Tag Archive | "Mike Tomlin"

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Playing Willy Wonka in America for a week for the German man who saved my wife’s life with bone marrow

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

Now that it’s taken me a few days to recover from my mystery surprise vacation, it’s time to come clean on how all of the elements of the #NielsInTheUSA tour came together during his epic, whirlwind week of travel across the continent in search of Dirk Nowitzki.

The more we posted pictures from various places and with many friends, celebrities and people involved in Jenn’s fight for her life in battling leukemia, the more questions folks had about the journey.

All of it was a secret for him. It was designed that way because he told us he loves surprises. It was also his dream trip to America – the first time he’d traveled outside of Europe.

It all began with his initial letter, which we received on August 7, 2014 – just 42 days after he anonymously donated his bone marrow to Jenn from Germany that saved her life on June 26, 2014. Read the letter here: http://wnst.net/wnst/jennstrong-receives-the-greatest-life-and-love-letter-ever-written-from-germany/

WARNING: If you do not click on the above link and read the letter, you’ll miss the whole point of everything you’re about to read and you’ll never understand what you witnessed in pictures earlier in November. Please read it before you proceed…

(Yes, really!)

You’ll be glad you did…

***

German law states that donors must wait two years before they can be introduced to a survivor. We knew in August 2014 that Jenn would have to survive and thrive for the next 22 months in order to meet him.

As many of you know, Jenn’s leukemia returned last September and she needed her still-anonymous initial donor to once again give his lymphocytes to save her life on Nov. 19, 2015. This was our best shot to cure her cancer through an awful process known as “graft vs. host disease,” which she has spent much of this calendar year experiencing most of the gruesome aftershocks of her survival last winter.

On the afternoon of June 30th, we received an email from our John Hopkins transplant coordinator with the name of the angel who saved her life.

For two years we only knew that he was male, from Germany and 21 at the time of his donation of bone marrow to save a stranger’s life in America. All he knew was that it was a 41-year old woman in America he was trying to save with his blood.

His name was Niels Domogalla, now 23, and he lives in Witten, Germany. Despite having his email address, Jenn and I dove onto the internet and she found him on Facebook within 30 seconds.

She friended him. I friended him. We both began to write short letters of introduction but before we could finish them he had already friended us both back and had commented on our walls.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon in America. It was 10:30 in the evening in Germany.

And, so, a unique friendship was berthed.

And what, exactly, do you say to a person who saved your life?

 

***

 

It didn’t take us long to realize that this was a special and unique young man in Germany. First, he really was concerned about the quality and the grammar of his English. He speaks parts of four languages and his English is about 96% perfect, which is better than …

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Trade deadline passes without any action from Ravens

Posted on 01 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The NFL trade deadline passed without the Ravens — or any other team — making a deal of significance on Tuesday.

After Monday’s surprising trade of New England linebacker Jamie Collins to Cleveland, the final hours leading up to the 4 p.m. deadline were unsurprisingly quiet. With just under $3 million in salary cap room, Baltimore wasn’t in a great position to make a significant move.

Former Raven Torrey Smith was rumored to be on the trading block in recent days, but the San Francisco wide receiver and University of Maryland product is staying put with the 49ers, who are off to a 1-6 start.

All attention now moves to the practice field with the Ravens welcoming Pittsburgh to town for a critical AFC North tilt on Sunday. Baltimore hopes to welcome several injured players back to game action this week, a list including linebackers Terrell Suggs (biceps) and C.J. Mosley (hamstring), wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle), and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (foot).

The first injury report of the week will be released on Wednesday.

The big story for the Steelers is the status of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who underwent surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee on Oct. 17. The 34-year-old practiced on a limited basis on Monday and did some light on-field work during Pittsburgh’s bye week.

“I thought it was generally positive,” Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters in Pittsburgh on Tuesday. “We hadn’t spent a lot of time analyzing it or talking about it at this juncture. Really, it’s been giving him the work and him taking the work. And he’s done a really good job with it.”

Should Roethlisberger not play, backup Landry Jones would make his second straight start. Head coach John Harbaugh said Monday that the Ravens would prepare this week as though the starter would play and added that the Steelers offensive system doesn’t change dramatically with Jones under center anyway.

On Tuesday, the Ravens released running back Stephen Houston from their practice squad. With Lorenzo Taliaferro being activated in Week 7, Baltimore has four running backs on its 53-man roster, diminishing the need to keep Houston in the organization.

