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Dear John Vidalin: Welcome to Birdland where baseball ain’t great and beer ain’t so cold anymore

Posted on 08 July 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear John:

First, welcome to Baltimore. As I can see from all three of your LinkedIn profiles, you have spent a lot of time running the revenue parts of professional sports organizations all over the continent.

As we both know, it’s the dough that pays for the doughnuts – or the crab cakes in this case. So as the incoming Chief Operating Officer for Business Operations for the Baltimore Orioles, I’m gonna treat you the same way I treat Dick Cass up in Owings Mills. (And if I find out you gave a kidney to save someone’s life, you’ll get even better treatment, too!)

I’m the last of the local sports historians and media moguls around here – and the last one who doesn’t work for Peter or have to answer to the powers that be at MASN or around The Warehouse to dispense facts and information. So, with me you’ll get what my WNST business partner Brian Billick always called the “unfiltered information”– as opposed to the C.Y.A. nonsense and smoke being blown rectally from various parts of what’s left of the Baltimore Orioles brand upon your arrival.

By the way, I’m also the only media guy in Baltimore who loves hockey. And I even loved it before last month! I’m guessing 99 is a magic number in your life and part of the reason why you do this for a living. I hear you’re a nice guy. Calgary Flames. Time in the NFL, Houston and San Francisco, then Miami and the Heat after the chill of a post-Lebron world in the NBA.

All those situations, leagues, people, egos, money, sponsors, expectations – and then the hardest part – winning. And you’ll have nothing to do with that but as you learned along the way, it’ll have everything to do with what you do and your success here in Baltimore.

You were involved in the really awesome Colin Kaepernick and Jim Harbaugh parts of the San Francisco 49ers lore before the move from Candlestick to Santa Clara that literally wrecked the franchise. The losing certainly didn’t help what was a shaky proposition all the way around in moving to Levi’s Stadium – but you knew that. You also worked within a “unique” family dynamic there so I know you must be keenly aware of what you signed up for here. Plus, you spent some time with the Washington Caps before they found Alex Ovechkin, so you saw the Orioles demise up close before the Nationals ever existed in the DMV.

You were also part of the remnants of the post-Lebron craze in Miami so you know what it looks like after the party is over. Sports is tough sell down there where the girls are pretty and the beach eternally beckons. So is hockey, as you know, but I must say I was blown away by the brand of the Tampa Bay Lightning and #GoBoltsGo across the Everglades this spring in my travels.

And the Houston Texans have always had everything – a well-funded owner, fresh start, a built-in fan base, lots of money, people and mixed nationalities to market and sell stuff to and a great defense and stadium – but without a quarterback it’s been just another starving place waiting for the Astros or Rockets to come along and win. They might even finally have one in DeShaun Watson!

You run a sports franchise. You need stars. You need wins. You need someone and something to market beyond a cartoon bird, a beautiful stadium and a pricey afternoon or evening of lousy, fifth-place baseball.

I’ve watched it here with Cal Ripken and Ray Lewis. And Johnny Unitas and Bert Jones and Joe Flacco, and Eddie Murray and Ed Reed and Frank Robinson. Stars are stars for a reason. Stars create winning. Stars helps sell stuff. And then the spigot flows from there.

And when you lose, well…

You know.

Just look out that window in your new, spiffy office with that incredible sunset view on any night this summer when the gates are open for business and you’ll see what happens when a team has abandoned its fan base for a generation, is getting its ass kicked 38 miles to the south in an unwinnable war by a far more powerful and better-run baseball brand, and is in the middle of losing 100 games and giving away all of its players.

Welcome to Camden Yards, circa 2019!

You’re in charge of the biggest shitshow in town, John – the Baltimore Orioles!

A chance for a new start?

Or a career risk with plenty of warning signs and dark clouds?

Hey bro, you came from Miami! They’ve won two World Series in a climate conducive to baseball 365 days a year and still couldn’t figure out how to sell beisbol to my kinda people from Venezuela, Cuba and Latin America and a coast full of hibernating New Yorkers and New Englanders.

And you know why, right?

Oh, sure the stadium has been in the wrong place twice but the real reason no one on earth is a Marlins fan is because the owner was the biggest asshole in South Florida and every human being, every politician, every business owner, every fan – black, white and brown – knew it.

Even the manatees and alligators knew it.

He was a ruthless shark with zero regard for the fans or any emotional intelligence beyond the lies and trail of profit in bilking the community politicians, while raiding the tax kitty and sucking on the civic titty. It was a badge of honour for any South Florida sports fan to stay away from that shitty monstrosity out in the middle of nowhere anyone would ever want to be on a summer night in Miami.

