Out For the Season: That’s So Amar’e!

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Dear Knicks Fans,

Pardon me but why have you NOT sent this man packing already? Amar’e Stoudemire is in my opinion one of the most overrated and overpaid players in the NBA. He disappears from games when the Knicks need him the most, he’s immature and often throws tantrums when things don’t go his way, and most importantly HE’S INJURY PRONE!!! I’d put more exclamation marks after injury prone but I think everyone already gets my point.

Let me give you a few examples.

I’ve been watching Amar’e play in the league since way back when; I’m talking years ago when he and Steve Nash formed one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA under the offensive guidance of head coach Mike D’Antoni. He became known for his chronic knee problems, among other things that have kept him from playing a full season since.

That’s not completely fair. For the record, here is a list of seasons which resulted in an injury, games missed, and resulting surgery:

2003 – Sprained Left Ankle (27 games missed)

2004 – Inflamed Ankle (2 games missed)

2005 – BOTH Knees Injured (microfracture surgery on left, arthroscopic surgery on right. ALL but 3 games missed)

2007 – Sore Right Knee (3 games missed)

2008 – Partially Torn Iris, Detached Retina (eye surgery, protective goggles. 29 games missed)

2010 – Sprained Right Big Toe, Sprained Left Ankle (combined 4 games missed)

2011 – Bulging Disc, Self-Inflicted Cut (latter sustained during playoffs)

2012 – Left Knee Injury (first 30 games missed), Right Knee Debridement (possibly out 6-8 weeks)

This doesn’t mean this man isn’t a total warrior and competitor. I can’t begin to imagine playing through all the pain and injury this man has, especially while performing at such a high level. His career average of nearly 21 points per game, nearly 8 rebounds and 2 blocks looks even more impressive considering how often he’s been out. That doesn’t change the fact that you can’t help your team if you can’t stay on the court.

Bottom line, Stoudemire has only played start to finish in 3 out of 11 seasons in the NBA. 2 other seasons he only missed a couple of games but that only makes it 5 out of 11 seasons, or a 55% chance he there for a significant amount of time. Wonderful.

Now that he’s 30 years old, all those surgeries and all that cartilage and tissue removed from both his knees is going to start catching up with him. No longer is he dependable as a major cog in New York’s offense. Tyson Chandler, Raymond Felton and a number of other less important (and much, much less expensive) options are playing better basketball around him. All of this adds up to less playing time, and eventually a high probability of Stoudemire getting traded to some other team. So why does this mean so much to me that I’d even take time out of my busy schedule to write an article about him?

First of all, let’s make this abundantly clear. I am NOT a New York Knicks fan. I do not want them to do well, I do not want them to win a championship, and I don’t even want them competitive in the East.

I am first and foremost a Miami Heat fan, and have been since right around the time that Dwayne Wade got drafted out of Marquette. I liked them even more when they won a championship with Shaquille O’Neal, and when they somehow juggled numbers so that they could bring in Chris Bosh and Lebron James, well that was just icing on the cake. I have no emotional attachment to anything that happens north of the Maryland/Virginia area in terms of professional basketball, and therefore shouldn’t care less about Amar’e’s career.

And yet I do. When he’s on his game, he’s one of the best in the NBA. When he’s not hurt, his shooting percentage, scoring, rebounds and blocks per game all consistently rank in the top 10. He makes the game look so easy at times, ever since he started playing basketball at the ripe old age of 14. He won more awards and did more in 2 years of high school than kids who have played and studied the game their entire lives.

Perhaps that’s why he has appeared immature and sullen at times, at heart he’s still a child.  struggling to learn how to act and live without ever really having a strong male role model. I don’t know if I believe in all that “psycho-babble,” but yet it still rings true in at least this one case. It doesn’t excuse him for his irrational temper tantrums, such as when he busted up his hand against the fire extinguisher case after a playoff loss to Miami last season, but it does help fans such as myself to understand the reasoning.

Otherwise, he’s just another overpaid, selfish, conceited, self-absorbed professional ball player. I’m hoping that’s not the case for his team, the fans, and most importantly his sake. The road to an NBA Championship goes through Miami. They’re going to need him to accomplish that.

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Congratulations Baltimore, the newly minted 2012 World Champions!

This is my shout-out to the 2012 World Champion Baltimore Ravens, the best team in the NFL. Finally you did it! Against all odds, you got to the mountain top, taking the hardest possible route through the playoffs to boot. All I can say is WOW. You did it for us, you did it for Ray Lewis, and you did it for Ed Reed. This is just a list of thoughts I’ve been gathering for such an occasion, I figured there’s no better time to share them with y’all than right now, while the memories are still fresh and the celebration is still rampaging through Maryland. In CatonsvilleArbutusBaltimore CityReisterstown, Columbia, Ellicott City, Turf Valley, Glen Burnie, Pasadena, Clarksville, Silver SpringWhite Marsh, Bel Air, and everywhere in between, the streets filled with Purple & Black flags, streamers, hoodies, jerseys, hats and anything else that the team can put their stamp on. So what should we remember from this historic trip through the playoffs? Here’s 10 things I took away from our romp through the playoffs.