After placing star running back Jamaal Charles on injured reserve, Kansas City worked out former Ravens running back Trent Richardson on Tuesday, according to ESPN. The former first-round pick of the Browns was released by Baltimore early in training camp after struggling to stay healthy this spring and undergoing knee surgery.

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Great news on saving lives and “An Evening of Heroes: Champions and Survivors” is set for May 19th

Posted on 04 March 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

Great news on saving lives and “An Evening of Heroes: Champions and Survivors” is set for May 19th

I got an email on Thursday afternoon from our friends and partners at There Goes My Hero with an update on our work from last year’s 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit Tour and our other Baltimore area swabbing events. I’d like to share it with you:

 

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It’s very gratifying to see the fruits of our labor and the real, life-saving “scoreboard” that’s starting to mount with There Goes My Hero in just the first full year of our efforts to pay forward the incredible generosity of my wife’s 22-year old donor from Germany. We’re still a few months away from being able to meet the man who has saved Jenn’s life twice since June 2014, but we’re already generating the warmth and pride that comes with doing our part to help others in the future.

Last year, we honored Chuck Pagano, Dick Cass and Brenda Frese for their stories and the bravery of their families through the journey of saving lives on the Thursday before the Preakness. When the event was over, my friends and family and sponsors all asked if we were planning on making it an annual event. I always dream big but – honestly, how do you top that head table of heroes?

Pagano survived leukemia and has now coached my wife through two battles with the same disease.

Cass saved a college friend’s life with a kidney a decade ago.

And many are familiar with Frese’s son, Tyler, who battled leukemia for much of his childhood and is now a healthy, happy little boy running around chasing the Lady Terps on another March journey.

But I have since learned that inspiration is all around us. We just need to look for it!

When Jenn survived her first cancer battle, Ravens Director of Player Engagement Harry Swayne grabbed me in the hallway in Owings Mills. “Did you know James Trapp had the same battle as your wife,” he told me. Sure, enough, the Ravens special teams captain in Super Bowl XXXV was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010 and had his life saved by a bone marrow transplant from his sister, who was a perfect match.

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Trapp is now the Assistant Director of Player Engagement for the Buffalo Bills and his head coach that day in Tampa is my WNST business partner Brian Billick, who bought part of our company to benefit the Living Classrooms Foundation. I knew we had the foundation of something special if I engaged some of his teammates from that 2001 Super Bowl win.

Back in August, I saw John Harbaugh and Billick together on the field in Owings Mills as the old championship coach was addressing the newer championship coach’s team and I saw them embrace. I’m pretty sure the two have never been publicly seen in the same place at the same time. And they certainly have never been engaged in that kind of setting and forum to compare and contrast their mutually loved Baltimore championships.

Three weeks later, Jenn and I saw this on HBO’s Real Sports:

I reached to Ma’ake in January, once my wife was getting better after spending most of three months in Johns Hopkins fighting leukemia again, and he and his brother are excited to be joining us on May 19th the Baltimore Harbor Hotel to raise awareness for There Goes My Hero.

By the way, Ma’ake said that Dick Cass was one of the first people to call him to give him some comfort that he’d be OK after the procdure to save Chris’ life.

Then, there was the call to Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, whom I’ve strangely befriended along life’s twisted highway. I wrote about it when I did a mini-series on our 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit Tour last summer. You can read my whole “back story” with Tomlin here.

Tomlin text me back immediately: “I’m two feet in…”

He then mentioned something about needing security. LOL!

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So, on Thursday, May 19th we’ll all gather – fierce foes on the football field and the stands but united for an evening of civility to discuss the journey and paths of these six men: coaches, heroes and survivors. Obviously, the Pittsburgh vs. Baltimore rivalry will set a backdrop. But remember: there’s a story of a Raven saving a Steeler on stage with us, a brother giving a kidney to save a brother’s life. And a sister who saved a brother. And the audience will be peppered with people like my wife, who’ve had their lives saved by complete strangers.

That’s what this is all about!

I hope you join us and bring along some friends for “An Evening of Heroes: Survivors and Champions.

We hope to make this an annual event to benefit There Goes My Hero every third Thursday of May.

Tickets are on sale now. We have discounted single tickets through THIS MONDAY ONLY!!! Regular price will be $150 each but it’s just $125 for the early birds who want to commit to joining us.

If you are a business owner, I’m sweetening the pot with a free month of gold-level advertising on WNST.net & AM 1570 for all local shops who buy tables.

And if you have any questions or need me: nasty@wnst.net always finds me via email. Save the date and help us save more lives via our friends at There Goes My Hero.