I experienced it personally when I tried to swab a few people to save lives down there in 2015 on my MLB 30-30 #GiveASpit tour. The Marlins reputation as a terrible franchise preceded them and they managed to even be worse. Derek Jeter will be spending the next decade trying to find people who can love baseball in a blimp in South Florida. (But he’s got at least one guy in Baltimore who loved the painted girls in the pool at the Clevelander!)

Sure, laugh at them. You sold against them so you know they were a punchline on South Beach! And yet you probably have no idea how close Orioles fans came to having Jeffria Loria be our douchebag owner here in Baltimore. He finished a very close second place.

You can read the history of how your new boss beat out that guy for the kingdom of Baltimore Orioles baseball on a hot summer day in 1993 in The Peter Principles. 

All of your experiences in these mixed markets and various sports will serve you well now that you’ve made it to the dying, fourth American sports brand of baseball in a market that lacrosse has infiltrated as a primary sport like a bacteria on termites in the spring and summer calendar of affluent (and not so affluent) white people in the suburbs of your primary (and now pretty-much only) market.

This would be one of the great turnaround stories in modern times, as I pointed out to Louis and John in their #DearOrioles letter, if this franchise is playing meaningful baseball games in August and September anytime soon.

I would petition the mayor of Baltimore in 2028 to change the name of the Inner Harbor to “Loujon” if they pull off a Rocky Wirtz-style turnaround with the Orioles and we start having parades around here.

I’m pulling for you – even if I never get my legitimate press credential back, which I’ll get to – because what is good for the city is good for me. I’ve been waiting all of my adult life for the Baltimore Orioles to capture the imagination of the community. I’m no longer holding my breath – or words and truths – for a lot of reasons.

I like that you are a hill charger. I’ve liked every Canadian I’ve ever met. (Well, except for Denis Potvin. He still sucks!)

I, too, am a hill charger, a tower jumper and a wall climber. I am a dreamer. I have delusions of grandeur. You can ask, Peter Angelos!

I’ve been charging The Warehouse wall with facts and legitimate questions since it was erected. At some point it’ll fall like Berlin. But it can’t keep going the direction it’s going – older, emptier, poorer, worse, less attractive, more expensive, harder to access, easier to ignore – and survive long term in Baltimore.

You can’t reach for the ceiling if you don’t know where the floor is located. I can assure you that you are closer to the basement than the attic and gravity is winning. Losing on the field is going to be the least of your problems if you’re truly going to be “in charge” of the Baltimore Orioles.

Most people in every lonely cubicle in your new digs at The Warehouse will tell you I’m the village asshole ­and have been for 27 years – “the worst former media guy in Baltimore who still owns his own radio station, broadcasts all day and reaches 100,000 a week but nobody listens to him” – because I ask legitimate and fair questions and don’t like it when I’m lied to or ignored on behalf of the fans after three decades.

Mr. Angelos says I’m fake news.

He’s taken away my access to do what feeds my family over the last dozen years. His actions regarding the press and media – as well as his stance on foreign players and in the international market – have a lot in common with the guy who runs our country.

I can’t be controlled. So, therefore, I must be destroyed.

I’m not worthy of a media credential because I won’t lie for his franchise or associate my name with his deeds without

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Landry tag reinforces challenge of Ravens finding No. 1 receiver

Posted on 21 February 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens signing wide receiver Jarvis Landry was always going to be a long shot before he received the franchise tag from Miami on Tuesday night.

With limited space under the salary cap this offseason, Baltimore hardly would have been the favorite to land the Dolphins slot man had he made it to the open market. But Miami retaining Landry — or at least forcing teams to talk trades for his services in addition to signing him to a lucrative deal — only reinforces the challenge of finding a No. 1 receiver as those types of talents rarely reach free agency.

A list of the top wide receiver contracts in the NFL shows nearly all have remained with their original teams. According to OverTheCap.com, 15 of the top 18 wide receiver deals in terms of average annual value are with the team that either drafted or signed the player out of college with Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Emmanuel Sanders being the exceptions to the rule.

Jacksonville is also expected to place the franchise tag on the 24-year-old Allen Robinson, which would take the top two projected free-agent receivers off the market. The absence of Landry and Robinson leaves a group of free agents without any bona fide No. 1 types, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting talents who could help Joe Flacco and the NFL’s 29th-ranked passing attack from last season.

