Tag Archive | "charm city"

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Rush vs. hockey: Hard to say which is Canada’s greatest import?

Posted on 21 April 2011 by Nestor Aparicio

(Originally published in April 2011, this is my story about Rush. They’re back in the area this weekend and I’m geeked up about seeing them so I’m re-posting this blog…)

With Friday’s reappearance in Baltimore of the greatest musical trio of all time, I thought it was time to put words on a page to describe why seeing Rush at age 42 still inspires me and makes me feel like an eighth grade-school dork with a Super Bowl ticket. I might even buy a tour shirt this time so I’ll look cool at work on Monday morning!

Yes, I’ll be at First Mariner Arena with 12,000 others who “get it” when it comes to Rush, Canada’s greatest export this side of Don Cherry and Lord Stanley’s Goblet. But I’m about as old-school as you can be with Rush these days, one of the few who were there back on Sept. 26, 1980 in Largo when I spent my first of 38 evenings with Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart. I’m sure there are some in our WNST audience who saw them at the Civic Center with Kiss or at some point in the 1970’s when they toured tirelessly as a opening act for virtually everyone of that era.

There’s so much I could write about – and the fact that Rush was the first byline interview I ever really had in The News American (I’ll tell that story later) adds to their mystique – and so much about them that still inspires me but the fact that all four of us are still alive and will be able to gather in the same room with my best pal, Kevin Eck (yes, you know him as the wrestling god/diva from RingPosts and fame at The Baltimore Sun) and jam – well, it’s just a nice Friday night in Charm City.

Eck and I attended that first show with Rush and Saxon 31 years ago at the Capital Centre. I got a tour shirt and my Mom was particularly dismayed that I wore my tour shirt from that night when I posed for my 8th grade class pictures at Holabird Middle School but all these years later I can now post it on Facebook and be completely delighted enough with my decision to say: “See, Mom! I was right!” Turns out, it was the right shirt for a “period piece” kind of portrait because Rush and baseball were my two favorite things in 1981 and 1982.

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Through all of the albums, all of the tours and all of the places I’ve seen them in concerts over the years and all the fun I’ve had just cranking up a cassette tape of “Permanent Waves” or a piece of vinyl with “Exit Stage Left” or a CD of “Moving Pictures,” trust me, I’ve worn out thousands of hours of Rush over the years.

If you haven’t seen their documentary from last year, “Beyond The Lighted Stage,” it’s a phenomenal story – a really vivid tale of a few dorky, rebellious

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Festivus in Indy: What does it mean to Baltimore?

Posted on 15 January 2010 by Luke Jones

As thousands of Ravens fans journey to Indianapolis on Friday and Saturday, my thoughts begin drifting toward the significance of Saturday’s game in Baltimore football lore. While the outcome will ultimately determine it as triumph or bitter disappointment, Baltimoreans making the trip to the home of the stolen franchise—presumably the first time for most—is significant in and of itself.

Being 26 years old and belonging to a generation too young to remember the Colts playing in Baltimore—I was a mere five months old when the Mayflower vans left Owings Mills in the middle of the night—but having a father who lived and breathed that mystical era and educated me over the course of 21 years, my appreciation for our city’s football heritage cannot be overstated—it was all I had as a kid.

After all, while fans older than me had the memories of Johnny Unitas, Big Daddy Lipscomb, Bert Jones, and Mike Curtis in their hearts and minds, my generation grew up in a town full of cherished stories but void of first-hand experiences. To us, professional football was what they played in other cities while Baltimore desperately held the stories of yesteryear and an undying hope of the NFL eventually returning to the Charm City.

Growing up in the late 80s and early 90s while Baltimore pursued expansion and courted the Cardinals and Buccaneers, the mere mention of the city of Indianapolis made my father’s blood boil, and as a result, his impressionable son quickly adopted the same mentality, even without fully understanding why.

The notion that a team—your team—could pack up and leave town in the middle of the night was something I couldn’t begin to comprehend. For a 9-year old boy who absolutely lived and died with the Orioles (the only professional team in town), the possibility of them ceasing to exist in Baltimore was comparable to the sun not rising in the morning.