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Upset proves Ravens-Steelers rivalry not going anywhere

Posted on 27 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — After receiving a season’s worth of coal, the Ravens handed some to Pittsburgh two days after Christmas to put their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy.

The 20-17 victory over their arch rival doesn’t wipe away the disappointment of a lost year, but a season sweep and potentially knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs?

That sounds pretty sweet to the Ravens, especially when few gave them a chance against an offense that had scored 30 or more points in six straight games. And as much as they tried to downplay it during the week, the Ravens wanted nothing more than to prevent their AFC North counterpart from clinching a playoff berth at M&T Bank Stadium.

“If we can’t get in there, then you can’t get in, either,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “Exactly that’s how we want it.”

We know misery loves company, but Ravens fans have heard for years about “tainted” victories over the Steelers on several occasions when Ben Roethlisberger was out of the lineup. Pittsburgh fans taunted them when graybeard backup Charlie Batch led the Steelers to a December victory in Baltimore in 2012 — even if the Ravens still went on to win the Super Bowl two months later.

On Sunday, Pittsburgh was facing a Ravens team without quarterback Joe Flacco and 19 other players who were officially out for the season. And the Steelers lost to Baltimore’s fourth starting quarterback of the season as Ryan Mallett will now go down in rivalry lore, especially if the New York Jets win at Buffalo next week to officially knock Pittsburgh out of the playoffs.

Yes, the Ravens are still 5-10 and hurt their draft position with Sunday’s win, but simply holding a lead for four quarters — they had led at the conclusion of just 14 of 58 periods of play this season entering Week 16 — was a pleasant diversion in a frustrating season. The fact that it came against the Steelers made it that much sweeter.

“The lead is important. I think we had maybe 10 points on turnovers,” said head coach John Harbaugh, who directed the Ravens to the third season sweep of Pittsburgh in the 20-year history of the franchise. “We didn’t give up any points on turnovers. That’s winning football. That’s the way we want to play, and to me, that’s a blueprint for us going forward. Now we have to try to replicate that blueprint.”

What this win really means for the future is anyone’s guess. As impressive as Mallett’s performance was less than two weeks after signing a contract, the Ravens hope the Week 17 finale in Cincinnati will be the last time he’ll have to play if Flacco is healthy for the start of the 2016 season.

You hope that young players like Buck Allen and Za’Darius Smith learned valuable lessons from the upset victory, but many players involved in Sunday’s game are unlikely to be in the picture moving forward.

If nothing else, it was a fun three-hour diversion from a nightmare season. This time, the Ravens were able to create a nightmare for someone else.

“It definitely feels special today,” wide receiver Kamar Aiken said. “Keeping them out of the playoffs, and just being able to sweep them this year. They didn’t get a win this year. It’s always good when you beat Pittsburgh.”

Sunday’s upset reminded us that Ravens-Steelers isn’t going anywhere. It’s true that the rivalry has lost some luster in recent years, but how could it not with future Hall of Fame players like Ray Lewis and Hines Ward and Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu no longer in the picture?

As division rivals playing at least twice a year, the Ravens and Steelers have proven over and over again that anything can happen, regardless of what the numbers tell you before they meet. Counting the playoffs, Baltimore has won five of the last six games between these teams, but 12 of the 16 regular-season meetings in the Harbaugh era have been decided by three or fewer points.

With the Ravens long out of playoff contention, more Steelers fans than normal made their way into the stadium on Sunday, but that only challenged the home fans to be louder than they’d been all year, creating an atmosphere reminiscent of high-stakes meetings of the past.

It may no longer be the hottest matchup in the NFL, but Baltimore-Pittsburgh has become a legacy rivalry that will endure those rare times when one or both teams are down. The organizations are two of the best in the NFL, making a win over the other special no matter what their records might be in a given season.

The Ravens hope that Sunday’s win will be a springboard into better fortunes in 2016.

“To sweep Pittsburgh is a very valuable thing,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a very meaningful thing. And this team accomplished that. When you have failure in life, sometimes woven into the failure are great successes and great wins.”

And through that surprising Week 16 success, the Ravens could take joy in handing the Steelers some failure that could doom their own season.

Petty or not, that’s what a great rivalry is all about.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 27 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As the Pittsburgh Steelers hope to punch their ticket to the playoffs on Sunday, the Ravens will feature their fourth starting quarterback in the last six weeks.

After being signed less than two weeks ago, fifth-year quarterback Ryan Mallett will start as the Ravens continue to evaluate him for 2016. General manager Ozzie Newsome signed Mallett through next season with visions of him serving as the backup behind a healthy Joe Flacco.