The likes of Marqise Lee, Sammy Watkins, Paul Richardson, and Donte Moncrief may carry questions, but each is capable of contributing and an offense needing No. 1 and No. 2 options can’t afford to be too picky in adding pass-catching talent. The problem may end up being the asking price of these second- and third-tier options with the top two talents off the board and many teams looking for pass-catching help on an annual basis.

Regardless of the status of Landry or Robinson, the Ravens were always going to need a multi-pronged attack to improve at wide receiver with Mike Wallace scheduled to hit free agency and many expecting the disappointing Jeremy Maclin to be a cap casualty. General manager Ozzie Newsome will need to add some experience to the position via free agency or trade and invest a draft pick or two in the early rounds of the 2018 draft to truly move the meter at the position.

This year’s draft class may lack slam-dunk first-round picks beyond Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, but other prospects such as Courtland Sutton of SMU, Christian Kirk of Texas A&M, James Washington of Oklahoma State, and even Maryland’s DJ Moore could be enticing if the Ravens either trade back in the opening round or refrain from selecting a wide receiver until the second day of the draft.

After frequently neglecting the position in recent years, the Ravens need to put their best foot forward instead of simply waiting to make a post-June 1 addition or hoping a late-round pick magically pops.

Anything less will likely leave them in an all-too-familiar position in a pivotal season for the future of the organization.

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Chapter 17: The Last Ride of 52

Posted on 28 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

Your lowest moment is always when you feel your greatest pain. When I tore my triceps, and the doctor looked at me and she told me that, you know, I was out for the year. And I said, ‘Doc, are you sure?’ I said, ‘Nah. Doc – there’s no way I’m [going] to be out for the year with just a torn triceps. I’ve been through way worse.’ And she was like, ‘Ray, you know, nobody’s ever come back from this.’ And I said, ‘Well, you know, nobody’s ever been Ray Lewis, either.’ ”

– Ray Lewis (January 2013)

 

 

 

AFTER ALL THAT THE RAVENS had been through in their rocky December – three losses in a row, the firing of Cam Cameron, the preseason-style game in Cincinnati to end 2012 – the road to a Super Bowl was still very much alive in January. And there’s nothing to stir the passions of Baltimore football fans like seeing the stolen blue horseshoe and the five-letter word that’s associated with evil in the land of pleasant living: I-R-S-A-Y. The Indianapolis Colts were coming to Baltimore again, a visit that still elicits plenty of emotion from the over-40 crowd.

And this time it wasn’t the bravado and no huddle mastery of Peyton Manning that would confront the Ravens. Peyton was staying warm in Denver, waiting to see if the Ravens would be journeying to the Mile High City next week. This time, the Colts had a different hotshot quarterback in Andrew Luck. The Ravens could never solve Manning – and still couldn’t earlier in December – but this time it would be a different look and a different team coming from Indy. In 2011, a gimpy version of the Colts on the last legs of the Dungy era and the Jim Caldwell head coaching run, were shellacked 24-10 by the Ravens in Baltimore as quarterback Dan Orlovsky ran for his life amidst a purple swarm all afternoon. Orlovsky wouldn’t be running the show this time.

This time, Caldwell would be running the Ravens offense and the guy who was running the Baltimore defense in 2001 would be the head coach of the Colts. There were plenty of emotions with the return of Chuck Pagano to Baltimore and the quarterback prodigy of John Harbaugh’s brother, Jim, who groomed Luck at Stanford as head coach of the Cardinal, before Indianapolis and owner Jim Irsay made him the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in April 2012 after jettisoning Manning, who wound up in Denver.

Pagano had successfully battled leukemia over the previous three months, and the #Chuckstrong campaign in social media was as solid as the Colts had been on the field in his absence. During his absence, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians stabilized a youthful team around Luck. Indianapolis was the surprise team in the AFC with an 11-5 record, including 9-2 down the stretch. They had played a last-place schedule all year, but had been impressive throughout the year and brought a wave of emotion with them from the friendly heart of the Midwest as Pagano’s health and strength was a rallying point for them all season.

Pagano had believed it a cruel, strange twist of fate that he even got the Colts head coaching job the previous January. As the Ravens went down the field on the final Lee Evans-Billy Cundiff drive in Foxborough, Pagano was thinking that he was finally going to the Super Bowl.

“If we win that AFC Championship Game that would’ve put me two weeks further out and no coach can have any discussion about a job,” Pagano said. “I would venture to say that Indy would’ve had to get their guy in place and they had already interviewed with a bunch of guys. I don’t think that it would’ve happened for me with the Colts. I know there were more qualified candidates than me, guys they had talked to in the process.”