It wasn’t because of the people or the city itself—I knew nothing of them nor did I want to—but the fact that it became the residence of a team that so deeply mattered to my father, grandfather, and millions of others. In my youthful eyes, Indianapolis stole the birthright that was supposed to belong to me, an opportunity to witness and enjoy professional football and create many more memories with my father on fall Sunday afternoons.

I didn’t care about or understand the political or financial reasons for the move; all I knew was a devil-like man named Bob Irsay had stripped us of the horseshoe, the blue and white, and the record book that so naturally belonged in Baltimore—not Indianapolis.

It was a helpless feeling.

But, thankfully, we can fast-forward to the present.

The Ravens are again the toast of the town as they have been for the last decade. The city has another Super Bowl championship in its trophy case, a beautiful football stadium, and committed, local ownership. After 12 years in professional football purgatory (with no disrespect meant to the USFL Stars or the CFL Stallions), our city has quickly regained its place as one of the best football towns in the NFL. Just ask the fans in Foxborough last weekend.

While the bitterness and scars of the Colts leaving remain and it’s completely justified despite the ignorant remarks of less-educated fans to “get over it,” Baltimore has come out of that hardship better than ever. One can only point to the city gaining another team after 12 years and still winning a championship before Indianapolis earned its first ring as perfect justification.

Unquestionably, Saturday’s game between Baltimore and Indianapolis is first and foremost about winning and advancing to the AFC Championship. And that fact alone shows just how far this city has come since late March of 1984. Baltimore is far more excited about another playoff run than the chance to beat Indianapolis for the first time since 2001. Knocking Indy out of the postseason would simply be the icing on the Festivus cake.

Despite the excitement of the playoffs and a chance to return to the conference championship, this road trip to Indianapolis conjures up memories of my father and those empty Sundays during my childhood. While the Ravens gave us countless memories—including a Super Bowl title—before his passing in 2004, the long wait to create those football memories was frustrating, adding extra significance to this trip.

For that reason, I strongly feel his presence this week as we travel to that slimy city to prove how passionate Baltimore fans are about their football team and illustrate that Irsay may have abandoned the city and its fan base for another, but he never replaced—or even came close to matching—the passion that exists in the Charm City.

Indianapolis fans will witness thousands of Baltimoreans invading the city that stole its professional franchise 26 years ago.

Honestly, it’s no longer about the hate, the pain, or the bitterness, though it still exists in the hearts and souls of many.

This weekend is not only about winning a playoff game but also demonstrating to Indianapolis—and the rest of the NFL—that Baltimore is the far superior football town and always has been.

A Purple invasion and, hopefully, a win at Lucas Oil Stadium will prove it.

A victory may not erase 12 years without football and the empty Sundays of my youth, the January 2007 home playoff loss, or the scars of old Baltimore Colts fans, but it can finally cause something else to happen.

It might just give Baltimoreans a reason to smile when they think of Indianapolis.

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So long, Melvin, and hold your head up

Posted on 30 September 2009 by Luke Jones

As the Orioles fall toward the 100-loss mark with seemingly little resistance over the final week of the season, their elder statesman winds down his 10-year stay with an organization fixed in what feels like an endless era of losing.

Melvin Mora arrived in the Charm City after being traded with three others from the New York Mets for shortstop Mike Bordick in Syd Thrift’s infamous fire sale of 2000.  The 28-year old utility player was coming to a struggling team with a future Hall of Famer (Cal Ripken) winding down his career and its best hitter (Albert Belle) only months away from retirement due to a degenerative hip condition.  The Orioles were completing their third-straight losing season in 2000. Change was needed.

Mora’s addition, along with the 13 others acquired in the five summer deals, would pump youthful energy into an aging organization and eventually bring the Orioles back to where they belonged at the top of the standings, right?

If only.

Of course, we all know the story. Despite the quantity of players coming to the organization for veterans such as Bordick, Charles Johnson, B.J. Surhoff, and Harold Baines, Mora would be the only acquisition to contribute beyond the next couple seasons. Most would never contribute at all.

Mora debuted with the team as a role player on an 88-loss club and will take his final bow this weekend on a club trying to avoid becoming the third team to lose 100 games in the 56-year history of the franchise (1954 and 1988 were the others). In his 10 years, the Orioles averaged 92 losses a year, finished in fourth place seven times, and landed in the basement twice—one of those this year.

