Pining for Lawrence Phillips…15 Years Later

April 28, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

As the Orioles look to pile onto the Red Sox and attempt to complete a 3-game sweep on Thursday, I had a funny and half joking conversation on one of the local message boards yesterday about the fair-weather nature of Red Sox fans and their inability to fill Camden Yards even halfway this week. While there are plenty of good reasons to explain the less than stellar turnout and a certain amount of onus on Orioles’ fans for the attendance woes, there’s no denying that Boston fans can be a fickle bunch.

I was reminded of the way that their fans acted in 2004 during that now storied ALCS comeback. I remembered the way that they booed Johnny Damon and David Ortiz and others, of how they chanted for “Po-key” Reese when Mark Bellhorn came to the plate; and the signs at the ballpark “I Can’t Believe I Fell For This Again” and worse. While it felt like the players almost deserved to win at that point (and as the Red Sox were still seen as basically harmless) I was always quietly disappointed that they never proclaimed their disappointment in the dissidents among their fans.


In fairness all fan bases have their share of irrational, knee-jerk reactors, the Red Sox just seem to have more of them. Either way, it’s doubtful you’d find many (or any for that matter) in their fan base now that would own up to trashing the club during their most storied run. Likewise there were plenty of O’s fans, once upon a time, clamoring for Eddie Murray to be shown the door, yet they too are near impossible to find these days.


So in the interest of full disclosure, and after an extremely roundabout lead in to get there, I have an NFL draft related confession to make. When the Ravens endeavored into their first draft ever, with so much still uncertain about the makeup of the team, and long before the evolution of a phrase like “In Oz We Trust”, I was amongst those disappointed when the team passed on Lawrence Phillips. I wasn’t alone though. Although it’d be tough to find evidence of it today, fans and experts alike took to criticizing the Ravens for passing on the flashy running back for the much safer yet less glamorous Jon Ogden.


With that draft and 14 more in the books and the benefit of hindsight, it may be time to admit as JO prepares his Hall of Fame speech and Lawrence Phillips prepares his prison bunk, that I may have been Wr-r-r-r…


Whether or not the Ravens were ever tempted to take Phillips is anyone’s guess. At the time it was widely accepted that the team couldn’t afford any more bad publicity in the aftermath of their controversial move from Cleveland. Whatever the logic behind their picks ultimately was, the end result set the tone for the franchise for more than a decade to come; taking the safer route landed the Ravens sure fire Hall of Famers with their two first round picks, and one of the greatest punt returners arguably of all time too…and DeRon Jenkins.


Given the Ravens results in the last 2 drafts, one might surmise that for very different reasons, they’ll be looking to go the safe route again, especially without the ability to keep tabs on guys if the lockout continues. If they find themselves looking at Jimmy Smith still on the board at 26, that decision will likely get a lot tougher.


At 26, the pick that netted Ray Lewis in that ’96 draft, the Ravens might feel pretty good about their synergy at least. And since the league announced on Wednesday that Peter Boulware would be on hand on Friday to present the Ravens second round pick, coincidentally #58 overall (Boulware’s jersey #) the energy about this draft just feels good for the Ravens.


No matter how high fans hopes may be for this 2011 draft however, it seems that 1996 was a once in a lifetime scenario. The bar will have to be set somewhere below that. How about just one sure fire Hall of Famer?


And maybe a shutdown corner…