Instead, the Ravens suffered the agonizing defeat and Pagano got the Indy job the next day. “It’s crazy how fate and destiny works,” he said. “I thought I’d be going to Indy that week. I just had no idea it’d be to be coaching the Colts. I thought I’d be coaching the Ravens defense in the Super Bowl.”

Now, a cancer survivor in remission with thin strands of gray hair returning to his previously bald head, Pagano was back in Baltimore on the sidelines as the head coach of an NFL playoff team almost 12 months later. He was coming back to Baltimore in an attempt to end

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Chapter 6: The other Hall of Famer from The U…

Posted on 17 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

In my opinion, Ed Reed is the best safety to play the game. I tell him that to his face all the time. I truly believe it. I’ve studied him, and I’ve tried to incorporate things from his game into my game — a lot of it I’m not able to do. I learned the importance of film study from him. He is the prototype and what anyone would want at safety. People can say that you want big hits, but this game is about the ball. You can’t score without it. When you get someone back there who can get the ball, that’s what it’s all about.”

  – Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (Nov. 2011)

 

 

 

ON ANY OTHER TEAM, HE’D be the leader. In any other franchise, he’d be the one they talk about building a statue for and retiring his number when his time is through. But, in a franchise that Ray Lewis made famous, Ed Reed will always be the second-best and second-most important player from the Miami Hurricanes to wear the Ravens’ purple.

There’s a certain swagger that the ‘U’ represents for anyone that’s spent any time in Coral Gables and worked their way into the NFL through the family of ‘Canes. The dominance of that program over three decades brings attention to anyone who wears the green and orange. And for anyone who knows the legend of Luke Campbell and the infamous “30 For 30 Series” regarding “The U” there’s an inherent culture of football, winning, and boasting that goes along with a renegade image that’s not only emphasized, but embraced.

Ed Reed is complicated. And most think he likes it that way.

As much as the two will be linked, there will always be something that makes Ray Lewis feel more significant to the Ravens and Ravens fans than Ed Reed. For starters, Reed will wear another uniform in 2013 and Lewis never opted for or really had the opportunity to take that path. But Reed, working in the shadows of the vivid, public leadership of Lewis, will probably never get the credit or respect he fully deserves simply because he played alongside of a once-in-a-generation icon.

Ed is Scottie Pippen. Ray is Michael Jordan.

But for pound-for-pound excitement and impact on a game, you’d be hard pressed to find a more compelling figure other than Lewis in the entire NFL over the first decade of his career. His accomplishments at the position of safety might never be matched. And like Ray Lewis, when his time comes for the ballot to Canton and a Hall of Fame bust, Ed Reed will almost certainly be a first-year inductee, which is the highest individual honor that can be bestowed upon an NFL player.

He’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer yet he’ll always be “the other guy from Miami” who played for the Ravens and won a Super Bowl. It was easy to see the joy, relief, and energy that winning the Lombardi Trophy in his hometown of New Orleans brought to Reed in February 2013. It was an 11-year quest that was vindication for the native of St. Rose, just west of the big city along the Mississippi River.

Like many others on the Super Bowl XLVII champs, Reed fought adversity on his path from Destrahan High School in St. Charles Parish to Miami and onto Baltimore on his journey toward greatness while amassing wealth beyond his imagination.

Edward Earl Reed, Jr. was born September 11, 1978 in Jefferson, Louisiana and was always a great athlete. His dad, Ed Sr. was a welder and his mom, who worked at the local Walmart, had four other boys, and they all lived in a one-bedroom home.

By most accounts, Reed was a bit rambunctious and lacked focus in his teenage years yet teachers and coaches always saw a light

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Chapter 4: Ravens always begins with Ray

Posted on 14 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“”It’s simple: when God is for you, who can be against you?”

– Ray Lewis (February 2013)

 

 

 

 

CONFETTI. THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALWAYS been about for Ray Lewis. When researching anything related to football, winning the Super Bowl, or why he made it through 17 grueling seasons in the middle of the Baltimore Ravens defense, it all comes back to the sight of confetti.

Ray Lewis is obsessed with confetti.

The thought of standing once again amidst a storm of showering colors and happy teammates, while hoisting the glittery silver Lombardi Trophy one more time before riding off into the NFL sunset motivated one of the greatest linebackers of all time morning, noon, and night.

“I look at that face [against] the backdrop of the confetti,” Lewis said before Super Bowl XLVII of his old pictures from Tampa in 2001. “That’s the only thing that makes that face. I promised that I’d do everything in my power to see that confetti drop again.” And he never stopped telling his teammates about that image, about that feeling they would have when it happened for them.