He played for four different managers, five different general managers (or whatever the organization was calling the job at the time), and saw the beautiful Oriole Park at Camden Yards transform from one of the chic places to be (3.1 million fans in 2000) on a summer night to a mostly desolate palace (less than 2 million fans in 2009) infiltrated by Boston and New York fans 18 times a year.

During Mora’s 10-year stay in the Charm City, the Orioles finished in third only once (2004), but the high-water mark came in the early stages of 2005.

The Orioles enjoyed a two-month reign at the top of the American League East, and the long rebuilding process appeared to be on the right track. However, Mora saw his team collapse in the second half with a disgraced teammate’s steroid suspension (Rafael Palmeiro), injuries, and management’s failure to improve the team down the stretch (trading Larry Bigbie for Eric Byrnes is going to get you over the hump?).

Needless to say, Mora has had little to smile about in his 10 years with the Orioles. You almost have to feel sorry for the guy.

As he is resigned to the reality of this almost certainly being his last season in Baltimore (the club will not use a $8 million club option for 2010), people will overstate the importance of his disappointing 2009 season—at age 37, mind you—and his mid-summer spat with Dave Trembley when judging his 10 years as an Oriole.

His disappointing final season cannot—and should not—shortchange his accomplishments playing in an absolutely miserable era of Orioles baseball.

The super-utility player that came to Baltimore flashing the leather at a variety of positions—left field, center field, and shortstop to name a few—steadily improved his game and eventually became an All Star, albeit for a bad club needing a representative in 2003. Mora would earn a second trip to the Midsummer Classic in 2005.

Ironically, Mora was excluded from the All-Star squad in 2004 despite being the best third baseman in baseball that season. Yes, before you ask, better than that guy wearing pinstripes in the Bronx.

It was the best season of his career and one of the finest seasons ever by an Oriole.  His .340 average was, and still is, the best single-season clip in club history. Mora also led the American League with a .419 on-base percentage and finished in the AL’s top 10 in batting average (behind only Ichiro Suzuki), slugging percentage, runs, hits, total bases, and doubles. His play earned him the Silver Slugger award (awarded to the best offensive player at each position) and solidified his status as an everyday player.

While Mora would never approach his tremendous 2004 numbers again, he would continue to provide solid numbers and steady defense in his remaining years in Baltimore, even throwing in an amazing second half of the 2008 season for good measure.

Regardless of the sour aftertaste created by his 2009 campaign, Mora is unquestionably an Orioles Hall of Famer, ranking in the franchise’s career top 10 in home runs, hits, doubles, runs batted in, and runs. And with apologies to Doug DeCinces’ fans, Mora may rank as the second-best third baseman in club history (The 1979 hero’s best years came with the California Angels).

Perhaps more important than his diamond achievements when pondering his legacy in Baltimore is the fact that Mora truly embraced the Charm City and adopted it as his home. Mora and his wife Gisel had their famed quintuplets in Baltimore—and chose to raise their six children right here.

While nearly every Oriole of the past decade waved goodbye to the city at the end of September and didn’t return until the new baseball season in April, Mora and his family stayed in Fallston—and plan to continue doing so.

Others wanted little to do with the community or even went as far as to demean the city (Aubrey Huff), but Mora thought highly enough of it to make it his home.

Make no mistake, the organization treated Mora very well financially (probably too well), but he understood the importance of sharing that good fortune with the local community through various charitable endeavors.

Simply put, Mora got “it.”

It’s an idea not to be taken for granted in this modern age of so many high-paid mercenaries completely void of any pride, philanthropy, or connection for the city in which they play.

Mora’s role in the community was never more apparent than in late-December 2005. Longtime bullpen coach and leading community ambassador Elrod Hendricks had passed away just a few days shy of Christmas, yet Mora was the only active Oriole to attend the coach’s funeral on December 29.

It was more an indictment on the sorry state of the organization than a tremendous gesture, but at least Mora WAS there. It was something the 24 others could not say, regardless of the pathetic excuses claiming it was too close to the holidays.

