The Decade’s Best

January 01, 2010 |

The day was January 1, 2000. The Baltimore Ravens were wrapping up the first non-losing season in franchise history and entered Week 17 with a glimmer of hope that they would make the postseason for the first time. For perhaps the first time (other than those first few games when just having a team was worth celebrating), Baltimore was truly embracing the Ravens. Still, Baltimore was predominantly a baseball town back then. Cal Ripken still manned the hot corner for the Orioles, a team which was stacked with big-name talent and had fans hoping that the brief, two-year absence from the playoffs was about to end.

Meanwhile, college fans wondered if Gary Williams’ Terps would ever break through the almighty Sweet 16 barrier, while Ron Vanderlinden’s Terps had recently completed yet another bowl-less season.

The decade came to an end yesterday, and while none of the area teams has transformed into a superpower, the past ten years have certainly been memorable for area sports fans. There were ACC championships in football and basketball for the Terps, accomplishments unseen in the decade previous. Fans who dared not even entertain the thought of a national title for Maryland hoops woke up on April 1, 2002 supremely confident that their team was about to be crowned the best in the land – and thanks to a tenacious and unstoppable guard from Baltimore, they were.

The losing did not stop for the Orioles, not with Albert Belle, Miguel Tejada or Javy Lopez. Not with Chris Richard, Matt Riley or Jay Gibbons. Ripken retired and followed Eddie Murray into Cooperstown, bringing with him the thousands who used to pack Oriole Park. And when the Ravens’ record-setting defense led the Colts’ successors to the Super Bowl XXXV title, Baltimore’s status as a football town was returned and unchallenged for the remainder of the decade.

Today’s blog takes a look back at three of the most memorable moments of the decade for the Ravens, Orioles and Terps. Because the choice to include the Terps’ 64-52 title victory over Indiana or the Ravens’ 34-7 romp over the Giants would be too easy, I am limiting this to games that did not win a championship (including ACC titles). So without further ado, the Games of the Decade.

OUT NUMBER ONE – ORIOLES

Fittingly, the Orioles’ inclusion on this list was not a great individual achievment or jaw-dropping victory (though those happened over the past 10 years, believe it or not). Instead, the most recent game on our list is a look towards the future for a team desperately hoping that the next ten years outshines the last.

May 29, 2009: Orioles 7, Tigers 2.

The Birds didn’t help poor Dontrelle Willis’ anxiety issues as they battered the former Marlins’ phenom for an easy early-summer victory over a team that, at the time, looked destined for the American League Central crown. The win came in the midst of one of the hottest streaks of the year for the Orioles, but it wasn’t the win itself that puts this game on the list. It was the official arrival of Matt Wieters, the top-rated prospect in all of baseball and the player viewed by many Orioles fans as the savior of the franchise.

Wieters did not smash a window in the warehouse on his first at-bat. He didn’t even get a hit that night, or run away with the American League Rookie of the Year Award. But as the season progressed, it became more and more evident that this was not a young man who was going to wilt under the pressure. Catching a roster full of young pitching talent, he balanced his defensive duties with offensive progression and displayed a maturity that left Orioles fans cautiously optimistic for the next decade. Paired with the likes of Brad Bergesen and Nolan Reimold – who also starred that night – as well as Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman, Wieters ushered in new hope for the Orioles during the final season of an otherwise all-too forgettable decade.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pj7N-xn14R4[/youtube]

Runners Up: July 1, 2009: Orioles 11, Red Sox 10 in franchise’s biggest comeback. October 6, 2001: Red Sox 5, Orioles 1 in Cal Ripken’s finale. July 10, 2001: American League 4, National League 1 in Cal Ripken’s final All-Star Game. May 20, 2008: Orioles 12, Yankees 2 as Mussina fails to complete an inning. April 4, 2004: Orioles 7, Red Sox 2 as the Birds open the season with a win on national TV. May 27, 2009: Orioles 12, Blue Jays 10 as Nolan Reimold delivers a walk-off.

OUT NUMBER TWO – RAVENS

November 12, 2001: Ravens 16, Titans 10.

Before the Ravens and Steelers teamed up to create the best rivalry in today’s NFL, the Titans were the team Baltimore fans loved to hate. In another classic installment of that rivalry (the last before the realignment that left the teams in different divisions), the Ravens traveled to Tennessee for the first Monday Night Football game in team history. Remarkably, the event came in Week 9, not the traditional Week 1 showcase afforded the defending champions. Still, as Brian Billick was quick to point out afterwards, it was well worth the wait.

Although it had been the previous year’s version of the defense which set records, the 2001 Ravens were no slouch. So with the team leading 16-10 in the final seconds, the champs stepped up to provide one of the craziest and most thrilling Monday Night Football finishes in the 40-year history of the production.