He will be backed up by Matt Schaub after Jimmy Clausen started each of the last two weeks for the Ravens and was deactivated for Sunday’s game. Schaub started the first two games after Flacco’s season-ending knee injury on Nov. 22, but the veteran had been sidelined with a chest injury the last two weeks.

The only other surprise among the Baltimore inactives was cornerback Jumal Rolle, who filled in as the No. 3 cornerback in the nickel package last week when Jimmy Smith exited with a hamstring injury. Smith is active after being listed as probable on the final injury report this week.

Linebacker Albert McClellan (ankle) will miss his second straight game after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report and missing practice all week. Newly-signed linebacker Chris Carter will make his Ravens debut and is expected to play special teams.

Former Ravens returner and wide receiver Jacoby Jones is inactive for Pittsburgh for the third straight game after being benched for fumbling concerns earlier this month. Jones visited with former teammates on the field a couple hours before kickoff.

These teams are meeting for the 40th time in the regular season with the Steelers leading 28-18 but holding a 9-10 record in Baltimore. However, the Ravens are looking for just the third season sweep of Pittsburgh in franchise history after previously doing it in 2006 and 2011.

John Harbaugh’s team is also trying to avoid its third straight loss at home. The Ravens have lost three straight home games only two other times — 1999 and 2007 — in their 20-year history. Baltimore lost four straight home contests in the midst of a nine-game losing streak in 2007, which was Brian Billick’s final season.

The forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching 70 degrees with a small chance for precipitation and winds up to 13 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Referee Craig Wrolstad and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game.

The Ravens are wearing black jerseys with white pants while Pittsburgh dons its white tops with yellow pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Jimmy Clausen
WR Marlon Brown
RB Terrence Magee
CB Jumal Rolle
CB Jermaine Whitehead
LB Albert McClellan
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore

PITTSBURGH
QB Mike Vick
OT Byron Stingily
DE L.T. Walton
RB Jordan Todman
WR Sammie Coates
LB Anthony Chickillo
WR Jacoby Jones

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 26 December 2015 by Luke Jones

“The night is darkest just before the dawn.”

Recently adding to Harvey Dent’s sentiment expressed in “The Dark Knight” movie was injured Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who told the team’s official website that watching this season is like “being in Bane’s prison with your back broken, watching the city in turmoil.”

That dawn — or an escape — doesn’t figure to come Sunday as the 4-10 Ravens welcome their hated AFC North rivals to town. Not only do the Pittsburgh Steelers have an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win and a New York Jets loss, but their fans could take over M&T Bank Stadium in a manner we haven’t seen in Baltimore in a long time. Based on the higher-than-normal volume of visiting fans in town over the last two weeks, that scenario appears likely for the final home game of the 2015 season.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said this week that he couldn’t care less about the possibility of punching a ticket to the playoffs in Baltimore, but you know there’s little Pittsburgh would like more than to further embarrass their rivals when they’re down.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 40th in their regular-season history with Pittsburgh holding a 21-18 advantage, but 13 of the 18 games — including the postseason — in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by one possession, which includes the Ravens’ 23-20 overtime win at Heinz Field in Week 4. The Ravens are 10-9 against the Steelers in Baltimore.

Here’s what to expects as the Ravens try to win just their third home game of 2015 …

(Editor’s note: A report early Sunday morning indicated that Ryan Mallett will start against the Steelers, allowing the reader to skip to the No. 2 prediction.)

1. Jimmy Clausen will start and play respectably against one of the league’s worst pass defenses. Harbaugh and Marc Trestman have left the door open for Ryan Mallett to make his first start, but it’s difficult imagining him truly being ready with less than two weeks to learn the system and it makes little sense throwing him into such a difficult setting. Meanwhile, Clausen has played well enough in his first two starts to make you think he can make some plays against Pittsburgh’s 31st-ranked pass defense. The Ravens offense lacks the pieces to score many points, but Clausen’s developing chemistry with Kamar Aiken will allow them to at least move the chains on Sunday.

2. Jimmy Smith will intercept a pass, but Antonio Brown will catch a touchdown and post over 100 receiving yards. The fifth-year cornerback being listed as probable is good news, but it’s not as though the pass defense has thrived with Smith, who has disappointed coming off last year’s Lisfranc injury. The Ravens have one interception in the last three months — Lardarius Webb picked off Blake Bortles on Nov. 15 — and Smith will intercept Ben Roethlisberger in the first half. However, he’ll be no match for Brown as he eclipses the century mark in receiving yards for the fifth time in seven games. There are just too many weapons for Pittsburgh and not enough talent in the Ravens secondary.