As an Orioles fan, I chastised the missing players but also appreciated Mora being there to represent the current team, pathetic as it was. Mora understood not only what Hendricks meant to the organization but to the entire city.

One might say it doesn’t take much effort to embrace the local community, so why such praise for Mora? He was being paid millions, right?

Well, easy as it might be, he was one of the few to care enough to actually do it.

Even in his final weeks with the Orioles, Mora demonstrated one more example of understanding what it means to be a Baltimorean. When learning the organization planned to honor him for playing the second-most games at third base in franchise history, Mora requested the man ahead of him on the list, Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, to be present.

So, despite little publicity or fanfare (a different issue entirely), Mr. Oriole was there to celebrate the accomplishment with the Orioles’ current third baseman. Who knows if Mora can tell you how many Gold Gloves Robinson won at the hot corner or what year he even retired, but he knew enough to understand Brooks needed to be there. That’s saying something.

Unlike Brooksie, who played a large portion of his career in the Orioles’ glory days, Mora is likely to be remembered as the figurehead—along with another good player and nice guy, Brian Roberts—for the franchise’s miserable era of losing baseball that is yet to end here at the conclusion of the 2009 season.

“Mora had to stink, or the Orioles would have won while he was here, right?”

But let’s admit, save for the infancy of his career and a two-year window of fantasy baseball in 1996 and 1997, Ripken didn’t exactly play in the Orioles’ glory years either.

The truth is though Mora certainly wasn’t the type of player that could carry a winning team by himself, he also wasn’t the reason the team stunk for the decade he was with the organization. In his best years, Mora undoubtedly would have been a valuable member of a contending club.

No one will suggest that Mora belongs in the same stratosphere as the Orioles’ royalty of the Robinsons, Ripken, Palmer, and Murray. Not even close.

And even the casual fan would never confuse his baserunning prowess with the legendary Rickey Henderson, or even Willie “Mays” Hayes for that matter.

Mora may not have always said the right thing, but he was occasionally willing to speak up in a way so many frustrated fans could admire. His declaration that some Orioles didn’t know what it took to win in 2007 and his famed “Who is going to pitch for us?” query in 2005 may have ruffled some feathers in the Warehouse, but it was music to the ears of fans wanting a terrible organization to take accountability.

Ultimately, Mora should be remembered as a good player and one of the few to perform admirably through a miserable period of Orioles baseball.

He represented the city with pride and is one of the few I felt proud to cheer over the last decade.

So long, Melvin, but we’ll see you around town.

It’s a shame we didn’t have much fun at the ballpark.

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Final preseason game, final chances

Posted on 02 September 2009 by Luke Jones

The Charm City is abuzz over the Ravens’ preseason finale with the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night.

With a victory in the Georgia Dome, the Ravens would complete a perfect 4-0 preseason and immediately stamp their ticket for Miami in early February.  After all, the 2000 Baltimore Ravens went 4-0 in the preseason and eventually raised the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa.  The stars are already aligning in the Ravens’ favor, right?

Alright, you caught me.  I can already hear the groans and see the collective rolling of eyes.

Yes, the Detroit Lions finished a 4-0 preseason a year ago and went on to complete a perfect—or imperfect—0-16 season.

And, on the surface, watching the fourth—and final—preseason game sounds about as appealing as attending an Orioles-Yankees game at Camden Yards in early September.

No one will remember the winner or the final score beyond the weekend, but if you look deeper and from a different perspective, you’ll find an otherwise hollow exhibition filled with consequence and meaning for both the Baltimore Ravens and a number of individuals struggling to secure a job in one of the most cutthroat businesses in the entire world.

For those focused solely on the team and its chances to improve upon a successful 2008 campaign that ended just minutes shy of the Super Bowl, Thursday night marks the last chance to evaluate potential contributors to the 2009 roster.

It will be the final exam for the kicking battle between Steve Hauschka and rookie Graham Gano.  Though Hauschka owns the clear advantage, both kickers have wilted at different points in the preseason, causing fans to daydream—and some to even pray—about the potential return of Matt Stover.

For these two—and special teams coach Jerry Rosburg—Thursday is a high-stakes playoff game.  And as much as we quip over the labeling of a kicker as a “true” football player, his leg can make or break an entire season.

