We are officially at the start of the NFL season, so it's probably time to start previewing the monster. The key to the NFL's success — other than fantasy football and gambling, of course — is the rabid nature of its fans. That is to say: You don't see a lot of people painting their faces for their favorite golfer.
We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, even a TV guy or two, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why My Team Is Better Than Your Team. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever. We will be running two a day until the beginning of the NFL season.
Right now: the Baltimore Ravens. Your author is Eric McErlain.
Eric McErlain, who has been blogging since June 2001, blogs daily at Off Wing Opinion. In order to take care of his Football Jones, McErlain now blogs on the Baltimore Ravens at AOL's NFL Fanhouse. As part of his day job, McErlain is teaching the nuclear energy industry about blogging. His words are after the jump.
1) After nine years as a member of Section 140 in the North endzone, I've come to appreciate just what kind of a high crime it was for Robert Irsay to skedaddle to Indianapolis on that horrible night in March 1984. Don't forget, it was only a year before that John Elway spurned the Colts because he didn't want to play in Baltimore, forcing a trade to Denver. Just one year later it turned out that the whole franchise didn't want to be here anymore either. These folks have neither forgiven nor forgotten that betrayal, though it hasn't been the giant sucking emotional wound it was since the team won Super Bowl XXXV.
2) Although a feature on the history of the Colts from the Indianapolis Star might suggest otherwise, the history of the long since departed Colts belongs to Charm City and Charm City alone. Any number of Colts alumni, most prominently the late Johnny Unitas, made their displeasure with Irsay known early and often when he left the city following the 1983 season. Before his death in 2002, Unitas would often come to Ravens games and make it down to the sideline, and the team would always make sure the event wound up on the Smartvision screens in the stadium. To say he was warmly welcomed would be the understatement of the century.
But it was after the death of Unitas in 2002 that the league made official what was already true in the heart of the city when it decreed that the only ceremonies honoring Unitas would take place in Baltimore. That day, it was Ravens quarterback and fellow Louisville alum Chris Redman who wore a pair of black high top cleats to honor Unitas, and not Peyton Manning. An actual pair of Unitas' cleats were displayed on the sideline for the remainder of the season inside a glass case. A few weeks after his death, the renamed the main entrance of the stadium Unitas Plaza, unveiled a statue of No. 19, and then inducted him and seven of his teammates into the team's Ring of Honor.
It was the right thing to do. And if the Colts ever leave Indianapolis, the league ought to give Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and the Baltimore fans the option that was exercised when the Browns abandoned Cleveland — move the team logo and colors back East along with the pre-1984 season records, and have the husk that remains operate under a new name wherever it might land.
3) Bisciotti, the Baltimore native that purchased the Ravens from Art Modell in 2004, has been a model owner, especially compared with nearby counterparts like Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Orioles owner Peter Angelos. While those folks have engaged in inexplicable personnel decisions or fired managers because of petty personal squabbles, Bisciotti has stayed out of the way of the football people and let them do their jobs. And while he reportedly doesn't get involved in the minutiae of running the team, he wasn't afraid to tell to tell Ravens head coach Brian Billick after last season that he needed to change the way he operated, and then repeat that same warning in a subsequent press conference. It seems to be working so far.
4) Ray Lewis might not be the best linebacker in Baltimore anymore. Sure, Ray-Ray gets the fans amped up with a pregame strut that is quite unlike any other, but he's hardly the only story when it comes to Baltimore's linebacking corps. On one side you'll find Bart Scott, who had to step in last season when Lewis went down with a season-ending injury. In three seasons with the Ravens the undrafted Scott had never started a game and had recorded only 19 tackles. But when he stepped in for Lewis he came into his own, piling up 119 tackles and four sacks the rest of the season. And when it looked like Scott was going to bolt as a free agent and sign with the Browns, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said he trashed his own office in a rage.
On Lewis' other wing is one of the most versatile defensive players in the league, Adalius Thomas. An incredible physical specimen, Thomas has lined up at linebacker, defensive end, and can even drop back and play safety if he was called upon. He's got a heckuva back story too, having survived a car accident as a child that required 400 stitches to reconstruct his face and months of painful rehab. He even doubled up one year at Southern Mississippi, playing both basketball and football, and once actually was detailed to shadow Kenyon Martin. Thomas is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season, which I guess is bad news for Ryan's office.
5) The folks here hate, hate, hate the Washington Redskins. After living in the Washington Metro Area for better than two decades and having to endure talk about how the Redskins were just one player away from the Super Bowl beginning every June, I've come to appreciate that hatred more and more. Whenever the score of the Redskins game gets announced at M&T Bank Stadium, there is always a reaction. If Washington is ahead, they boo. If they're behind, they cheer wildly. Let's just say it makes me feel right at home.