3. Buck Allen will redeem himself from Week 15 with 115 yards from scrimmage. I wasn’t a fan of Harbaugh’s treatment of the rookie running back after his first-quarter fumble, but the coach indicated that Allen’s bench won’t carry over. The Steelers remain stout against the run, but their linebackers are poor in pass coverage, which should open up opportunities for Allen to catch passes out of the backfield. With Pittsburgh expected to score plenty of points and the Ravens likely playing from behind, Clausen will find Allen as a nice safety valve out of the backfield to help move the chains and the 2015 fourth-round pick will put the memory of the last two weeks behind him with a strong day.

4. Ben Roethlisberger will throw for over 300 yards for the sixth time in the last seven games. It’s hard to believe there was a time when the Pittsburgh quarterback was considered much more of a game manager, but the only thing to consistently stop him in 2015 has been injuries as Roethlisberger continues to put up big numbers. The Ravens will try to exploit Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, but the pass rush just isn’t good enough and the veteran signal-caller will be more than willing to roll out to his right and wait for his receivers to get open down the field. It will be a far cry from Week 4 when the Ravens were able to bottle up Mike Vick for most of the evening.

5. The Ravens will keep it close in the first half before Pittsburgh pulls away in a 31-13 final. Baltimore was competitive early against Seattle and Kansas City, but the resiliency and talent just aren’t there to overcome a turnover, a big penalty, or a gut-wrenching play by the opposition at this point. The Steelers have won three straight and have reached the 30-point mark in their last six contests, making them arguably the biggest AFC threat to New England should they reach the postseason. It’s easy to say it’s a Ravens-Steelers game and anything could happen, but do we really even recognize this Baltimore team at this point? Considering what’s at stake for Pittsburgh, the Ravens winning on Sunday would be one of the biggest upsets in the 20-year history of the franchise.

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Ravens take step forward by capitalizing on good fortune

Posted on 02 October 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens didn’t save their season on Thursday night, but Justin Tucker’s 52-yard field goal to top Pittsburgh in overtime was the claw of a hammer loosening the nails of their coffin.

An 0-3 team is never fixed with a single win, but the 23-20 victory over the Steelers was a step in the right direction. Though far from exceptional, the Ravens were just good enough to capitalize on some luck as well as critical mistakes by their AFC North rival.

And that’s progress after a September from hell that resulted in the worst start in franchise history.

“We know where we’re at. We know what we have to overcome,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You can’t get two [wins] until you get one. This one was a long time coming. We’re happy to get it.”

Baltimore’s biggest stroke of good fortune came last Sunday when Ben Roethlisberger injured his knee in St. Louis, leaving the quarterbacking duties to Mike Vick on Thursday. The 35-year-old backup may not have lost the game for Pittsburgh, but he did nothing to help his team over the final 30 minutes of play on Thursday night.

Amazingly, the Steelers coaching staff kept putting the ball in his hands as he twice failed to convert fourth downs in overtime — one as a runner and another on an errant throw to All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown. How Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley didn’t give the ball to Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell — who became the first to eclipse the century mark on the ground against the Ravens defense in 30 games — in either situation is still a head-scratcher.

But the Ravens took advantage despite questionable fourth-down decisions of their own and injuries to Steve Smith and Michael Campanaro that left them with a receiving trio of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and rookie Darren Waller down the stretch. Joe Flacco shook off two costly turnovers earlier in the game to do just enough to make it work.

A defense heavily criticized for its inability to get off the field this season made several key stops, including a three-and-out late in regulation that gave Flacco and the offense a chance to drive 45 yards in the final minute to set up Tucker to make the game-tying 42-yard field goal. The secondary remains a major concern, but a pair of critical tackles by safety Will Hill in overtime and solid play from newly-acquired cornerback Will Davis were positives on which to build for a struggling unit.

The most encouraging development from Thursday’s win was the revitalization of the Ravens’ ground attack as Justin Forsett rushed for a game-high 150 yards on 27 carries. Largely ineffective in the first three weeks, the running game resembled what we saw under Gary Kubiak a year ago. With injuries at receiver and tight end and a shortage of playmakers on which Flacco can rely, the Ravens’ best hope to turn their season around will be to move the ball consistently on the ground and they did just that against a good run defense.

