It might wind up being a long year for Baltimore Ravens fans.
I was just perusing the local sports page when I saw this quote from Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis (courtesy of the Baltimore Sun)...
"To harp on anything that deals with preseason, that means nothing at the end of the day, you're wasting your time and energy...Let's kick the ball off in Tampa and cut out everything else."
does that bother anyone else as much as it bothers me? I have never been a big believer in the ability of sports teams (or anyone else for that matter) to "turn it on" when it counted after turning it off to save energy or to stave off injury. The 2005-06 Detroit Pistons are just the latest example of how that just doesn't work, and in the "any given Sunday" world of the NFL (where even the 2005 San Francisco 49'ers won 4 games and were in a dog fight for the top overall pick until the end of the season) it is even less applicable. All of this is amplified by the fact that Baltimore ended the 2005 season with a record of 6-10 (which included an emphatic one point win over the 2-14 Houston Texans and a season ending loss to the Cleveland Browns - who lost to those Texans earlier in the season, emphasizing my point - and that means that the Ravens don't exactly have a leg to stand on in regards to cutting everything else out).
I will admit that as a local guy I bought into the hype that was the healthy returns of Lewis and Ed Reed into the same defense (Lewis missed 10 games in 2005, Reed 6, and there was not a lot of overlap between the two being on the inactive list), the return to form of a hungry (and no longer troubled by jail and injury) Jamal Lewis, and of course the arrival of Steve McNair to both lead the offense, keep the defenses honest in respect to the passing game (opening up the running game), and to mentor Kyle Boller, giving him what he should have had from Day 1, a chance to watch and learn from a veteran (like McNair and Carson Palmer and Eli Manning did. There are very few Peyton Manninng out there that can be thrown to the wolves like that and thrive). And the opening drive of the 1st preseason game did not lower any of the expectations around here, as McNair drove the 1st team offense straight down the field to a touchdown (that may have been the worst thing that could have happened, judging from the reaction around Baltimore and the malaise stemming from the next two preseason games and the offenses lack of production).
The Ravens have one of those excellent "on paper" teams, with few glaring weaknesses (but the glarers are doozies. Like both lines. Can't win when the lines are falling apart, even though they never get the credit they deserve when the teams ARE winning. Sorry if I sound bitter but as a former offensive and defensive lineman -small high school- I am bitter about that). In theory they should do well this year as long as the offense gels into a cohesive unit. But the first game of the season is against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had a better defense last year than the Ravens, and a better offense too. They have a good young running back in Carnell Williams and a smart young QB with a great pedigree in Chris Simms (who is in a contract year. I expect big things from him and rue that I couldn't get him as my 2nd QB in my fantasy draft), not to mention Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway (and the "all natural" David Boston) as receivers. They are NOT going to be a pushover. And don't let the line fool you. Sure Tampa is only a 3 point favorite (at the time I am writing this) and the game is in Tampa (as a rule you adjust 3 points for home field advantage. Technically this game is "Pick'em". Remember, Vegas doesn't pick who they think is going to win, they try and make money off the people who think they know who is going to win. The line is merely a reflection of the choices of the gamblers and it really means nothing towards the outcome of the game), but this is a playoff team last year who should have won the game against the Washington Redskins (Tampa Bay held Washington to 120 total yards of offense but turnovers were the difference maker and they lost 17-10) and should be just as good if not better this year. Suffice to say, it will NOT be an easy game (no matter WHAT the locals think).
The Baltimore Ravens have always played their best when they had a chip on their shoulders and a bit of swagger to their step. However, it has been a good long while since they have had the RIGHT to have that swagger, and until you earn it, you shouldn't use it. I think back to the (now infamous, at least in Nashville) clip of Brian Billick holding up the Sports Illustrated in the visitors locker room after the Ravens had just defeated the Tennessee Titans in the regular season, handing them their first ever loss in Adelphia Stadium/Coliseum/Arena/et al (by the way, I have never understood the uproar over the Titans' PR staff showing that clip on the Jumbotron before the playoff game between he teams in 2000). At that time, the Titans were defending AFC champs, the two teams were in the same division, and they had some well fought, heated battles recently. I know the crowd didn't need any help in getting riled up, but if I had any kind of bulletin board material I would use it too. In case you don't remember what I am talking about, after the regular season game Billick stood in the middle of the locker room holding a copy of the newest Sports Illustrated with Tennessee on the cover, proclaiming them to be the best team in the NFL. Billick told the team this and then said "Maybe that's true. But not today.", and the team erupted in cheers. And honestly, I really don't see that as being all that controversial. McAllister saying that Eddie George "folded like a baby" when he played against the Ravens' defense was prime bulletin board material. The drama over Billick's comments seemed manufactured to me. Anyway, as far as I am concerned, that is the last time Baltimore had any right to claim to be cock of the walk. Walk the walk first boys. That is the rule, otherwise you are a bunch of jerks (and that is the most polite way of saying what people would- and DO- call them).
I remain wishful of a good season, and would like nothing more than a Super Bowl. I realize that those hopes are more than a little pie in the sky for lack of a better phrase, but that is what being a fan is all about. I had the same hopes before the 2000 season with even less to back them up, and look how that turned out. But no matter how much I will wish for it to happen, I have become a little less hopeful that it WILL happen, and a little more resigned that it won't.