The afterglow of Cleveland

November 03, 2008 | Nestor Aparicio

Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat.

With just over a quarter remaining in yesterday’s key divisional AFC North matchup, the Ravens were 14 points down on the road, the Browns fans were coming to life with a chorus of “Hang on Sloopy” (don’t ask…just watch the video!) and the vultures were circling our black birds at Cleveland Stadium.

Some of the Cleveland “faithful” had already begun to pile out onto the street to watch Bruce Springsteen perform before the Barack Obama rally, which was literally adjacent to the stadium (think as close as Oriole Park is to M&T Bank Stadium).

The Browns had our rookie quarterback on the run. Our beaten defense had been pushed around for 30 minutes – or as Terrell Suggs said: “We were getting our asses handed to us.” And staring at a two-touchdown deficit on the road in a hostile environment, it didn’t feel as though a comeback was in the offering.

Todd Heap hadn’t caught a pass. Willis McGahee was on the pine. The backend of the secondary, while not looking like Ike Booth and Donny Brady circa 1996 was still not Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle in their prime for sure.

But, as we learned in the locker room after the game, it was about that time that Ray Lewis came to the forefront on the sidelines and talked about playing a full 60 minutes of football. He talked about believing and not quitting. All of the stuff many may view as “rhetoric” when it doesn’t work was viewed as gospel once the Ravens came storming back to score 24 unanswered points during the final 16 minutes of the game.

And, lo and behold, the Ravens created their first miracle of the John Harbaugh administration and gave us our best memory of Cleveland yet, a stunning 37-27 victory on The Lake. (Well, it’s at least the the best memory in Cleveland since the Roberto Alomar homer back in 1996.)

While the real world is in a seemingly constant state of financial crisis and life isn’t a whole lot of fun for most of us from the gas pump to the checkbook, it’s stupid stuff like sports that can create a little bit of fun and a diversion from daily life. At least here in Baltimore with the fantasyland that sports provides us, it’s turning into a very good year for our football team, which makes for nice Monday mornings.

Hell, it makes for great WEEKS in my world, where everywhere I go and everything I do leads me into a conversation about football and the Ravens.

So, on a personal note, there’s nothing more gratifying than when the Ravens win.

It helps WNST morale. It helps the morale of the community. And it makes food taste a little better and the beer is, to quote Chuck Thompson, a little colder.

The Ravens are 5-3, headed off to play Houston in six days and apparently will draw the Sage Rosenfels quarterback card instead of Matt Schaub, who left the Texans’ game early yesterday.

Ray Lewis is playing like a man possessed, showing himself to be the veteran leader in his “walk” year that we’ve been wanting to see as fans.

It’s officially time to start talking about “Festivus.”

(Does John Harbaugh even know about this sacred football holiday?)

And then there are the three “rookies” who stepped to the podium after yesterday’s gritty, improbable win.

Ray Rice had as big of a day on the road when it mattered against a division rival as you can imagine a rookie having. (Although he’ll be hearing about getting knocked out of bounds short of the end zone a few times this week from teammates.)

Joe Flacco was almost flawless in his effort yesterday and continues to show poise, confidence and ability that are beyond his years.

And rookie coach John Harbaugh is starting to show results in the only place it really matters: the team is 5-3 and could be in first place by the end of the night.

Only time will tell if yesterday’s offense-defense bonding on the Lake will take root and this will be a playoff team (or maybe even a true contender for a Super Bowl title in this oddest of seasons).

The conversations here and around town will talk about the obvious problems: the lack of a bye week, the powerful NFC North teams looming during the holidays and tough games and the secondary will probably be a question mark until proven otherwise. There will be plenty of time to debate all of this, week to week, as the team continues to mature.

But yesterday was one for the books — a classic, an unexpected gem to begin the Festivus season. Not even being stuck in the Cleveland airport for three extra hours last night could wipe the smile off of my face.

As I walked to the subway after hearing about 25 minutes of Springsteen (as many of you know, one of my favorites), we strolled to Tower City Mall as Bruce broke out an acoustic version of “The Rising” and dedicated it to Barack Obama, who was about to take the stage.

Bruce could have just as easily sent that one out to the purple birds, who were trying to navigate the insane scene of 100,000 people on the square downtown en route to the airport for a “rising” of their own.

The rising to the top of the AFC North, creating even more separation from the whole state of Ohio.

The rain began to fall on the Cleveland night as the sun set before 5 p.m. for the beginning of a long, cold winter on Lake Erie.

The Ravens are 5-3. The Browns are 3-5.

Going in opposite directions once again.

The bad news?

We’re all stuck rooting for the Redskins tonight.

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