You can’t tell the Ray Lewis story in one chapter. It’s worthy of a book all its own, and the story continues to be told and will be told for years to come as the Ravens try to replace an irreplaceable rock in their existence.

Ray Lewis came to Baltimore a fractured man child, whose best friend and University of Miami roommate Marlin Barnes was murdered just seven days before he was picked by Ozzie Newsome with the 26th pick of the 1996 NFL Draft. He was 20 years old. He leaves the Baltimore football field 17 years later as a living legend, a civic hero whose storybook journey has some sordid stories, bloodstains, pain, drama, redemption, passion as well as a pair of World Championships and parades. It is a story nothing short of a fairy tale with a storybook ending shared by his fans and the entire community on a cold day in February 2013.

Murders. Pain. Eternal search. Death. Championships. Women. Failure. Success. Leadership. God. Orange jumpsuit. Incarceration. Leadership. Charity. Football. Passion. Fire. Dominance. Hall of Fame. Mentoring. Winning. Losing. Crying. Parenting. Owning. Preaching. Praying. Dancing. Triumph. Lifting. Running.

The World According to Ray is not an easy story to tell…

He walked into the Ravens complex on his first day of work with a black and white jersey, reminiscent of the Mean Machine in the movie “The Longest Yard” – no logo, no markings, just like a Penn State warm up — to do pull-ups and asked “What’s the record?” Lionel Vital, then a Ravens scout, told him “Forty six.” Lewis took off his shirt, did 47 pull-ups and asked what the record was for the next exercise.

Less than four months later, wearing purple for the first time, he was clearly the best player on the field at Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street when the Ravens played against the Oakland Raiders in September 1996. You can measure his greatness by the stats, the games played, the two Super Bowl championships, and his first-ballot Hall of Fame induction that will no doubt fill Canton, Ohio with Ravens fans in August 2018. All of it would’ve been a story that Hollywood would never buy because it wouldn’t be believable, but to see Ray Lewis holding the Lombardi Trophy as his swan song in Baltimore was not only believable, but it was Ray’s final act of redemption on the field.

How rare and unique was it to see the greatest athlete in the history of his franchise, the greatest defensive player of his generation, end his career with the same team and do it winning a Super Bowl championship on the way out of Baltimore?

Even though he told head coach John Harbaugh months earlier that he was walking away from the NFL at year’s end, his teammates had no clue when he entered the Owings Mills facility on January 2, 2013 what was about to transpire. Ray Lewis was going to tell his team that he was done. Based on the reactions that day, they were as shocked as most of the media witnessing it

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Chapter 2: High Standards, Low Profile of Steve Bisciotti

Posted on 13 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

“Steve (Bisciotti) is straightforward and that makes it easy. He’s not a prima donna. He’s direct. He’s upfront. If there’s something he doesn’t like, he tells you. If he feels strongly about something, he tells you. There’s no secret agenda. There’s nothing you have to discover. Steve is a great believer in direct communication and he runs the business that way.”

— Baltimore Ravens President Dick Cass (March 2013)

 

IN MANY CITIES IN AMERICA the owners of sports franchises can still somehow stay or hide in the shadow of their local investment and create nary a stir when they enter a room. Being anonymous has its privileges and benefits, a thought Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti would certainly echo. But in Baltimore, where the owners of the local professional teams have been true newsmakers and iconoclasts for the better part of a half a century, owning the NFL franchise that a community treats like family or a personal treasure can be like carrying the collective weight of the civic mood on your shoulders.

Bisciotti did his best to remain a private citizen after taking over the Ravens from Arthur B. Modell in early 2004, but you can’t be invested in the most significant sports soap opera in the community and stand at the top of the pyramid making the most important decisions for the fan base without becoming a public figure of the highest order.

If you are a sports fan from Baltimore, Maryland, you have endured your fair share of abuse. In the 1970’s, the Baltimore Bullets were dragged down I-95 to the Washington suburbs by owner Abe Pollin, professional hockey went into hibernation with the Clippers and there were strong whispers of the Orioles going to D.C. to replace the departed Washington Senators. It got no better in the 1980’s. There was always the ominous and omnipresent shadow of Robert Irsay, the man who acquired the Baltimore Colts from Carroll Rosenbloom in a swap for the Los Angeles Rams in 1972 and later moved them to Indianapolis in a convoy of Mayflower moving trucks in the middle of a snowy, teary night for the Charm City on March 28, 1984 after a decade of tyranny and threats to the community of the inevitable move.

