Down 15-10 with about 6 minutes remaining, Flacco scrambled around his own 20 looking for an option. And in true Jacoby Jones in Denver circa Divisional Playoffs 2013 fashion - he found a receiver deep down the field as he connected with Steve Smith SENIOR on an 80-yd touchdown complete with SSS fighting off defenders (okay, pulling them down by the helmet) to reach the end zone. And just like I jumped off my couch when Jacoby caught the ball in Denver, I jumped out of my seat and proceeded to hop and high five and maybe even hug those around us. It was a moment that seemed bigger than it should have. It was just week one. There was still 5 minutes to go. This wasn't Denver. But after being down and seemingly out of it for most of the afternoon, the revelation that we were actually the fourth quarter...was cause for hops, hugs and high-fives.

Like I said...a moment. TWO offensive plays later. Yes, just two. Andy Dalton 'hit' A.J. Green for a 77-yd touchdown (albeit with a bobble to give us a hope for a second) and before I could even post to Instagram, the Bengals were back on top. Ugh. An invisible punchin the stomach that only sports can deliver. Of course the Ravens had another shot. We marched down to the 20-yard line with about 1:00 to go, but eerily similar to the first half finale, Flacco found himself getting sacked on the final play. No overtime. No win. No more magic.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The 2014 NFL Draft Was No Joke

Is there really such a thing as a 'buzz in the room'? 

I know I've heard plenty of people use the phrase. I've done the same in blogs and tweets and probably in conversation. But what does it mean? Who is making the buzz? Is it an actual noise or just a feeling?

Well, after attending my first NFL Draft in person last week at Radio City Music Hall, I'm here to tell you...the buzz is real. 

It started on my walk up 6th Avenue towards 50th street. About 10 blocks from the venue, a noticeable influx of NFL jerseys started dotting the sidewalk along with a steady stream of commuters. Of course this is New York City. Midtown Manhattan. At the end of a work day. So there were just as many people heading downtown as there were NFL fans making their way towards mecca. And just like sports bars in the City of Angels, fans of every team are in attendance, even Jacksonville! (more on the new Blake Bortles fan club in a minute)

The night received an early jolt of blog juice as I walked in to the Hall right behind Paul Rudd. He's a known Kansas City Chiefs fan, although he didn't seem to be sporting any red, but was dressed exactly like someone who wanted to go as Paul Rudd for Halloween. Jeans, plaid shirt, hoodie, charming grin. And while Rudd did not choose to wear his Jamaal Charles jersey, the rest of those in attendance had other plans.

It was almost as if you had to wear your team colors in order to get in. Purple, green, black & gold...I can see how Tide got the idea for their latest campaign. The result was a crowd unlike any other in football. I imagine this is why NASCAR races are so popular with fans of 30+ drivers rather than just two teams.

As I made my way to the seats I was excited to learn that I was just one row back from the makeshift radio row where draft picks would be taken immediately following their on-stage introduction. Jay Glazer and Mark Schlereth were among the broadcasters who had set up shop for the evening in front of me, but even more impressive was the set to my right. NFL Network (along with ESPN next to them) had set up their own studio with the Radio City stage set to serve as the backdrop for 3 full days of speculation, skepticism, and oh yea, the actual selections.

The first guest of the evening was none other than the man of the hour (no, not JM2) but RG1. The Commissioner was doing an interview with ESPN Radio just before he was about to assume his position at the podium. However, before the picks began, the show got started with the National Anthem was performed live and all potential draft picks who were in attendance were introduced on stage. While the future stars were announced in alphabetical order, the biggest noise of the night came midway through the ceremony when Johnny Manziel's name was called for the first time. And from that point on, it seemed like the whole crowd was on the edge of their seat waiting for it to be called again. Which would take a while...