1. Can anyone else in the modern era say they went through Tom Brady & Peyton Manning to get to the Super Bowl? That’s a combined 7 Super Bowl appearances, 4 Super Bowls, 3 Super Bowl MVP awards, and 6 Regular Season MVP awards between them.

2. Nobody can deny Joe Flacco his Elite-status any longer. 11 Touchdowns, 0 Interceptions in 4 Postseason games. I think that speaks for itself.

3. Baltimore’s defense, the same defense that struggled the entire regular season, was also the main reason we just won the championship. It still wasn’t as dominant as it’s been in past seasons but came up big on numerous occasions against Indianapolis, against Denver in overtime, definitely against New England, and even at the end of the Super Bowl against San Francisco. The Last Stand of Ray Lewis indeed.

4. I’m still not convinced the power outage right after halftime in the Super Bowl wasn’t some insidious plot hatched by a vindictive 49ers fan. According to Entergy Corp., the company in charge of providing and maintaining power for Mercedes-Benz Superdome Stadium, an electrical device installed expressly to prevent such power outages was the source of the Super Bowl Blackout. HELL NO, that’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard plenty of lame excuses. Mainly coming from me in a vain attempt to not go to school.

I imagine a rabid 49ers fan, dripping with red & gold apparel, creeping through the labyrinth of stadium corridors while gripping a chainsaw. Maniacally. He had plenty of time to plan his terrorist plot considering his team hadn’t scored but a pair of field goals the entire 1st half. Watching the game on his smartphone, the score becoming more and more lopsided by the minute, his frustration and necessity to help his team growing by the minute, the Jacoby Jones kickoff-return for a touchdown was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Two things, my family always tells me I’ve got the most vivid imagination, and hell, I would’ve done the same thing if my team was down 28-6 in the Super Bowl. The NFL was just happy to have a more competitive game, so they kept the whole thing hushed-up and made up some random “device failure”-excuse instead.

5. Speaking of Jacoby Jones, I sure hope we have enough Cap-space next season. Can you imagine the Baltimore Ravens without Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Anquan Boldin, Paul Kruger, or Matt Birk? I mean Birk’s getting kinda old but still. The same thing happened the last time we won the Super Bowl, in 2000. That time we figured out ways to keep most of our team intact, at the expense of forfeiting the 2002 team. A balance must be struck between paying players what they’re due for years of faithful service, and cutthroat business tactics to ensure continuity, like the New England Patriots. They don’t really pay anybody, especially not homegrown talent. Look at WR Randy Moss or WR Wes Welker, WR David Patten, and TE Benjamin Watson. Rather I should say they don’t pay anyone what they’re worth.

6. I’ve said this before but Joe Flacco deserves every penny of a 100+ million dollar contract. He’s not worth more than say Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but pretty close to it. Look at it this way, if we don’t pay him 17+ million dollars a year, with most of the money back-loaded and an enormous signing bonus, we’re still going to have to use the franchise tag on him or chance him skipping town to a team starving for decent quarterback play. The franchise tag would still cost almost 16 million in pure, guaranteed money, and that way we wouldn’t be able to use the tag on someone else extremely important to the continued success of the Ravens.

Someone like one of the players I listed in the previous paragraph.

7.  I know Terrell Suggs has been playing with his arm nearly falling off for over half a season, and Haloti Ngata has been more banged up than a hooker by the Slap-Chop guy, but can we please get some pressure on the opposing QB? Paul Kruger led the team with 9 sacks in the regular season, and 2.5 in the postseason. To put this in perspective, Broncos LB Von Miller  had 18.5 sacks in the regular season, 49ers LB Aldon Smith had 19.5, Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware had 11.5, which is an off-year for him, and Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil had 11. If we’re not going to pay Paul Kruger, I’m pretty sure we won’t, somebody is going to have to take his place.

8. Oh and another thing about Joe Flacco. Did anyone else see him sleeping on the sideline during the power outage? What’s that about? I was probably the only person on Earth screaming at the TV-screen when I saw him lounging around, cool as a cucumber. No wonder our offense was so slow out the gate during the 2nd half. If not for the defense stepping up, especially Jimmy Smith, everything could have gone so terribly wrong. I know I’m nitpicking but still.

9.  Statistics my ass. Everyone and everybody is using their considerable brainpower to come up with new analytical statistics in a vain attempt to predict the future of football. “This quarterback or that one is elite because of his true QBR or true yards per attempt.” If we used even a portion of that computing power on say, Cancer research, we’d all be immortal by now. “Turnovers are divided into different categories of harm. Some can even be beneficial.” I read that in ESPN Insider a couple of weeks ago. All I can say is REALLY? Maybe NFL teams should turn the ball over on purpose sometimes. Yeah right.