Just ask Al Del Greco or Scott Norwood.

Others may not be engaged in a marquee battle, but the competition is just as intense.

Many players fighting for few precious spots may seem relatively anonymous now, but the strong likelihood of at least one or two of these unknowns becoming the center of attention—good or bad—at some point during the season cannot be overlooked.

It was only last year that Jameel McClain was an undrafted rookie linebacker from Syracuse clawing for a job on the 53-man roster going into the final preseason game.  And after a couple of safeties and key special teams contributions as a rookie, he is now only an injury away from starting at inside linebacker for one of the best defenses in the NFL.

And who can honestly say they knew who Anthony Mitchell was before he snatched a blocked field goal attempt out of the air and galloped 90 yards for the game-winning touchdown against Tennessee in January 2001?  Mitchell spent almost two full seasons in anonymity before his shining moment.

In all likelihood, one of these fringe players flying beneath the radar will swing the momentum in the Ravens’ favor (Mitchell) or crush a golden opportunity (Daren Stone in Pittsburgh, anyone?) at some point this season.  Who will it be?

And shifting the focus away from the actual football team and the lucrative money involved in professional football, we have a group of young men trying to fulfill a lifelong dream.  Sure, they’ve made a little money in the month of August, but it’s a far cry from the signing bonus inked by Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs in July.

For many of these players, Thursday night is the final opportunity to wear a Ravens uniform and to show enough skill to remain in Baltimore or garner the attention of one of the other 31 NFL teams.

Some will catch on elsewhere, whether in the NFL, UFL, or Canada.  But for others, Thursday will mark the end of a boyhood dream, and it will be time to move on to the next phase of their lives—away from the football field.

Whether you’re an average laborer or a world-class athlete, it stings to hear that you’re not good enough or that your services are no longer needed.  And that’s the exact message coach John Harbaugh will have to deliver to many players over the weekend.

As much as we try to remove the human element from the multimillion-dollar business of professional sports and sometimes treat athletes like emotionless machines, these guys have dreams that will ultimately fall short.  And in that sense, Thursday night will bring some sadness.

So if you’re grasping for any reason to stay tuned to a meaningless preseason finale on a work night, root for these fringe players—and yes, they ARE Ravens, even if not for much longer—fighting for their football lives and trying to hold onto a dream very similar to the one you or I may have had as a kid.  Most of them are good guys, humble and hard workers who are just starving for the chance to play in the NFL.

A few will fulfill that dream Thursday night while others will have to wonder what comes next in their lives.

A meaningless game?

Only on the surface.

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Remembering Steve McNair

Posted on 05 July 2009 by Luke Jones

With the tragic news of the passing of Steve McNair on the Fourth of July, it’s difficult to contemplate his legacy, both in the NFL and here in Baltimore.

McNair will not only be remembered as the man who helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to their best regular season record, a 13-3 mark in 2006, but also as a worthy adversary playing for the Tennessee Titans.

Prior to the league’s switch to the current AFC North division format in 2002, the Ravens’ fiercest AFC Central rival was the Titans with McNair and running back Eddie George leading the way.  The tenacious McNair was a feared opponent for the Ravens’ vaunted defense, breaking Baltimore hearts in the 2003 Wild Card matchup at M&T Bank Stadium.

My favorite memory of McNair will always be his preseason debut as the Ravens’ quarterback against the New York Giants in 2006.  Though McNair played only one series, he led the team on an 80-yard drive, culminating with a 6-yard touchdown run.

The electricty in M&T Bank Stadium—for a preseason game no less—was palpable and set the tone for what would be a memorable 13-3 regular season.  After witnessing quarterback after quarterback fail to lead the Ravens’ offense, the mere presence of McNair brought excitement and hope to an offense-starved fan base.

Though McNair would not bring a Super Bowl to the Ravens, his contribution to the 2006 season will not be forgotten.  McNair’s legacy undoubtedly belongs in Nashville with the Titans, but his brief time in the Charm City will hold a special place in the hearts of many Ravens fans.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and former teammates during this terribly difficult time.