After mistakes, questionable decisions, and close calls for both sides throughout the night, the outcome of the game ultimately came down to which team had the better kicker. While Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin lost all confidence in Josh Scobee after two misses in the final three minutes of regulation and chose to go for two fourth downs in Baltimore territory in overtime, the Ravens once again enjoyed having the best kicker in the NFL.

Tucker’s 52-yard game-winner with 5:08 left in overtime was the latest kick that will allow the free-agent-to-be to put his feet up on owner Steve Bisciotti’s desk in the same way Flacco did before being paid a few years ago. Since arriving as a rookie free agent in 2012, Tucker has done everything you could ask to become the league’s highest-paid kicker and the Ravens have no choice but to reward him sooner rather than later.

They got a close look at the opposite side of the spectrum with Scobee’s misses and the Steelers’ lack of confidence in him that led to strategic changes that the Ravens took advantage of.

“In this league, most games come down to three points,” Harbaugh said. “We have a great kicker.”

Having a great kicker — and the Steelers lacking one — was the ultimate difference between the Ravens being 1-3 as opposed to 0-4 at the end of the night on Thursday. Now, they’ll feel much better about themselves as they rest up and hope for a number of injuries to heal up over the weekend before coming home to play Cleveland a week from Sunday.

Thursday’s win provided a brief exhale, but the Ravens still have a long way to go to save their season.

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Part 2: Life On The Road, 30 Days of #GiveASpit and baseball (The journey)

Posted on 10 September 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

 

“It ain’t never been done ‘cause we ain’t ever done it.

You’ve got to stop thinking so negative, son!”

Bo “Bandit” Darville

(as performed by Burt Reynolds)

Smokey & The Bandit

 

 

ONCE THE TRIP WAS FINALIZED and it was decided that I’d be flying more than originally planned, the only real concerns we had about the voyage were the not-so-remote chances of some catastrophic weather or travel issues that could derail the goal: getting to 30 MLB games in 30 days without interruption or too much drama.

We also couldn’t afford to get sick or injured. Carrying bags around the continent would suck with a bad back or a bum foot. As we learned in 2014, your health is everything!

Would all the planes arrive on time? Would weather cooperate? Clearly, a few poorly timed storms and the trip would be a mess. You can only truly plan so much and then fate determines the outcome.

And if you’ve listened to my radio show at any point over the past quarter of a century, you know that I despise rain delays. Nothing good happens when it rains in baseball.

I’ve dedicated some time on the radio over the past few months discussing the trip and some of the comedy, drama and sights I saw on my unique journey. Most of my guests along the route joined me afterward to talk about it on the radio.

I’ve also joked that no one prepared me for 30 straight days of airplanes, airports, hotels, stadiums, restaurants and their various brands of cheap toilet paper.

There were many statistics and “over and under” side bets I was making with my wife on the 30-30 trip regarding beer consumed, hot dogs inhaled, hangovers, bad hotel pillows, crappy showers, lost/forgotten items, etc. And as much as we prepared to travel light and packed as little as we’d need, we never thought we’d really succeed in our goal of never having to check a bag for 30 days. But, miraculously, I literally lived out of one suitcase, one backpack and carted a giant cotton swab “prop” in a long tube through every TSA checkpoint in the United States. (By the way, TSA Pre is a wonderful thing!)

Toward the end of the 30-day journey, most mornings I was torn by an extreme coffee situation. I’m a coffee nerd but it became a daily decision about whether to caffeinate before a flight at 5 a.m. (and not sleep) or afterward, in the next airport or city after a plane nap.

And there were several days at the end where I was extremely loopy and working on three or four hours of sleep and moving from hotel bed to shower to car to highway to parking garage to shuttle to TSA to gate to plane to seats to sleep…

Some days – like in Dallas, San Diego and Denver – I was running on fumes and took a few hours to sleep. In others, like Los Angeles and Milwaukee, we were full of energy and put almost 20,000 steps on my wife’s Fit Bit.

You can see my 30 ballpark rankings here at WNST.net but to be honest there are no truly awful experiences in Major League Baseball in regard to stadiums. And the beauty is all in the eye of the beholder. As I wrote in my preview blog for the rankings, many of these stadiums – or is it stadia? – provide a pretty similar experience. Whether it’s hot dog races, presidents or sausages, it’s all kinda the same thing. They all do “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” in the 7th inning. They all bluster “God Bless America” every night. They all have “walk up” music for individual players.

Most have the most annoying item in modern sports – the P.A. or music or scoreboard imploring the crowd to “make some noise” with various cues and sounds. Nothing more cheeseball than that.