No need to recap all the picks, but a few interesting stories tied to some choices:

1. Houston Texans - Jadeveon Clowney
The selection was as expected, but the way I learned about the pick was not. At least not when I was actually at Radio City. But as the time ticked down on the draft clock and it was announced the the 'pick was in' we were left waiting for Goodell to make his way to the stage to tell us who that pick was. Of course Twitter waits for no man so when I checked my phone to see the #NFLdraft chatter, I was surprised to see that some beat writers had already confirmed that Clowney was chosen. My thoughts at the moment:

I later learned that the delay was in part due to the fact that they quickly pressed the last name of the draftees on the jersey of their new team after they were informed of the selection. A nice touch for those made for framing moments.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars - Blake Bortles
While it was interesting that Manziel wasn't the first QB off the board, what made this pick notable to me was the fact that the section to my right was filled with at least 100 of the Jaguars biggest (only? I kid...) supporters. As the Jags were put on the clock, they all stood in unison, clad in teal and black, with smart phones at the ready and started cheers typical of English soccer stadiums. When Bortles name was announced, they seemed content, while not ready to celebrate (yet). That show of emotion was saved for a few minutes later when Bortles made his way to radio row. You couldn't miss the fan club and before starting his interview, Bortles came by to high five the crowd, take pictures and subsequently cement himself as a fan favorite (at least he throws his first INT).

4. Buffalo Bills - Sammy Watkins
While Watkins may be the biggest offensive star of the 2014 draft class, the pick was notable for who wasn't taken. The Bills traded up to the 4th pick with the Browns. Many expected the Browns to take Manziel (with the 4th pick....more on him later) so the fact that Johnny wasn't going yet was big news. But since it was the pride of Western New York making the selection, the smart money was on them taking UB standout, Khalil Mack. The match made so much (emotional) sense and to top it off, I was sitting next to Mack's college coach from Buffalo, Jeff Quinn. I was excited to see his reaction at his star pupil was about to see his dreams realized. However, Mack won't be playing on Sunday's in the snow...

5. Oakland Raiders - Khalil Mack
...that's because Mack was taken 5th overall by the Raiders. A great pick and it did allow me to witness the reaction I was waiting for. Special to see up close. (Random fun fact - when typing Khalil's name in to Google to confirm spelling, I noticed that the first hit when you just included 'khal' was Khaleesi)

16. Dallas Cowboys - Zach Martin
So about that buzz. While any one of the teams picking between 5 and 16 could have taken Johnny Football, you could sense in the room that as the Cowboys came closer to being on the clock, the excitement level grew, like a lottery jackpot growing each time a winner isn't chosen. Earlier that week, while listening to the REP (h/t Brockman) Rich Eisen made a comment along the lines of, "Can you imagine the scene at Radio City Music Hall if Johnny Manziel is still available when Dallas goes on the clock." And he was right. You could hear the conversations amongst fans even if you couldn't hear what they were saying. Everyone in the room was weighing in on what the Cowboys would do. And it wasn't about what their needs were on the field or who was on their draft board. It was Johnny or no Johnny. Almost like betting Tiger vs. the field at a major. So when Goodell approached the mic, I didn't even want to check Twitter. I wanted to see the history unfold in front of me. Of course Dallas went with the safe pick - a lineman to protect an aging Tony Romo rather than a Romo replacement - but it was great theater in that old theater for those 10 minutes, Eisen was right. 

17. Baltimore Ravens - C.J. Mosley

And now the pick you've all been waiting for. To the video tape:

From everything I read pre-draft, Martin, C.J. and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were the names most likely to be wearing Purple after Thursday night. Of course Martin was off the board so it seemed likely to come down to the Alabama teammates. I was rooting for Ha Ha for no other reason than the possible puns I'd be able to tweet out come Sundays this fall. No joke! (get it). Ah, but it was not to be and likely it will turn out to be another Ozzie gem as many already have Mosley pegged as the DROY favorite, if not the heir apparent to #52 (who also was in attendance on the ESPN set for the weekend).

I unfortunately left the draft after the next pick so I did not get to see the drama Johnny would elicit when he was finally taken by the Browns. But don't worry, Twitter was all over it. Before, during and well after. It's probably a good thing Dallas didn't take him. As Manziel said, "I dont know if the world could have handled that, honestly."

As for the Ravens world, I think C.J. will fit in just fine:


Thursday, May 01, 2014


 Where Will Steve Live?

