From Staff Reports
Baltimore had its party yesterday and, from the looks of things, it was a good one, with approximately 80,000 fans filed into M&T Bank Stadium and an estimated 120,000 more lining the streets for the Super Bowl champion Ravens.
What a difference a year makes. This time last year it was the New York Giants who were celebrating, while Baltimore was still reeling from perhaps the unkindest sports defeat the city had ever known, the 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. Add to that the prospect of the Orioles’ 15th straight losing season being directly on the horizon and you can understand why the mood in Charm City was anything but charming.
Then, a little over 300 days ago, something weird happened. The Orioles began to win, and they wouldn’t stop until Game 5 of the American League Division Series. While it was not pleasant that postseason elimination came at the hands of the hated New York Yankees it couldn’t take the luster off the rose of the 93-win Buckle Up rollercoaster ride and the city’s first winning baseball season since 1997.
Seemingly overnight the Orioles established themselves as a young and coming contender in the brutal American League East, and now the Ravens are the champions of professional football.
Enjoy it, Baltimore, things haven’t been this good since 1971 when the Orioles sat as defending world champions and the Colts won Super Bowl V on a late field goal by Jim O’Brien. And given the state of the NFL and the workings of the salary cap, it likely won’t be this good again for at least a couple of years. But don’t let that rain on the parade. Today, Baltimore is on top and, as Scarlett O’Hara once said, “I’ll worry about the salary cap tomorrow.”
Still, when tomorrow does come and when Joe Flacco gets his, some productive and popular faces will be among the missing, and already Joe’s taking flacko for that. Of course, who among us wouldn’t take a few million per year less so that the band could stay together, right? Please. It doesn’t work that way, nor should it. Flacco took a chance by playing through his free agent season and hit big at the table by carrying the Ravens through the playoffs with 11 touchdown passes and 0 interceptions.
For some historical perspective, only Flacco and Joe Montana have ever achieved those numbers in an NFL postseason.
For somebody who is, by his own father’s account, dull, Flacco seems to stir conversation and cynicism. Last offseason, for instance, when he was asked directly if he believed he was a top NFL quarterback and he had the temerity to answer by saying he felt he was the best, you’d have thought he kidnapped the Lindbergh baby. But don’t you want your quarterback to be confident in himself? He wasn’t bragging. He was asked a question and he answered it.
Other than Merril Hoge (who knew?), who yesterday called Flacco the best quarterback in the NFL, those who insist upon creating the nonsensical definition of “elite quarterback” are emphatic in their insistence that Flacco is not one of them, even after he flawlessly led his team through the playoffs to a Super Bowl title. And, yes, if Flacco had known better than to hit Lee Evans in the hands last year in Foxborough, the Ravens would be coming off their second straight Super Bowl appearance.
Now he’s going to get $20 million a year? Where is the justice?
Flacco may be dull, but dull quarterbacks seem to work pretty well in Baltimore. You have seen pictures of John Unitas’ haircut, no? And already somebody’s up in arms because Joe Flacco’s name was just put in the same paragraph with Johnny U’s.
Yesterday was too long in coming for Baltimore, particularly when you consider the squandered opportunities by the Ravens in the past decade. Given the defensive units the Ravens have put on the field in that time, there easily could have been two other Super Bowl appearances in the Ray Lewis era, the most obvious instances being last year and the 2007 season when the Billick juggernaut held Peyton Manning and the Colts to 15 points, but could score only six in losing the home playoff game. So good for Baltimore, good for Joe Flacco and good for Ray Lewis.
Lewis certainly didn’t have his best game in his final Super Bowl, but it was nothing short of a miracle — either of sheer will and determination or deer antler spray — that he was able to come back from a torn triceps to even play again.
Love him or hate him, he has been one of the great football players of all time and a tremendous inspiration for the Ravens and for Baltimore. It’s been a great run for Lewis and for the city, one of the handful of great runs in Baltimore sports history along with Unitas, Ed Reed, the Robinson boys, Palmer, Weaver and Ripken. But the time for the final curtain had come, and for Lewis, the Ravens and the city of Baltimore there couldn’t have been a better way for it to have come down.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org