It’s amazing how quickly the players get over it.
16 hours after losing the AFC Championship in stunning fashion, the Ravens gathered in Owings Mills and conducted the annual January rite of passage otherwise known as “clean-out day”, doing so amid laughter and pranks and autograph exchanging.
If you were a casual observer and didn’t know better, you might think Baltimore won Sunday’s game.
As one Ravens staffer said, “They move on from it much better than we (the front office) do, that’s for sure.”
Three things need to be noted: First, the job of the players is now, officially, over with for the 2011 season. There’s no longer a need to feign disappointment at a loss or arrive for a Monday meeting with their head on straight in order to sit in on positional meetings. So, laughing and joking around the morning after one of the more stunning losses in Baltimore sports history might seem odd to us – on the outside – but to the players, it’s just another end to another season. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a lot of those in your career. If you get a lot of them, you’ll make a lot of money and be able to support your family.
Second, not everyone in the locker room was cutting up. Billy Cundiff once again conducted himself with professionalism in addressing the 20 or so media members who crowded his locker area. Cundiff spoke honestly and openly about missing the biggest kick of his career, but he certainly didn’t partake in any shenanigans with his teammates. Haloti Ngata wasn’t in the joking mood either, simply saying, “It gets old” when asked to summarize how it feels to endure another gut-wrenching season-ending defeat.
There were others who appeared to still be in shock at the events of Sunday in Foxborough and wandered around aimlessly asking for autographs from teammates.
And last but not least, is this: Football players, like all athletes, are creatures of habit. What I saw today is exactly what I would have seen every other Monday throughout the regular season. Jokes, pranks, loud music, cornhole games…it’s what players do on Mondays in Baltimore. This is how they deal with winning and losing. They report back to work on Monday and it’s business as usual. A lot of them dealt with the loss in New England yesterday the same way they dealt with a regular season loss or, even, last Sunday’s playoff triumph over Houston. It’s Groundhog Day. Locker room fun and frolic is part of the culture of the sports world and it goes on win, lose or draw.
Believe me, no one in that locker room is happy that the Ravens lost to Tom Brady on Sunday and robbed themselves of a trip to the biggest sporting event in the world in two weeks.
But this much is a definite: The players rebound from a loss much better than we, the community, does.
I’m so tired I can’t laugh, but I would almost feel guilty cracking a smile or otherwise trying to conjure up a moment of humor today. Maybe it’s the weather. Or, perhaps, it’s the thought of Baltimore getting stabbed in the stomach like that early last evening when Lee Evans couldn’t corral the pass that would have spread purple fever all over Indianapolis. Whatever it is, I was once again reminded today – by guys who have a lot more invested in the whole thing than I do – that once the game ends, so, too, does your attachment to it.
I’m sure John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron, Chuck Pagano and Jerry Rosburg aren’t having an afternoon cocktail on their flight to Mobile, Alabama later today for the Senior Bowl. Sunday’s loss will nag at those four for a long, long time. They’ll play the “what if?” game like the rest of us do, only they’ll actually have experience and acumen to back up their guesses and second-guesses. They won’t smile much for the next day or two because those four know this loss and this season goes on their resume’.
(As an aside, I’ll just throw in that a Ravens source told me today John Harbaugh is happy with his coaching staff and that all are expected to return again in 2012. I said on Monday’s edition of The Morning Reaction that I don’t think Cam Cameron will return…but that will be on his accord, not the team’s. We shall see…)
If you were worried about Cundiff or Lee Evans jumping off the Key Bridge in the wake of their respective roles in the loss, that didn’t happen. Those two held their heads high and handled the adversity in an extraordinary manner given the gravity of their mistakes.
Others, though, handled it in a way you and I – and the rest of Baltimore – probably never could.
By laughing it off.
Maybe they know something we don’t.