Thanks to Twitter, we have a clue. Not to be stalkerish or anything, but he did post the picture so I don't feel as awkward.

The pic.twitter in question looks like it might taken from Harbor Court, which would offer up spectacular harbor views at night and is walking distance to The Crab House (my name for M&T).

However, what Steve may not realize is that he'd also have easy access to pick-up volleyball and kickball games at Rash Field and Fed Hill Park. You may not recognize him since he's new in town and is probably smaller than most of the weekend sports crowd, but fear not, just assume he'll be wearing one of these shirts:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Purple Planning

Making plans for the fall? 

You should wait. 

At least until this Thursday as the NFL will announce the 2014 schedule tomorrow and it's probably best to save that weekend getaway for bye-week. And for those who have tickets to the Crabhouse (I'm going to try and get that to stick) it's important to know which weekends you'll be out in the cold, and which weekday nights (i.e. Mondays/Thursdays) you may need to arrange for a babysitter. 

As a Ravens ticket holder myself living a few hours to the north near the Big Apple, I have to plan my trips down the NJ Turnpike for at least 8 different weekends so the Ravens schedule IS my schedule in many ways. That said, I've decide to take a stab at which games could be chosen for primetime this season. Here goes it:

1. Carolina (HOME) -- no brainer with Steve Smith in purple & black

2. Pittsburgh (HOME or AWAY) -- still one of the marquee rivalries in the NFL, although Seattle/SF has taken over the top spot, but on year after Tomlin's toe dance, it's likely going to get an NBC audience

3. Colts (AWAY) - Does anyone get royalties on that Mayflower truck-in-the-snow footage? If so, you can bet their rooting for a primetime Colts-Ravens matchup. The two teams also happen to be pretty good so I think this is a good bet - perhaps a flex later in the year

4. Saints (AWAY) - Ravens won #SBXLVII in NoLa and since the team's don't meet that often, could be of interest

5. Falcons (HOME) - Matty Ice vs. Joe Flacco was supposed to be evoke heated discussions about the 2008 draft for year's to come. But Joe Cool won a Super Bowl already and the Falcons just seem confused of late. However, the networks could still hype this game up as a QB showdown so wouldn't be surprised if we get more of these memes from @RUSSELLSTREPORT 

The wait is almost over....until we have actual dates to wait for.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Leave it to Game of Thrones to get me blogging again. And no, not about King's Landing, but about the Castle in Owings Mills.

As I woke up Monday morning still reeling from a night of Mad Men and mad kings (not to mention some crazy kids in Silicon Valley and Ms. Selena Myers - how about Sunday nights on cable!) I saw that #PurpleWedding was trending on the Twitters. So that's what the kids are calling it...

I suppose it made sense. The Red Wedding episode during GOT Season 3 sent all of social media ablaze and is actually why I started watching the show (unfortunately I knew that even while I watched the first episode that some type of gruesome wedding scene was coming in about 3 seasons, but it wasn't about where I ended up, the journey was incredible). So with the death of King Joffrey by poison - apparently you can hassle the Joff - that turned his face a purple hue right before he took his last breath, fans of the show needed a rallying cry, and a hashtag, to discuss their excitement -- #PurpleWedding it was.

So what am I doing writing about it? I suppose an old instinct kicked in that encouraged me to talk/type about the Ravens whenever a connection to the world of sports, entertainment, pop culture or Baltimore culture presented itself. After all, as the Smiths' and the Flacco's show, Ravens do know how to throw a pretty good Purple Wedding:

So here we are. While this blog is likely to get the most attention on Monday mornings, it typically won't be due to the Lannister's - although this 2013 article from fellow Retired Orangeman, Chris Brockman, does peg newly acquired Steve Smith as the Tyrion of NFLsteros.

I may not be on the team bus these days but I am typically in the stands at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday's and I'm glued to my Tweetdeck at all times so I have a feeling I'll be able to find some Ravens things to blog about. For now, I look forward to what the Draft has in store for Ozzie and his Ravens and what the writers at HBO have in store for Daenerys and her Dragons.