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Friday Morning's Crab Cakes and Light Beer

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Friday Morning’s Crab Cakes and Light Beer

Posted on 03 April 2009 by Chris Bonetti

The Swinging Bunt

Sounds like Major League to me.  The Orioles front office is undoubtedly a little red in the cheeks right about now, a feeling it seems they’ve come to know all too well in recently.  The Sun paper’s article, “Orioles unsafe at spring homes,” is causing quite a stir this morning in Charm City.  The awful conditions of their Spring Training facilities are just the latest PR nightmare for the club to have to sort out.  Needless to say, this is a very disturbing trend to be developing four days before the season even starts.  However, maybe just maybe… and follow me here… with tons of fan frustration with a perennial losing team, penny pinching ownership, relative unknown veterans, relative unknown young guys, awful clubhouse conditions, and a horrific lack of pitching depth… to me this sounds like the movie Major League.  And in the movie, as we all fondly remember, Jake Taylor, Willie Mays Hayes, and ‘Wild Thing’ Rick Vaughn lead the club to a World Series title.  Can’t we just dream of our very own Hollywood ending happening here this season in Baltimore?  No? No. OK.

He probably shouldn’t be ‘pleased.’ Rotation candidate Adam Eaton wrapped up his 2009 Spring Training yesterday in Port St. Lucie as he surrendered five earned runs on nine base hits in five innings of work against the New York Metropolitans.  In total, the veteran right-hander pitched 21 innings and recorded an ERA on the north side of 7.20.  Eaton, a non-roster invitee, has had every opportunity to sew up a spot on the starting staff but has failed to show the team any hope of any sort of consistent success.   But don’t worry says Eaton, as he waits to see what his future will hold in Baltimore, “I know that if the decision’s made that I’m on the staff, they’re going to be pleased with that decision.”  Wow, well OK, I think everyone feels a lot better now Adam… thanks bud.

Scanning the Blogosphere

SI’s MLB Preview projects the Orioles 80-82 and 4th in the A.L. East and offers this scouting report.

Bugs & Cranks announces, “Ladies & gentlemen, your 2009 Baltimore starting rotation.” It’s not a pretty piece, O’s fans.

Big League Stew previews the A.L. East and says its division race will be the one to end all division races.  The Orioles… picked for last place.

Camden Chat rolls out their Preseason MLB Predictions… Here’s the cliff’s notes, Yankees over Phillies.

Deadspin has all the details on what could be a very interesting look at the life and death of Len Bias in a documentary about the former Terp superstar.

Fan IQ says, “Not News: The Pittsburgh Pirates played a Community College.  News: The Pirates lost.”

The Morning’s Final Thought

The fun of April Fool’s Day is still not yet over on Crab Cakes and Light Beer!

Uniwatch, a great blog on ‘The Obsessive Study if Athletics Aesthetics,’ reported that the Seattle Seahawks were changing their fashion scheme to highlight, well, highlighter green, as their featured color.

It’s a very good thing; those would’ve been too bright for me… waaaay too bright.

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Five Reasons Why Things Went Wrong

Posted on 15 December 2008 by Alex Thomas

There’s no reason to dance around the issue: yesterday’s loss hurts…it really hurts.

And the Steelers game may be the key game that keeps the Ravens out of the playoffs.

The Steelers straight-up, man-to-man, punched Baltimore in the mouth and beat the Ravens yesterday.

Not a low blow, just a fact.

I agree with Drew and most of the listeners to this station: you absolutely cannot score 9 points at home and expect to win a game against a good team. Ever.

This game will be debated for years to come in Baltimore. I’ll be the first to admit that the referees screwed us. It’s unfathomable to me that they could make that many one-sided mistakes in such a pivotal game.

Someone should tell John Voight…er, I mean Walt Coleman…to take off that Steelers underwear that he obviously wore under his uniform last night. This has yet to be confirmed, but Rico in Towson said that Coleman’s wife is from Pittsburgh.

Disclaimer: put as much stock in that as you feel necessary…honestly, I find it hard to believe. But if that’s true, maybe we have another Tim Donaghy situation on our hands?

I’m kidding (kind of), but conspiracy theories and joking aside, Walt Coleman and his crew called a terrible game on both sides of the ball. It just so happens that the Ravens got the short end of the stick when it mattered most.

