The Cost of Violence.

Like a lot of people in our country, I’m a big proponent of watching football on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays, and even Thursdays. The first NFL game I ever watched just happened to be the first Super Bowl played between America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys… and that team from Buffalo. Not to make it sound like I favored the Cowboys, it’s just at the time I didn’t know I was supposed to hate them.

Just like I hate the Patriots. Not to mention the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s taken a lot of time, patience, studying and stat-watching to figure out the ways of professional football. It was like a shining light when I finally could watch games and understand nearly everything that’s going on. A moment of clarity in a world filled with uncertainties. I could tell the difference between a horse-collar tackle, unsportsmanlike conduct, a clean hit, and a reasonably assumed penalty for helmet-to-helmet contact.

I thought I knew what’s legal and what’s not. I was badly mistaken.

As you already well know if you read this blog on a regular basis, I am a big fan of the Baltimore Ravens. I’m guilty of being biased as much as any other REAL fan of another team, so it’s not like I am promising neutrality or anything. Anyone who watches games in our division, the AFC North, knows that we play big boy football. Physical, grinding football, as much as that is possible in today’s turbulent, changing times.

We aren’t talking about the jewels of North America here, like New York City, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, or anywhere else you’d think of when taking your next vacation. You go to Baltimore if you want to eat crabs (or get crabs), buy drugs or squat in abandoned row-housing. You go to Cincinnati if you are lost and it’s the closest city with a hotel, or you are a locally born-raised Ohio native (who thinks Cincy is considered a big city). You go to Pittsburgh if you like Primanti Bros. sandwiches (big ass sandwiches stuffed w/ fries & coleslaw), if you just got here to America (like my parents did.) or if you still somehow earn a living making American steel. As for Cleveland, I can’t really think of too many reasons to go there unless your European ancestors settled the area. These cities are called ‘The Rust Belt’ for a reason.

All jokes aside, the main reason people come to my lovely city is either they’re stuck here because of work or family, and because of serious football. Ask any real Ravens fan who they’re favorite player is and I guarantee they’ll be able to tell you his jersey number, what position he plays, his first AND last name, and his stats this season. None of that bandwagon bullshit (“I’m from West Virginia but my friend likes the Cowboys so I like the Cowboys! Go Toby Romo!”). Here in Baltimore, there’s a common saying we use. ‘Ain’t shit to do around here so let’s get fucked up.’ Sad but true. That’s why our football is so important to us, and why we don’t care much for these fancy new rules changing our sport. At least I don’t.

Fancy new rules, what’s he talking about? If you watch football, anyone and their non-NFL watching mother can tell you that shit has changed over the past few years. Just a few days ago, the world watched as the AFC/NFC Divisional games set a record for most points scored in a single weekend. Denver and Baltimore combined to score 10 touchdowns and 73 total points. Houston and New England scored 69 total points. None of that happened because of luck or coincidence. Defense’s are being flagged for anything and everything. Quarterbacks and Kickers are nearly untouchable. Entire jobs are being erased that have been in the game since the very beginning. Something has to be done before this game is ruined forever (Then what am I going to do, watch hockey? pfft).

Ed Reed is a prime example of these changes. As a safety, Reed’s job since the day he was drafted was to provide deep coverage, almost like an outfielder in baseball. Anyone throwing the ball down the field knows that he will be waiting for them, either with a big hit or an interception. His job description is to stifle opposing offenses with fear, forcing them to rethink their game plan. If your a Ravens fan, you already know all the crap he’s had to deal with, including a number of legal hits that were penalized regardless. He’s not the only one guilty of laying the law down in Baltimore. Bernard Pollard, Ray Lewis, and a number of our defensive backs have all been flagged or fined for [hitting defenseless receivers]. Let’s explore this little rule, shall we?

There is NO SUCH THING as a defenseless receiver. That may not be 100% true, but it’s closer than you think, maybe 98 or 97% true. Before this ridiculous rule was implemented (or enforced), wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs were defending themselves just fine. Quarterbacks are taught not to put the ball where it will get their receiver killed, like up high over the middle when a linebacker is charging from 10 years away. With the change in rules/enforcement, all of a sudden QBs are putting the ball wherever they want too, possibly hoping to draw a flag. Ed Reed is good at hitting people like a ton of bricks without using his helmet. So if it’s considered a legal hit, and the receiver he just blew up purposefully left himself defenseless, why is he the one getting flagged. Enough with the flopping, ok?

This is not the only problem, and definitely not an isolated incident. Offenses are pushing off, hand-fighting, chop blocking and anything else they can get away with. If both the receiver and defensive back are pushing/holding each other, 75% of the time the defensive player gets called for pass interference. How is that interference when both players have an equal right to the football? These flags are bad enough to change the course of a game, especially when 3rd or 4th downs are turning into 5/15 yards and a 1st down, completely at the mercy of biased officials. I ask myself all the time how league officials could allow this travesty to occur.