Since the turn of the century, both the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles fan bases’ have been tormented and tortured by disastrous moves on the field and big moves downward in the standings since the involvement of Daniel Snyder and Peter G. Angelos have fallen upon the I-95 corridor. These two have shined a bright light on what can go wrong when poor decisions are consistently being made from the top of the organization and how quickly decades of support for enduring brands can erode and deteriorate when fans and customers smell the stench of poor ownership.

The reality in the 21st century is that with the scarcity of teams available and the cost of buying a sports franchise for hundreds of millions of dollars, no one wants to pony up the kind of money to be an owner without having a strong desire to be heavily involved in strategy and a strong desire to win – whether it’s on the field or at the cash register. Many of these thrill seekers have lacked proper training, background and the feel for sports ownership especially with such a public light illuminating every decision that is made in real time on the internet. What sounds like fun in the beginning becomes an albatross and a public nuisance once it becomes apparent how specialized each league, sport and business is from an ownership standpoint.

It was no secret that Art Modell was struggling financially in Cleveland and those ghosts of burgeoning debt followed him east to Baltimore in 1996. By 1999, the NFL and his debtors with the banks demanded that he find a partner to buy the team and help him find the exit door with the class and dignity that his departure from Cleveland clearly lacked.

The same man who found Modell in Cleveland and brokered the deal for the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore in the Fall of 1995 was the same man who found a buyer four years later: local attorney and sports franchise expert John Moag. After Modell made the move to Baltimore, Moag became a trusted confidant and had all of the institutional knowledge that would be necessary to assist in finding a new owner for the Baltimore Ravens.

Moag knew Bisciotti and was privy to most of Modell’s financial struggles. The rest is history.

By any account, Steve Bisciotti is a sports nut. He’s long been a fiercely loyal University of Maryland supporter, close confidant of legendary Terps basketball head coach Gary Williams and a Ravens and Orioles season ticket holder at the time. At worst, he would’ve been a very educated sports radio talk show caller before he got involved in the purchase the Baltimore Ravens in 1999.

Bisciotti, born April 10, 1960 in Philadelphia, came to the Severna Park area of Anne Arundel County in 1961 when Bernard and Patricia Bisciotti moved from Philadelphia for Bernard’s new sales executive job. He was 8 years old when the Colts lost Super Bowl III to Joe Namath and the New York Jets. He was a huge Paul Blair fan during the heyday of the Earl Weaver-led Orioles in his adolescence. He journeyed with his friends up Richie Highway to Memorial Stadium in the 1970’s and loved the Bert Jones-era of the “Shake and Bake” Colts.

Bisciotti’s father died of leukemia when he was in elementary school leaving his sports-crazed widowed mother, who raised him by preaching faith, hard work, determination and manners. Nicknamed “Shots” by his college pals at Salisbury State, where he earned a Liberal Arts degree, Bisciotti became obsessed with making enough money by the age of 35 so that his wife and kids wouldn’t have to work if his father’s fate befell him. He had the early jobs of a kid who worked hard and learned the world: pumping gas, mowing lawns, and building piers in Anne Arundel County, where he graduated from Severna Park High School. He founded a staffing firm called Aerotek in his basement with $3,500 of seed money at age 23 during the Colts final season in Baltimore. He now owns a massive stake in Allegis

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Even at 4-5, Ravens remain in solid shape in mediocre wild-card race

Posted on 13 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Many continue to scoff at any mention of the Ravens’ chances in the AFC’s muddled wild-card race.

It’s understandable when focusing exclusively on a 4-5 team that has lost five of its last seven games and ranks last in the NFL in passing offense. A game below .500 less than two weeks from Thanksgiving, the Ravens epitomize mediocrity and hardly look like an outfit capable of going on a meaningful run when they haven’t even won back-to-back games in two months.

But if not the Ravens, who do you like in the race for the second wild card if we’re going to concede Tennessee and Jacksonville — both currently hold two-game leads and head-to-head tiebreakers over Baltimore — as playoff teams out of the AFC South?

Are you really a believer in the 5-4 Buffalo Bills, who just lost their last two games by a combined 50 points and still have two games against New England as well as a trip to Kansas City down the stretch?

Who will grab the final wild-card spot in the AFC?

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What about Miami, who enters Monday night sporting a minus-63 point differential and might have been the most fraudulent 4-2 team ever to come to M&T Bank Stadium a few weeks ago? Oh yeah, the Dolphins also have two games remaining with the Patriots as well as trips to Kansas City and Buffalo on their schedule.