Five things that went wrong:

5. Play calling – Cam Cameron’s play calling was way too conservative. I don’t think the Ravens passed the ball enough. Sorry, I should rephrase that. Flacco passed the ball 28 times, which probably fits right into the Ravens game plan. The Ravens just didn’t pass the ball in the right situations. And whatever happened to all of these trick plays? I know the Steelers defense is disciplined, but can’t we at least take a shot? I dunno…the Ravens seemed awfully predictable and the scoreboard reflected that.

4. Joe Flacco – Not one of his best games for sure. Flacco went 11/28 for 115 yards and two picks. We saw a rookie quarterback last night. Guess what? He faced the best defense in the NFL and they made him look like a rookie. I’ve said it all season: he’s going to have games like these, and he’ll probably have a few more that will be just as bad. But I honestly think that two or three years down the road, Big Ben won’t be able to wash his jock strap.

3. Willis McGahee – He might be ranked a little too high…if it weren’t for the defensive meltdown and the referees, he’d be the number one reason why the Ravens lost. But this guy came into training camp out of shape, and he has proven to be nothing more than a liability in the last three weeks. He dropped two balls, including a potential first down that would have extended a drive. And let’s not get started on that whiffed block…pathetic. Maybe Flacco should have recognized the blitz, but that would not have been a factor if McGahee could have blocked somebody.

2. Walt Coleman and the “Referees” – what’s the use of Instant Replay if the referees can’t get the call right? We’ll get to the touchdown catch in a second…how about the first down that wasn’t? How about the delay of game that was never called? What about the blatant 15 yard face mask penalty on Le’Ron McClain that was never called? I’m not one to blame anything on the refs for a loss, because if Flacco doesn’t overthrow Mason in the end zone or if Mason gets big on Ike Taylor to catch a jump ball, we’re talking about a Ravens win. But it’s hard to debate that the officiating was absolutely atrocious last night. We all saw the replays, and I don’t want to bust open any emotional scabs, but…I still can’t believe what I saw last night. And what’s worse? Head of NFL Officiating Mike Pereira backed Coleman, saying that the call was right but it wasn’t explained properly. Really? Don’t patronize me…even the talking heads on ESPN who usually are anti-Baltimore were confused about the call. Don’t urinate on my head and tell me it’s raining.

1. The Defense – Yeah, I said it. This is the third time this season that the Ravens fell back into a prevent defense, sometimes rushing only two down lineman, and it came back to bite them in the backside. This is why they’re the second-best defense in the NFL and not the best. We saw the best defense in the NFL last night and they weren’t wearing purple. When push comes to shove and a win is on the line in a close game against a good team, they’ve only proven that all they can do is write checks that their mouths can’t cash. However, Fabian Washington played like a rock star last night. If he didn’t pull his hamstring, we could be singing a different tune in Charm City today. You can’t blame the officials for coverage break downs. Sorry, but as a Ravens fan, I expect more out of Ray, Ed, and Suggs.

Check back tomorrow for Five Reasons To Be Excited about the 2008 Ravens season.

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Ravens crush woeful Raiders, 29-10

Posted on 26 October 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

The Raiders have played an interesting foil in the annals of Baltimore football history.

There was the “Ghost To The Post” thriller on Christmas Eve in 1977. The Raiders were the first team to come to Baltimore to play the Ravens in 1996. And, of course, it was a trip to Oakland and a win in the AFC Championship Game in 2001 that took the Ravens to Tampa and a Super Bowl title.

Today, however, the Raiders look to be a shadow of their famed black and silver pirate crest, a hapless franchise with second-rate talent and an owner that makes Peter Angelos seem sensible.

What the hell happened to the “commitment to excellence”?

We’ve seen some bad football teams roll into Baltimore since the Ravens came to town 13 years ago challenging the great Billy Jo Hobert, but today’s effort by the Raiders might’ve been one of the worst we’ve ever seen in the Charm City. That’s about as bad of a football team you’re gonna find with the red, white and blue NFL crest on it.

Their offense was hopeless, the special teams were poor – making Jim Leonhard look like Dante Hall in his prime – and the defense was good enough to allow a slow, 6-foot-6 quarterback to spread wide and catch bombs from the backup quarterback. And who Tom Cable and where is Lane Kiffin?