Every team has a team of people trying to make the “game day experience” something memorable. Every team wants to do something special when you come to the ballpark to lure you back and attract you as a lifer baseball fan.

Or at least they should.

But that part is a mixed bag – market to market, team to team, brand to brand.

Some teams always win. Some teams almost never win.

Some have vibrant fan bases. Many are a distant second citizen to the NFL.

Some teams treated me well. Some treated me like garbage.

Certain ballparks have a “wow” factor and some don’t. Some have good teams right now and some are in the midst of having awful seasons this summer so the experience wasn’t as rich. Seeing Toronto or the New York Mets in September would be far different than having seeing them in June. And seeing Houston and Kansas City this June was far different than anything they’ve seen in those ballparks in many Junes.

I had some “wow” moments and memories of my own on this tour and that’s what the rest of this essay is about: the stuff that’s worth telling you about.

Let’s start with the MVP of the 30-30 MLB #GiveASpit tour: artist Mike Ricigliano. The skinny dude with the funny hats has been drawing cartoons of me (and virtually everyone else in the sports world) in Baltimore for 30 years. I met him at The News American in 1984 on the weekend my son was born. He’s one of the enduring friends in my life and we’ve had a lot of laughs over the years. His son was originally responsible for dubbing me “Nasty Nestor.”

Here’e the story of the giant cotton swab – the enduring item from the 30-30 #GiveASpit tour.

On April 8th, I attended a Washington Capitals game with an NHL fan from Edmonton, Alberta named Rob Suggitt – a kindred spirit in hockey fandom.

While Caps Senior Manager of Community Relations Peter Robinson was giving Suggitt an incredible tour of the Verizon Center on the 27th night of his 30 rinks in 30 days mission for Make A Wish, I was telling them about my similarly arranged baseball tour.  Robinson said: “You should get a giant cotton swab and take it everywhere you go! That would help you get people on the registry.”

You know what?

He was right.

By request, Ricig made the fabulous cotton swab that started in the hands of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson from Rush along with Randy Johnson the night before the tour started.

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It was an instant hit at the United Center in Chicago that night.

Every stadium we swabbed in – except Minnesota – we had Ricig’s giant cotton swab leading the way to get folks to our booth to learn about the bone marrow registry and get on the list for There Goes My Hero and Delete Blood Cancer.

Some of the looks we got from fans were priceless. Dude in pink shirt waving giant cotton swab in stadium bowl! But it was a lightning rod to get folks to our table for education, swabbing and success.

It also caused some attention we didn’t want. We were pulled up by Comerica Park security in Detroit and forced to take it to the car. They thought it was a weapon. I told them it was a weapon to save lives.

The gate agent at the St. Louis airport forced us to check it on a one-hour flight to Milwaukee but “The Swab” made it successfully onto 21 other flights in 30 days on the road. I guess if you get on airplanes every morning with a third carry on that’s a giant Q Tip, eventually you’ll encounter the wicked witch of Southwest.

People have repeatedly asked me what the highlights of the tour were over the 32 days on the road. It’s impossible to recount everything we saw and every person who was kind to us but I hope this essay captures the essence of

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Webb primed to make 2014 season debut against Steelers

Posted on 10 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After nearly two weeks of practice to get himself in playing shape, Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb appears primed to make his 2014 season debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night.

The sixth-year defensive back has been practicing fully since last week, but it was just a matter of shaking off rust and logging some field time after missing nearly all of training camp. Webb was stricken with back spasms on the second day of full-squad workouts on July 25 and did not return to practice until Aug. 30.

“I’m ready to get it going,” Webb said on Tuesday. “Who better than Pittsburgh? I’m ready. I’m feeling good. I’m just ready to get out there and get everything going and just play some football.”

Webb went through a pre-game workout prior to last Sunday’s season opener against Cincinnati, but the Ravens elected to hold him out with better thoughts toward Week 2 being on a short week. If fully healthy and ready, Webb will clearly start opposite Jimmy Smith in the base defense, but it remains to be seen how the Ravens might use him in the nickel package.

Over the course of his career, Webb has been more dynamic covering the slot and playing inside in the nickel package, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees will need to decide whether he wants to use Chykie Brown on the outside as the No. 3 corner or Asa Jackson, who is also better suited to play inside. Last year, Pees used Webb and former Raven Corey Graham both inside and outside, but the Ravens are far less settled in their secondary this season.