Oakland might be the most talented team of the mediocre bunch vying for the No. 6 seed, but a 4-5 record, remaining games against New England, Kansas City, and Philadelphia, and three road games in four weeks to conclude the regular season create a hell of a mountain to climb. The Raiders will certainly deserve it if they’re the last team standing.

And, oh yeah, the Ravens own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Dolphins and the Raiders if it comes to that.

In contrast, Baltimore plays only three more teams currently sporting winning records. And one of those is deceiving with Brett Hundley now leading the way for Green Bay after Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury last month.

Four of the seven remaining contests come against teams with a backup or rookie currently playing quarterback.

Of course, the Ravens must show some improvement the rest of the way to take advantage of one of their most advantageous schedules in recent memory. It sounds great to say they could be favored in each of their remaining games aside from the Dec. 10 trip to Pittsburgh, but the Ravens have also played poorly enough at times this season to consider any of those a potential loss.

No, you don’t have to like the Ravens’ playoff chances to accept their odds being better than the other middling teams in the AFC pack. It’s just reality in a conference with little separation once you move past the three teams at the top.

The Ravens haven’t been a good team, but they may not have to be good to make the playoffs. They just have to be a smidge better than the rest of the mediocre bunch.

It couldn’t set up much better on paper for them to do that.

Time will tell if they’re capable enough to take advantage.

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Flacco back on practice field for Ravens

Posted on 01 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Less than a week after sustaining a concussion in the Week 8 win over Miami, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was back at practice on Wednesday after passing the NFL’s five-step protocol.

Wearing his usual black practice jersey signaling no contact, Flacco took snaps under center and threw passes as a full participant, leaving very little doubt about his availability for Sunday’s game at Tennessee. His appearance came a little over an hour after head coach John Harbaugh would not reveal whether Flacco would be on the field as the Ravens ramped up preparations for Tennessee.

Harbaugh told reporters Monday that the 10th-year quarterback had a “good chance” to play against the Titans and hadn’t been experiencing concussion-related symptoms. On Tuesday, the NFL announced Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso would not be suspended for his penalized hit that caused Flacco’s concussion, but the quarterback said his sole focus is on getting ready to play the Titans.

“I think [doctors and trainers] definitely side on being more cautious more than anything,” said Flacco, who told reporters that he began feeling better shortly after being taken to the locker room last Thursday. “If this was high school, I probably would have sat on the bench and gathered [my thoughts] for a couple minutes, then went back out there and played defense, you know? 

“But it’s just one of these things that you have to trust their judgment.”

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles), tight end Nick Boyle (toe), defensive tackle Michael Pierce (illness), wide receivers Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and Chris Matthews (thigh), and running back Terrance West (calf) did not participate in Wednesday’s session. Boyle’s absence in particular does create concern since the Ravens enjoyed an extended break over the weekend after the Thursday win over the Dolphins.

Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), starting offensive linemen Ryan Jensen (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), cornerback Lardarius Webb (concussion), and tight end Vince Mayle (concussion) were all participating on a limited basis while wearing red non-contact vests over their practice jerseys.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace (concussion), tight end Maxx Williams (ankle), and outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) all practiced fully after missing last week’s game. Maxx Williams has appeared in just one game since Sept. 17 while Tim Williams has missed each of the last three contests.

Running back Danny Woodhead (hamstring) was also on the field a day after being designated to return to practice from injured reserve. He is not eligible to be activated to play in a game until after next week’s bye.

Meanwhile, the Titans released a much shorter injury report with starting tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) being the most notable absence. Rookie first-round wide receiver Corey Davis (hamstring) was a full participant on Wednesday and is set to return after a five-game absence.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (toe), WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (thigh), DT Michael Pierce (illness), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), RB Terrance West (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Ryan Jensen (shoulder), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), TE Vince Mayle (concussion), OT Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), DB Lardarius Webb (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (concussion), WR Mike Wallace (concussion), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Quinton Spain (toe), TE Delanie Walker (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Jonathan Cyprien (hamstring), WR Corey Davis (hamstring)

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Flacco has “good chance” to play against Tennessee on Sunday

Posted on 30 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is not experiencing any concussion-related symptoms and has been at the team facility every day, head coach John Harbaugh said Monday.

That would appear to bode well for his availability Sunday against Tennessee after he sustained a concussion on a penalized hit by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso last Thursday. Baltimore will have its bye next week, but there are no plans to deliberately rest Flacco in Week 9 if he’s able to pass the NFL’s five-step concussion protocol in time to play.