If Al Davis were in his right mind, he’d be ashamed of what a cruel hoax this is on the Raider Nation and the Black Hole. Next week, they might want to try to show up against the Falcons.

Sure, the Ravens looked great today and we’ll all gladly take this 29-10 win. At 4-3 on Halloween, this 2008 season has some real life and some real promise as the purple heads to Cleveland next week where a win puts them on a fast track for a potential playoff berth. It would be time to bust out the “P” word (or is it still Festivus?). No one could argue with 5-3 at the turn, even if the second half appears to be helluva challenge with so many potential playoff teams on the slate in November and December, including the entire firing squad of the NFC East.

But I can’t fathom how the Raiders are going to win another game with that band of ragamuffins.

Let’s take it around the victorious purple locker room:

Joe Flacco wasn’t brilliant today (12 of 124 for 140 years) but he threw a TD, ran for one and damn-near CAUGHT one. The maturation of Flacco as a rookie is going swimmingly well for the team, with him getting all sorts of initiations to victories, defeats, road and home games and all sorts of looks from defenses around the NFL. I’m glad we bought the stock months ago.

Terrell Suggs, for all of his stupid bluster and idiotic pronouncements, certainly showed up to play today and made his presence felt anywhere around JaMarcus Russell, who looks like the next No. 1 QB bust of this decade.

Ray Lewis continues to dazzle in his contract walk season, making play after play and I’m still not sure that Justin Griffith made it anywhere near the goal line on that lone touchdown, but he’ll no doubt still be feeling that hit on Wednesday.

Let’s hear it for Jim Leonhard, who has become a fan favorite with these “little guy” efforts on defense and special teams. He’s MY SIZE for crying out loud, but he plays like a giant on the field.

The running game was effective all day, racking up 192 yards on 46 carries as the Ravens controlled the clock and exhausted the Raiders’ defense. The three-headed monster of Ray Rice (8-64), Willis McGahee (23-58) and Le’Ron McClain (7-32) has been more effective than any of us realized back in training camp. And let’s give the offensive line some props as well — even with Adam Terry and Marshal Yanda out, they’re still protecting Flacco pretty well and allowing the backs to move the ball.

Even Matt Stover had a perfect day, which we’ll need more of as the weather turns and the games become tight enough that his foot will surely play a major role in deciding the season.

But the biggest game ball goes to John Harbaugh and the coaching staff, who have held the team together through several crises this season, not the least of which was the notion that the team didn’t have enough talent to compete:

•    The quarterback carousel during training camp and prepping and winning with a rookie signal caller in the NFL.

•    The horrendous injury/age situation on the defensive side of the ball, with Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Kelly Gregg and Dawan Landry all out of the lineup. And that’s not to mention various dings to Willis McGahee, Terry and the loss of Yanda on offense.

•    The bad, ugly, brutal loss in Indianapolis and a three-game losing streak and the bounce back in Miami and again today. Good teams rebound. The Ravens have nicely. That’s good coaching and a lot of heart.

•    The difficulty of navigating and covering for the stupid comments and actions by some of his childish players (this was essentially what got Brian Billick fired). Not only did Chris McAlister not play today, no one even bothered asking where the hell he was. (Disciplined? Absolutely. But will they say it was his leg? Absolutely. They should just come clean and tell the truth, instead of this silly gameplaying that went on last week.)

One more game ball might go to the Ravens’ still-stellar front office acumen in picking talent. Jameel McClain, Willie Anderson, Evan Oglesby and Brandon McKinney all made plays today and none of them were on the team in August. Hats off to George Kokinis and Ozzie Newsome, who have improved this team coming out of Westminster.

The real test, of course, comes in January when the team’s 2008 record is public.

But so far, at 4-3 with winnable games on the horizon in Cleveland and Houston, the Ravens are far more interesting, entertaining and enjoyable than any of us thought possible eight weeks ago.

And if crappy teams like the Raiders are on the schedule (and there’s at least one left with Cincinnati) we’ll take them every week.

As long as the Ravens show up and beats them in the fashion they did today, it’s fun for all of us.

I’ve never been more excited about a trip to Cleveland…

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