After Webb underwent sports hernia surgery early in the offseason and then missed all of training camp, the Steelers will surely test Webb’s ability in coverage as well as his stamina with so little practice time under his belt since spring organized team activities. And the veteran cornerback is fine with having a target on his back, expecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw in his direction early and often.

“I would, wouldn’t you?” Webb said. “That’s a good thing, because they don’t know how hurt I was. I hope they do [test me].”

The Baltimore defense certainly hopes Webb’s return will bring more stability to a secondary that allowed 301 passing yards in the Week 1 loss to the Bengals.

Suggs sends message to Tomlin

Never one to shy away from the theatrical side of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh rivalry, linebacker Terrell Suggs walked to the podium with a clear message for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday.

Sporting a t-shirt (below) with the words “We Will Never Forget” and the image of Tomlin stepping on the field of play and forcing Jacoby Jones to change direction on a long kickoff return, Suggs made it obvious he hadn’t forgotten about the Steelers coach’s sideline tactics. Intentional or not, the move resulted in a $100,000 fine for Tomlin while pumping new life into a rivalry that’s seen major characters such as Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, Ed Reed, and James Harrison move on in recent years.

Photo courtesy of BaltimoreRavens.com

“We just wanted to let their head coach know, we will never forget what transpired here in this game last year,” Suggs said.

Tomlin talked with the Baltimore media via conference call and even had his own fun with what happened on Thanksgiving last year when asked if he expected to be on the kickoff team Thursday night.

“I won’t be,” said Tomlin as he laughed. “Tell Jacoby he’s safe.”

Tuesday’s injury report

All 53 players on the active roster practiced fully on Tuesday as Webb and right guard Marshal Yanda were the only Ravens players even listed on the injury report.

Yanda missed Monday’s walk-through while resting a blister on his foot, but he was a full participant along with Webb a day later.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had seven players missing from practice on Tuesday, but four were listed for non-injury reasons. With a very short week, that’s a common practice for teams trying to rest as many veterans as possible.

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Lardarius Webb (back), G Marshal Yanda (foot)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Dri Archer (ankle/knee), DE Brett Keisel (NIR), TE Heath Miller (NIR), WR Lance Moore (groin), S Troy Polamalu (NIR), CB Ike Taylor (NIR), C Cody Wallace (finger)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Le’Veon Bell (NIR), WR Antonio Brown (NIR), WR Martavis Bryant (shoulder), CB Brice McCain (groin), DT Steve McLendon (stinger), QB Ben Roethlisberger (NIR), S Shamarko Thomas (Achilles/ankle), WR Markus Wheaton (NIR)

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Steelers won’t be docked draft pick for Tomlin sideline incident

Posted on 20 March 2014 by Luke Jones

Nearly four months after Mike Tomlin’s controversial sideline incident in a game against the Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers learned Thursday that they will not be docked a draft pick by the NFL.

The head coach was fined $100,000 but not penalized for stepping onto the field of play and interfering as Jacoby Jones appeared on his way to a touchdown on a second-half kickoff return. Tomlin’s presence on the field caused Jones to cut inside where he was eventually caught from behind, but the Ravens still won 22-20 over their AFC North rivals on Thanksgiving night.

“I take full responsibility for my actions, and I apologize for causing negative attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization,” Tomlin said in a statement after the fine was announced in early December. “I accept the penalty that I received.”

In the days following the incident, the league left open the possibility of the Steelers’ 2014 draft compensation being impacted due to Tomlin’s behavior, especially if the four extra points the Ravens may have scored — they only converted a field goal on the drive — would have impacted tiebreaker scenarios for the playoff race.

Of course, the Steelers missed the playoffs after receiving no favors at the end of the Week 17 game between San Diego and Kansas City in which a penalty call was missed that would have given Chiefs kicker Ryan Succop another try at a game-winning field goal that would have knocked out the Chargers and landed 8-8 Pittsburgh in the AFC playoffs as the No. 6 seed. Instead, Pittsburgh joined Baltimore in missing the postseason in what many Ravens fans viewed as poetic justice from what had happened a month earlier.

At the very least, the incident provided the latest chapter in what’s been regarded by many as the best rivalry in the NFL over the last decade.

“It’s not my job to figure out intent. I’m glad we won the game,” said Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti about the incident at the end of the season. “My feelings for that move might have been a lot different [had we lost]. But, [it was] bizarre, weird, strange, unexplainable, and I think Mike was embarrassed about it. And I like Mike a lot. He’s a really good guy. His intent — that is completely in his court. He got fined for it, and again, he’s embarrassed as a competitor.”

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