Goodbye, Farewell and Amen, Todd Heap
As a sports fan, you always dread the day when a fan favorite on your favorite team is no longer there.
Sunday was such a day, when Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap decided to sign with the Arizona Cardinals.
Sadly, I will now have to retire my white Heap jersey. Even more sadly, we won't be saying "HEEEEEEEAP!" anymore everytime the guy made a reception.
I'm glad Todd was able to go play for his home state Cardinals (Heap went to Arizona State) and landed on his feet after the Ravens cut him the moment the lockout ended. This day was pretty much inevitable after last year's draft when the Ravens selected not one, but two tight ends (Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta).
Needless to say, those two gentleman will have some big shoes to fill replacing Mr. Heap, who took over the position from Shannon Sharpe in 2002 and held down the role for nearly a decade.
It's hard to say exactly why Heap was arguably the second most popular Raven the past 10 years (after Ray Lewis). Maybe it was his aw-shucks demeanor - the guy is a dead ringer for Woody Harrelson's Woody Boyd character from "Cheers" - or that he was the Ravens only receiving threat for many years.
But I think Heap's popularity stemmed from the first season of HBO's "Hard Knocks" which followed the 2001 Ravens training camp.
Heap was the team's first round draft pick and was brought in to eventually take the veteran Sharpe's job. During the course of the show, we felt like we got to know the guy.
We saw Heap and his new bride Ashley (who at that time was a dead ringer for Britney Spears) adjusting to life in Baltimore. We saw Heap get his chops busted at lunch by veterans Tony Siragusa and Rob Burnett (which apparently led to ill feelings on Heap's part towards the Goose). We saw the awkward, yet professional interaction between Sharpe and Heap. Sharpe knowing that this young guy was brought in to take his job, yet still willing to teach the kid.
Heap revealed himself to be a humble guy, grateful for the chance to be brought in by the defending Super Bowl champs and taught by a future Hall-of-Famer like Shannon Sharpe.
Once Heap took over the starting spot, he WAS the Ravens passing game. Before the injuries sapped his speed, Heap was one of the only tight ends I've ever seen have reverses run for him.
In 2002 and 2003, Heap was one of the five best tight ends in the NFL. A fast, tall target with great hands. Unfortunately, the stone age Brian Billick-Matt Cavanaugh offense (which was little more than seam routes and alley oop passes in the end zone) exposed Heap to some big hits.
An ankle injury in 2004 (exacerbated when scumbag Steeler linebackerJoey Porter shoved an injured Heap to the ground when he was trying to line up in a hurry-up situation) was the beginning of three seasons worth of nagging injuries that sapped Heap of his speed. When he was finally truly healthy again in 2008, Heap had an uneasy relationship with new quarterback Joe Flacco and wasn't quite the same player.
He did make some big plays (most notably the "clock play" in the playoffs against Tennessee) and slowly reinvented himself into a reliable red zone target. Along with Derrick Mason, Heap became Flacco's security blanket and he showed he still had it in the playoffs this year against Kansas City, where he tormented the Chiefs over the middle.
So now Todd Heap moves on to Arizona and there will be quite a void, if nowhere else, in the hearts of Ravens fans. I know my mom will be one of them. Todd Heap was her favorite Raven. Whenever Heap would make his first catch, I would inevitably get a text from her saying "heeeeeap!" or a call with her doing the "HEEEEEEEAP" chant in a chipmunk squeaky voice. Right next to her computer was a M&T Bank promotional poster of Todd Heap.
The good news is that we'll get to do the "HEEEEEEAP" chant one more time, when the Cardinals visit Baltimore on Oct. 30. I may have to be in the stands for that one, because it might be the first time in M&T Bank Stadium history a visiting player gets just as loud an ovation as the home team.
Until then, to paraphrase one of my favorite Frank Sinatra songs, here's one for Todd Heap and one more for the road: HEEEEEEEEEAP!!
Goodbye, farewell and amen.