“If he’s ready, he’s playing. He’ll play if he’s ready,” said Harbaugh, who added that it wouldn’t matter how much the 32-year-old would be able to practice during the week if he’s cleared by Sunday. “I think there’s a good chance he’ll play.

“As I’ve said before, I’m not a doctor, but I play one in press conferences. It’s my diagnosis.”

It remains unclear when Flacco will return to practice, but he’s expected to attend all football meetings when players reconvene Tuesday to begin preparations for the Titans. Upon reaching the fourth step of the recovery protocol, a concussed player may resume football activities including non-contact work during practices.

This is the first known concussion of Flacco’s career, but players can respond differently to blows to the head with varying timetables for recovery, leaving the Ravens in wait-and-see mode for the time being. The 10th-year quarterback also required stitches for a cut on his ear from his helmet flying off during the hit.

Backup Ryan Mallett relieved the injured Flacco late in the first half of the 40-0 win over the Dolphins, tossing a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Benjamin Watson. He would start on Sunday if Flacco does not progress through the protocol as rapidly as the Ravens anticipate.

“We’re very hopeful for this week, and it’ll be in the hands of Joe and the doctors to decide what we can do,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll get him ready to play if he can play. That’s all you really can do.”

Flacco has missed only six games in his career, which all occurred when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2015. However, he was sidelined for the entire 2017 preseason due to a lower back injury suffered in July.

Despite presenting an encouraging report Monday, Harbaugh isn’t taking Flacco’s recovery and health for granted.

“I don’t want to minimize what went down with Joe,” Harbaugh said. “I thought that was a very vicious type of hit. He was definitely defenseless and couldn’t protect himself. Therefore, he got his ear sliced open and he got hit in the head. You never minimize that.

“He is an extremely tough person.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 40-0 win over Miami

Posted on 29 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning the third-largest margin of victory in franchise history and their second shutout of the season in a 40-0 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Will the real Ravens stand up? After close games were the theme of the last few seasons, all but two of eight contests have been decided by multiple scores and one of those came on a garbage-time touchdown in Minnesota on the game’s final play. It’s more volatility than mediocrity.

2. The Baltimore defense gave up a 21-yard run to Jay Ajayi on the second play of the game and surrendered 24 more yards on 18 carries the rest of the way. Dean Pees effectively used run blitzes, and players tackled better than they had in weeks. It was about time.

3. I’d be more willing to listen to the argument that Joe Flacco started his slide late if Kiko Alonso had shown any semblance of an effort to divert his path to the quarterback. The hit was reckless at best and malicious at worst.

4. Ryan Jensen earned quite a few fans after coming to the defense of his quarterback by immediately going after Alonso. I’m not big on retaliation in most instances, but an offensive lineman has to stick up for the most important player on the team after a hit like that.

5. You never want your quarterback sustaining a concussion, but you wonder if something like this galvanizes John Harbaugh’s team moving forward. The Ravens haven’t played with nearly the same edge in recent years as they used to, and being ticked off can be a good thing if properly channeled.

6. The secondary showed several looks, but my favorite was Marlon Humphrey entering the game as an outside corner in the nickel with Brandon Carr moving to the slot. The rookie first-rounder played 37 of 66 snaps and needs to remain heavily involved no matter the status of the veteran starters.

7. I had to smile seeing C.J. Mosley protect the ball with both arms as he crossed the goal line on his interception return. He wasn’t going to repeat what happened against Washington last year. You have to appreciate someone learning from a mistake.

8. Not that the offense was lighting it up before Flacco’s exit, but the previous two weeks showed how critical it is for Jeremy Maclin to be on the field for the passing game to even be functional. His 34-yard touchdown reception came on Flacco’s prettiest throw of the season.

9. Breshad Perriman didn’t have a catch despite playing 49 offensive snaps. He has four receptions on 19 targets — one more catch than Danny Woodhead — despite ranking fifth in snaps among all Ravens skill players. His dramatic regression from 2016 when he was at least a contributor is impossible to ignore.

10. Despite dealing with Achilles tendinitis, Jimmy Smith is playing his best football since at least the first half of the 2014 season and entered Sunday as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest graded cornerback. Even if you take away his two defensive touchdowns this season, he’s still been terrific.

11. The Dolphins have won 13 of their last 18 regular-season games, but that stretch includes two losses to the Ravens by a combined 78-6 margin. Talk about having a team’s number. Counting the playoffs, Baltimore is now 7-1 against Miami in the Harbaugh era.

12. Compared to other teams’ editions of “Color Rush” uniforms, the all-purple look is relatively easy on the eyes. I’d even be curious to see how the purple pants look with the white and black jerseys.

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