Troubled times in Fat City
Yeah, we’re still not over last Sunday here in the Ravens Nation Army.
Last Sunday’s 23-20 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game is gonna linger with every Raven fan for a long, long time.
Every now and again, your mind freezes the image: Lee Evans in the corner of the end zone with a Joe Flacco pass right in his hands. If you watch the clip, the ball’s only there for a split second, but man, it feels like forever.
Right there was the Super Bowl.
Right there I’m serving my famed buffalo chicken dip and enjoying some Dogfish 60 IPAs with friends, watching the Ravens and the Giants in the Super Bowl.
Right there, and I can one day tell my son about how the Ravens pulled off a last-second victory, and how his dad nearly jumped off the couch like a maniac to celebrate.
Right there and I’m strutting through the office on Monday like John Travolta at the beginning of “Saturday Night Fever.”
Right there and I can hear my friend Jay calling me up, asking if I want to meet up in Indianapolis for the Super Bowl.
Right there. For a split second it was right there.
But of course, Lee Evans did not catch that pass, and Billy Cundiff’s missed field goal cemented that loss as the most emotionally scarring defeat in the history of the franchise. Today is Purple Friday and I’m not wearing Ravens gear. I have no idea how long it will be until I can look at the logo again without thinking about that game.
In my son’s dresser is a Ravens tracksuit. He’s never worn it. It’s for six to nine month olds and even though he’s seven months, with his growth spurts, he’s unlikely to ever wear it. I’m not sure I’d put it on him anyway because when I open the drawer and see the logo, I’m right there again, seeing Lee Evans with the ball in his hands.
As if that weren't enough, we got word that Chuck Pagano, the defensive coordinator who made us all forget about Greg Mattison's notorious three-man rush, was leaving to become the head coach of the...Indianapolis Colts? Really? I guess the Irsays already stole our team, what's the defensive coordinator, right?
For fans of the Ravens, Capitals and Orioles like myself, these are troubled times in Fat City.
I use the term Fat City because it sounds better than “Baltimore-Washington Metroplex.” Like the name of this blog, I ripped off Fat City from the great Hunter S. Thompson, who wanted to rename Aspen “Fat City” when he ran for sheriff on the “Freak Power” ticket. If it was good for the Doctor, it’s good for me.
The last few years when the Ravens have imploded in the playoffs, there was always the Capitals to fall back on. Granted, the Caps would also implode in postseason, but at least in January and February, they were riding high atop the standings.
But this year’s team, simply put, doesn’t have it. The highlight of the season was a 7-0 start, but that has given way to a slew of injuries, a coaching change, inconsistent goaltending and a popgun offense.
The Caps were once one of the most exciting, high-octane offensive teams in the league, but no more. This is a dump-and-chase team that looks to play “responsible, two-way hockey,” which is another way of saying they’re boring. The Caps are routinely outshot, hemmed into their own zone way too much because of a lack of speed on the back line.
Injuries have also killed this team, particularly to Mike Green, the Caps most mobile defenseman who has been out pretty much all year. Top centerman Nicklas Backstrom has also been injured, most recently missing almost a month with a concussion after taking a cheap-shot to the head by Rene Bourque.
Alexander Ovechkin, the team’s best player, has been up-and-down all year, and the silly debate over whether he’s a dirty player have flared up again in the wake of a three-game suspension for a hit on Pittsburgh’s Zbynek Michalek.
The most encouraging thing you can take out of the Caps season so far was their last game before the All-Star break against the Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. In that game, an undermanned Caps team, minus Green, Backstrom and Ovechkin, grinded out a win over the Bruins. The club played the sort of gritty, hard-working brand of hockey head coach Dale Hunter was known for.
But Matty Perreault can’t be expected to score hat tricks every game, and somewhere down the line this team is going to need to find offense. Even if they get it, it’s no guarantee they’ll win as long as the club employs slow-footed D-men like Roman Hamrlik and John Erskine. At least Jeff Schultz – another slow-footed defenseman and traditional punching bag for Caps fans and bloggers – has been banished to the press box. The team has tried to get more speed on the back end by playing rookie Dmitri Orlov.
Even with that though, the Caps probably don’t have enough. The team and the system are mismatched. And given the Caps’ history of postseason failure, the prospect of a gory collapse come April is always around the corner.
Then there are the Orioles.
The best you can say for the O’s is that at least we’ll never have to worry about them choking on a big stage.
All you need to know about dem O’s is this: on the same day the Detroit Tigers were inking Prince Fielder to a $214 million deal, the Orioles were putting the finishing touches on a two-year pact with…Wilson Betemit.
The truly sad part was that some of the few O’s fans that are left actually thought Fielder would sign with them. But anyone familiar with the Orioles way of operating the last decade knew well enough that they would never give Fielder anything more than a token offer.
And yes, the Orioles would still suck even if they had signed Fielder. But you got to pay money to get money and miserly owner Peter Angelos is not in the business of paying money, just making it. Angelos and his latest sock puppet of a GM, Dan Duquette, were no more serious about signing Fielder than Mark Teixeira three years ago.
Angelos is content with pocketing his MASN cable money while Duquette signs up luminaries like Endy Chavez, Dana Eveland and Betemit.
You could accept the weak moves if the Orioles were building a farm system with prospects on the horizon, but they’re not. And the prospects they do have, like Manny Machado and Dylan Bundy, will be rushed to the majors just like Nick Markakis, Adam Loewen and Matt Wieters were to try to fill the empty seats Camden Yards. Even the Red Sox and Yankees fans are embarrassed to go there anymore.
What’s most dispiriting for Ravens fans is not just the painful loss last Sunday, but the fact that now we have to slog through the 15th depressing Orioles season in a row. When pitchers and catchers report February 19th, it doesn’t just mark the beginning of a new season, it also marks the date when the Orioles are eliminated from playoff contention.
It’s the same old, same old. We pay, Angelos profits, one way or another. And if he’s content to see Oriole Park empty while Dana Eveland racks up a 6.23 ERA, well, unlike the rest of us, he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
Unfortunately, much like “Dollar” Bill Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks or Bob Irsay with the Colts, the Orioles will probably never contend until Angelos shuffles off this mortal coil.
Yes sir, these are troubled times here in Fat City.