After careful consideration, this is what I have come up with:

1. Offenses, especially passing touchdowns, bring more fans to the stadium. This means more tickets sold, more direct TV packages, more concessions, etc.

2. The commissioner, Roger Goodell, and his cronies are in cahoots with the large market teams. Pittsburgh, Dallas, New York, San Francisco, these are teams that have fans across the country. If these teams do well, more people will watch. This means higher ratings, which in turn, leads to more lucrative TV contracts, advertisement money, etc.

3. Nothing in the world will remove the looming danger of concussions from the game of football. To actually limit dangerous activities to the point where players can’t get concussions would mean changing the sport until it’s unrecognizable. Why don’t they have players sign liability/injury waivers, and let them go back to their barbaric ways of yore.

4. The players union claims that many retired players should get royalties, free insurance, a pension fund, etc. The minimum salary for a rookie is $405,000 this season (as of 2013). The average salary for any NFL player is OVER $1.9 million(as of 2011). You give me either amount of money and I guarantee I will be able to pay my own insurance/start my own retirement fund. It’s the players own own fault if they can’t invest their huge incomes wisely.

5.  Only real fans of football could watch a theoretical game with a final score of 6-3. I’m not talking about two inept teams that are just unable to score points. I’m talking about two teams filled with brutish, violent ogres on defense. Can you imagine the physical battle, blood-stained jerseys and a test of sheer willpower. Dominating your opponents with a gap-toothed smile, rain and mud flying as bodies slam into each other and the ground like bulging sacks of meat. If you can’t envision, or enjoy, this spectacle in your imagination, real football isn’t for you.

So go back to your Banana Daiquiri, sipping it delicately through a twisty straw. Perhaps you should watch figure skating, or gymnastic floor routines. It’s not like I have anything against watching men spinning around in spandex on ice skates, or Gabby Douglas  flying around like a tiny squirrel across a floor mat.. it just isn’t football. If your jersey is clean, either your opponents aren’t very good, or more likely you ain’t doin’ it right. That’s what I think about finesse football.

The best example of what could happen to professional football is probably Arena Football. It’s kind of like NFL or NCAA football except the field is only 50 yards, it’s always indoors, and there are padded walls instead of boundary lines on each side. If you haven’t seen it yet, Arena Football is very exciting to watch. There’s a ton of offense, and very little defense. Players often hit the padded boundary lines, jumping or getting tackled into the bleachers. A lot of people who didn’t make it in the NFL or can’t play professionally anymore end up in the AFL, like Terrell Owens. Nobody bets on AFL games, there’s no high drama, it’s kinda like a pick-up game except that they get paid and they have fans. There is no draft, and I doubt many people even know when their championship is played.

This is the future I foresee for the NFL if it doesn’t shape up quickly. The reason the game is so successful is because the rules are enforced, the stage doesn’t get any bigger, statistics are carefully kept and tradition/history is honored. There is no bigger sport in the world. From Vince Lombardi to Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman to Tom Brady, heroes are immortalized for all eternity. The more we change the sport, from taking away kickoffs to changing the rules, adding games or changing playoff format, the farther away we move from the original, unadulterated version of football.

 

 

How about a Little Noise for the Baltimore Orioles!!

I am, when compared to an average fan, a bleeds orange, die hard Orioles fan. I have loved them ever since I was a toddler, even before I knew about Cal Ripken Jr. and his record-setting career. I don’t even think it was a choice, seeing as how I was born at Johns Hopkins, like all of 5 blocks away from Camden Yards. If your not from the area, which I’ll generously set as somewhere in the state of Maryland, you probably have no idea how fiercely we protect anything about our city. This goes double for our sports teams, the Orioles, the Ravens and heck, even the Blast. There is not a person in this world that I wouldn’t humiliate, destroy, insult or shank if it meant one more win for one of my beloved teams.

Ok, Maybe that’s going a little too far. Just as a disclaimer for legal purposes, ignore the words, “destroy” and “shank.” Damn right I’m passionate, it’s been 15 years since our last winning season and every year it’s been the same old thing. Either a). They start off the season going something like 15-3 and end up being 21 games out of a playoff spot by the end of the year, or b). They stink up South Baltimore until right around the All-Star break and then all of a sudden play over .500 baseball the rest of the way. This has the dual-effect of causing us to wonder WHY we couldn’t do that through an entire season and basically tossing us a shriveled tasteless bone to chew on. We’d say, “At least the latter-half of the season looked promising, hopefully next year.,,”

Well No Longer! Somehow someway we have for the most part put together a season of dreams. As of tonight, 9/7/12, after shelling the New York Yankees(77-60), ie: our most hated rival, with 6, count ’em, 6 home-runs, not only are we 17 games over .500 but the Orioles are also tied with the Yankees for the best record  in the AL East! Now how about we actually make some noise??