After Jamie Sharper and Duane Starks stopped Kevin Dyson on the one yard line (did the poor guy ever actually SCORE a touchdown?), the Titans had to rush to the line and try to push their way across the plane with no time outs and the final seconds ticking off the clock. The late great Steve McNair took the handoff, pushed behind his center, and seemed to give his team the touchdown it needed as the clock hit triple zeroes. But even when it messed up, the Ravens defense in those days could do no wrong. Peter Boulware had tried to rush back onside for the final play, and in the process grabbed McNair’s head as he leapt back across the line. The contact resulted in encroachment, a dead ball which nullified the previous play and set up an untimed play from the half yard line.

The final play was the signature of the Baltimore Ravens defense of the first decade of the millennium. Unable and unwilling to give up even an inch, Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams forced their way through the Tennessee offensive line, and as Steve McNair tried to escape around the corner, it was Ray Lewis who put the final hit on the gritty Air McNair. The win was preserved, the defense’s reputation was intact, and the Ravens had made their presence felt in their first foray onto Monday Night Football.

I’m guessing that Brian Billick is still waiting for that check from ABC.

Honorable mention: November 23, 2003: Ravens 44, Seahawks 41 (OT) in the greatest comeback in team history. December 20, 2008: Ravens 33, Cowboys 24 as Baltimore closes Texas Stadium by keeping its playoff hopes alive. December 31, 2000: Ravens 21, Broncos 3 in Baltimore in the first playoff game since football returned to Baltimore. January 29, 2009: Ravens 13, Titans 10 as the Ravens set up an AFC Championship game showdown with the Steelers. November 26, 2006: Ravens 27, Steelers 0 in a game that will forever be known for Bart Scott’s bonecrushing hit on Ben Roethlisberger.

OUT NUMBER THREE – TERPS

March 24, 2002: Maryland 90, Connecticut 82

A little more than a week later, it would be all but a guarantee in many Terps fans’ minds that their team was finally going to win its first national championship. They were facing a fifth-seeded Indiana team that was no match for Juan Dixon and company. But more importantly, the Terps had already proven that they could withstand any test, something they did when they knocked out UConn at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse in the Elite Eight.

It was a slugfest, two teams which had played each other earlier in the season at the BB&T Classic (Maryland won that matchup 77-65). Although a battle with fellow-No. 1 seed Kansas awaited in the Final Four, it was the only time all tournament that the confidence of Maryland fans may have been shaken.

Fortunately, no one was shaking the confidence of Steve Blake and Juan Dixon. With the Terps down by three late in the fourth quarter, Dixon calmly received a pass deep beyond the three-point line at the top of the key and smoothly sunk the shot, tying the game. Maryland clawed its way to a three-point lead in the final minute, and with the shot clock winding down and less than 30 seconds on the clock, Steve Blake took his only shot of the game, a three-pointer that served as a dagger to the hearts of the Huskies. The bucket gave Maryland an 86-80 lead, and all but assured the Terps of their second consecutive Final Four appearance. This time, there was no stopping the Terps as they won Gary Williams his first national championship.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbe2uNaQ3o4[/youtube] [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq0Ez87a9eY[/youtube]

Honorable mention: February 17, 2002: Maryland 87, Duke 73 in a game that can be summed up in three words: OH HE STEAL! (and the only Honorable mention game that earns a YouTube post: [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4YxXRRLbQc&feature=related[/youtube]

March 13, 2004: Maryland 85, NC State 82 as the Terps overcome a 19-point halftime deficit to propel themselves back to the ACC Championship game. February 25, 2007: Maryland 89, North Carolina 87 in yet another victory over #1 for Gary Williams and the Terps. February 9, 2000: Maryland 98, Duke 87 as the Terps invade Cameron–err…Dixon–Indoor Stadium and come out with a win, the first visiting team to do so in a season and a half. February 21, 2009: Maryland 88, North Carolina 85 (OT) as Greivis Vasquez puts together a triple-double in an upset that propelled the Terps back to the NCAA Tournament. October 11, 2001: Maryland 20, Georgia Tech 17 as Ralph Friedgen and the Terps officially announce their return to relevance. December 31, 2002: Maryland 30, Tennessee 3 as the Year of the Terp was capped by a dominant Peach Bowl victory. October 30, 2004: Maryland 20, Florida State 17 as the Terps finally beat the Noles in an otherwise forgettable campaign.

Happy New Year everyone. Here’s hoping for many more great memories for the Ravens, Terps AND Orioles in the next decade.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

….to no one in particular! So here’s a look back at the video that served as the official pump-up song for every championship team of 2000-01. Unfortunately, video of Art Modell dancing to this at the parade doesn’t appear to be on YouTube.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He82NBjJqf8[/youtube]

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