High times in Fat City
It's been high times here in Fat City.
The baseball team is improbably in the postseason. The football team is 3-1, having won two games in a week before having a mini-bye. And two excellent Baltimore-related documentaries appeared.
Yes, these are heady days to be a fan of the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens. Like the Lusthog Squad in "Full Metal Jacket," we're jolly green giants walking the earth with guns. Hopefully, we're lifetakers and heartbreakers this weekend.
To recap, the last two weeks have featured the following:
--- The premier of the outstanding “Ray Lewis: A Football Life” documentary on NFL Network, which featured Sugar Ray mic’d up for the entire 2011 season.
It was maybe the most comprehensive look at the legend, covering his difficult, fatherless upbringing in Florida, his rise to football stardom, the double murder trial in 2000 and how he keeps it up through year 16. The documentary uses Lewis' speech to a group of black Harvard law students as a through line to examine Lewis' life off-the-field.
The best part of the documentary is watching Ray Lewis cheer on his son Ray III. Let's just say if Ray doesn't go into coaching after his playing days end it will be disappointing. The man is just so intense. Once he gets rolling, you get so caught up in his emotion it's infectious. Who wouldn't want to run through a wall for this guy? Hell, I haven't played football for 15 years and I was ready to go out there and hit somebody.
Of course, the show ends with the AFC Championship Game and we all know what happened there. But what's interesting is Lewis' perspective on it, not blaming Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff, putting the loss on the team. Losses like that can be crushing, and Lewis did his part to make sure the team didn't fall apart and start pointing fingers.
Finally, there is a talk with his agent at the Pro Bowl, where Lewis talks about how he's happy with life. He sounds like he means it. He loves playing the game. He knows its coming to an end and he appreciates it. And he talks of his desire to win one more Super Bowl.
As the Iron Sheik would say, "Respect the legend."
--- We then had a Ravens win over the despised Patriots, thanks in part to the last hurrah by the replacement refs, Torrey Smith playing the game of his life after the death of his brother and the Pats defense crumbling like feta cheese at the end. New England has become the Ravens second most hated opponent after Pittsburgh.
Unlike the Steelers, which is more like a Hatfields-McCoys kind of feud, the rivalry with New England is more like going up against some sort of evil corporation. If this were pro wrestling, we could call them Bill Belichick’s J-Tex Corporation.
Mostly, we Ravens fans hate New England because we hate Tom Brady after Brady’s drama queen act in a 2009 game against the Ravens and subsequent war of words with Terrell Suggs. But we also hate New England, and Pittsburgh for that matter, for a simple reason: In the battle for AFC supremacy, they’re in our way.
--- On Sept. 27, the Ravens got their second win of the week with a closer-than-we-would-have-liked W over the Browns. It was an ugly game, with the Ravens throwing a mystifying amount of passes, even up 10 points late in the game. Thankfully, Cary Williams, who I’d dubbed “1st and Cary” in the New England game for the way Brady and Brandon Lloyd went at Williams whenever they needed a first down, pick-sixed Brandon Weeden for the margin of victory.
A lot of people were shocked by how close that game was, but in retrospect, they shouldn’t be. The Browns have always played the Ravens tight at M&T, and maybe they aren’t as bad as people think. If they had a receiver that could catch, and not Greg Little, maybe they pull that thing out.
Thankfully, the Ravens got 10 days off before heading to Kansas City to play the Chiefs this Sunday.
--- On Oct. 1 something I thought I would never happen again happened: the Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs. They will start Friday night in Texas against the Rangers. I never thought I’d ever type the words ‘Orioles’ and ‘Playoffs’ together again. The last time I saw an O’s playoff game, Armando Benitez served up batting practice to Tony F’n Fernandez and I had to smash a telephone and shave my beard. Not good times at all.
--- This stretch came full circle Wednesday night with the premier of another episode of “A Football Life,” this one featuring the ’95 Cleveland Browns. The episode was notable because it was centered around the Browns move to Baltimore, with a focus on Belichick and the awesome array of coaching and management talent that got its start during his Browns tenure.
The episode was enjoyable for Ravens fans because it featured a young Ozzie Newsome, getting his start under Belichick, who himself has ties to Baltimore, having grown up in Annapolis and started his coaching career under Ted Marchibroda in the late 70s.
I enjoyed the part when Ozzie and Mike Lombardi talk about how Ray Lewis was on their radar for over a year and one way or another, they were taking him.
I liked seeing that Belichick's press conferences then were just as prickly as they are now.
And there was former center Steve Everitt, who in the first year in Baltimore ensured his departure by wearing a Browns bandana on the sideline, looking for all the world like Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski.
According to Ozzie – the gist of the episode in fact – all of Belichick’s disciples ran some form of the system Belichick first implemented in Cleveland. At one point, Oz says that if that group – which included, among others, future Alabama coach Nick Saban as defensive coordinator, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz as O-line coach and a host of management acolytes, including George Kokinis and Phil Savage, who would later become GMs after apprenticing under Ozzie in Baltimore – had stayed together, they would have won a Super Bowl.
Of course, that sort of revisionist history, all due respect to the Oz, is what bugged me about the episode.
Playing the part of Browns fan in the episode was Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, giving all kinds of revisionist stuff, like how the Ravens winning the Super Bowl was supposed to be Cleveland’s championship.
I haven’t heard that one a lot lately, but I did in the early 2000s, and I can safely say that it is the biggest load of bull puckey I’ve ever heard.
Only three players that made the trip from Cleveland to Baltimore were on the Super Bowl club (Rob Burnett, Matt Stover and Larry Webster).
The coaching staff was once removed from Belichick’s last Cleveland staff (Ted Marchibroda had been the Ravens first coach and the only member of his staff retained when Brian Billick took over was defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis).
True, much of the front office had come from Cleveland (Ozzie, Kokinis, Savage, Kevin Byrne, et al) and Art Modell was still the owner, but the squad that won Super Bowl XXXV bore no resemblance to the one that left Cleveland in ’95.
I think a lot of this revisionist history comes from three things: Belichick’s success with the Patriots, the Ravens success after leaving Cleveland and the Browns utter suckitude since coming back in ’99.
Do we even have this documentary if Modell had his way in ’96 and drafted Lawrence Phillips instead of Jonathan Ogden?
If the Browns were anything but a complete trainwreck, a franchise so poorly run their own fans referred to the stadium as "A factory of sadness," would we still be talking about this?
Given what Baltimore fans went through with the Colts, you hate to tell somebody to get over it, but, you know...
--- Of course, talking about the Baltimore-Cleveland move is somehow appropriate, given that the last time the Orioles were in the playoffs, they lost to the Cleveland Indians.
The O's will be taking on a Texas Rangers team coming off a colossal choke in its own division, blowing a five game lead with 10 to play to Oakland. On paper, the matchup would appear to favor the powerful, postseason-experienced Rangers. On paper, the pitching matchup of Yu Darvish vs Joe Saunders would appear to be a mismatch for Texas.
And yet, what about these Orioles has made sense this year? All they do is win in the most ridiculous ways possible. And don't even think about going into extra innings with them. Why wouldn't they be able to go down to Texas and bounce the Rangers out? Why not indeed?
After all, Fat City loves a winner.