To the people in the national media, our beloved Orioles are nothing but an aberrant statistic. They point to their fancy run differentials and the fact that our team as a whole is hitting only .247, tied for 21st in the league. How many times have I read articles about the Pirates, Angels or especially Tampa Bay(75-62) stating how well positioned these teams were to earn a playoff spot based on their expensive free-agents and strong starting pitching?

All I’ve heard about the hard-charging Orioles is that our team won’t last and that we’re just getting lucky in close ball games. Everyone knows about our record in games decided by 1 run but look at our record in games decided by 2 runs, which is still a respectable 46-20. Our main hitters, as in Mark Reynolds, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Weiters, have all posted superior numbers over the past 32 or so games. Even some of our supplementary players, such as Ryan Flaherty, Chris Davis, JJ Hardy and star rookie 3rd baseman Manny Machado are all currently hitting near .280. You want run differential? Over the past month, the Orioles are +45 and are averaging 4.88 runs/game while giving up only 3.47runs/game. Those numbers only get better if you look at the past two months. Reynolds alone has 7 HR in the past 2 weeks while tonight Jones hit his 28th HR of year.

To get this kind of production and this many wins out of this piecemeal band of brothers, Manager Buck Showalter must have sold his soul to the Devil or turned into a Bokor, otherwise known as an evil practitioner of Voodoo. All jokes aside, even if we don’t win the AL East he still has my vote for Manager of the Year, if only for taking 50 different mismatched players and turning them into a team that’s currently 18 games over .500.

With the best record in all of baseball over the month of August, this gritty Orioles team has already exceeded all expectations and have quieted all critics and doubters. Quietly outplaying teams that spend twice as much money as the Orioles, our team has managed to continue to stack wins by getting solid run support behind dependable if not great starting pitching. The bullpen has been for the most part sensational and somehow we have managed to play well against everyone. Well, everyone except for the Texans.

Most of these statistics you can find on every Tom, Dick and Harry’s blog or sports website. What seems to be missing is the pulse of excitement running through the veins of every Orioles fan in a 100 mile radius of Baltimore. It’s been so long since the Orioles last winning season that an entire generation of kids and teenagers have never been to a playoff game. For the first time since the mid 90s, the coming of Autumn foretells possible playoff victory… and not just for the Baltimore Ravens.

The only thing even close to bringing home the Lombardi Trophy to Baltimore would be to win the World Series. It’s funny how my expectations have changed over the season, from having a .500 season to having a winning season, to earning a wildcard spot to becoming first in the division and finally winning some playoff games. What’s to say this already magical season can’t end with a World Series victory? I know, I know, it seems far fetched but there are some solid statistics behind that line of reasoning.

I’m aware that, at least logically, the playoffs in professional baseball aren’t quite as random as in professional football. As in professional basketball, MLB playoff format is in a “best of” series format. Instead of having to win one game to advance, you have to win 2 of 3 or even 3 of 5 games. Even so, the playoffs aren’t about who had the best regular season record, it’s about who becomes hot at the right time, exactly like the other American professional sports. The Texas Rangers(82-55) had the best regular season record last season but we’re defeated by the St. Louis Cardinals(74-63), by the skin of their teeth. Even so, there are only 4 other teams in baseball with a better record than the Orioles, only one being in the American League. Add in the fact that the Washington Nationals, with the best record in baseball THIS season, are shutting down their ace in the hole pitcher Stephen Strasburg this Friday and the Orioles probably have as good a shot as anyone to make it to the World Series!

I mean think about it for a second. The usually dangerous Boston Red Sox(63-75) are close to firing their manager, The Yankees are 20-26 since July 18th as injuries and weak hitting have conspired to leave our hated rival to the North nearly impotent. If EVER there was a chance for the Orioles to make a play for the AL East pennant it would be right now.

Despite the 13th lowest payroll in MLB, despite the fact that our team is primarily made up of misfits, washed-up free agents and home-grown talent, despite every critic, talking head and newspaper outside of Baltimore writing us off, we have continued to out-think and out-play teams with far more resources and more recognizable players. We aren’t looking for hand-outs and slowly but surely our fans have trickled back into Camden Yards(43,000+ showed up tonight!). If we continue to take care of business by winning the games we’re supposed to win, the national media will be forced to take us seriously. Until then, how about all of us who live in Maryland or Delaware, Virginia and West Virginia, make as much noise as possible. Already they hear us in New York.

~Michael, Wong_83@hotmail.com

Michael and most of his friends have been tailgating and going to games at both Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium since before the current Camden Yards was built. There was a time when it seemed his group of friends were the only ones sitting in the bleachers, drinking foamy beer and eating cheap hot dogs while cheering every time a Yankee or Red Sox player got injured.