10. I leave you with this final thought… for now. Does any team have better fans than Baltimore? The people who run M&T Bank Stadium projected 25-30,000 people max to show up for the free-admission fan celebration on Tuesday. Do you have any idea how many people showed up at the stadium alone, not to mention the parade route?

200,000 people packed the stadium and its immediate surroundings. Police acted as crowd control since the stadium authority couldn’t handle all the crazed fanatics climbing over the entrance gates. Hundreds of thousands more called out of work sick *cough cough*, just to see Ed Reed walking down the street with a camera strapped to his Django-style hairdo. Every window of every building along the parade route was open and filled with screaming fans, including the church. Everyone sure loves the Baltimore Ravens, even if many of them are just bandwagon fans.

Either way, we gladly embrace all football fans who want to convert. Just make sure you keep your purple & black jerseys on, regardless of whether we do well next season.

Joe Flacco: All-Around Humble Guy, and Super Bowl MVP

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Just some quick thoughts on Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco‘s impending contract extension. From a die-hard, hardcore, purple blood dripping Ravens fan.

Let’s face it, he’s worth it. We’re definitely going to pay the man, and pay him top dollar. Even if he is a terrible human being, who doesn’t give money to charities, womanizes all the time, and was addicted to weed, heroin, crack, and alcohol, we’d still end up paying him in the weeks ahead. Big time.

Luckily he’s not any of those things. Surprisingly, in the search for the perfect poster boy for the new (and improved) NFL, one with strong family values and morals, Joe Flacco is exactly what the NFL and Baltimore needs at the moment. Here’s why.

1. He’s a family man who has never gotten in any type of womanizing scandal, loves his wife, his daughter, and the one that his wife is pregnant with. The happily married couple announced the coming of their second child only hours after a thrilling win in Super Bowl XLVII (WOOHOO!!!). The worst thing that’s said of him, for the most part, is that he can sometimes be extremely boring.

He has this certain caveman-esque aura that can have you imagining him driving his family to the grocery store in a vehicle made of rock, and powered by their quickly churning feet. Although this is bad for infamy or notoriety, this is good for garnering trust from football-watching families across America.

2. His stunningly good work on the football field. He may not throw for 50 touchdowns and 5000 yards a season, or anything even close, and there are times when Ravens faithful everywhere just scream for him to stop looking like a confused ogre behind a quickly deteriorating pocket. That’s not completely his fault. Actually it’s usually Michael Oher’s fault (Blind Side My Ass). But other statistics, not advanced statistics or true QBR or any other fancy stathead crap, say he’s better than anyone else in the game over the past 5 seasons. Such as regular season wins, regular season losses, and postseason wins. It’s really that simple.

Like many other people in America currently, I don’t really give a flying dog turd about all the hours of computing that go into making some of the more ridiculous statistics found in ESPN the Mag, or Sports Illustrated, NFL.com, etc. If I can’t add it up on my fingers and toes, or at the very worst with a bunch of pencil scribbles on my bar napkin, it doesn’t really make much sense to me. What I know is that Joe Cool 2.0 has 9 playoff wins in his first 5 seasons and averages over 10 regular season wins a year. He’s never NOT made the playoffs like some other “elite” QB’s out there.

The definition of an Elite quarterback is ambiguous at best. Falcon’s QB Matt Ryan has great statistics and plenty of wins, averaging 11 wins per season. His 11-win rookie campaign helped turn the page for a city still reeling from Michael Vick’s dog-fighting scandal. Now all he needs is some playoff wins, beyond the single miraculous comeback win against Seattle.

Flacco, on the other hand, has won at least one playoff game for every year he’s played. This year he won 4, including 3 on the road. He finished with 11 passing touchdowns to 0 interceptions during the playoffs. I’m pretty sure no other QB, including Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway, Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning. His career statistics, regular + postseason, are as follows: 20,308 passing yards, 130 total TD, 64 INT, 509 rushing yards, and 21 fumbles lost. 2-1 TD to INT ratio, check.   Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP, check. 4000+ yards avg. per season, check.

Did I mention he’s never missed a start? 93 of 93 games.

He wasn’t a 1st-overall draft pick, or even a top-10 pick. He somehow someway got himself drafted 18th-overall, even though he wasn’t even a D-I starter! That’s a story for another day, but basically he couldn’t get the starting gig at Pittsburgh, so he decided after much consideration to go to D-I FCS Delaware, just up the road from Baltimore. He had to fight and scratch his way into the NFL, where his tall, solid build and laser-rocket arm, combined with Troy Smith’s sudden illness, made him a starter in week 1. In his rookie year. The rest is history.

3. He’s the best quarterback in Ravens history, by a long shot. Not including his Super Bowl victory, or his string of consecutive seasons with a playoff appearance/playoff win, Flacco just exudes the type of confidence and quiet leadership needed to pilot a AFC North team to victory. I want you to carefully think about Baltimore’s long turbulent history with quarterbacks.

1996 – Vinny Testaverde(16)

1997 – Vinny Testaverde(13)/Eric Zeier(3)

1998 – Jim Harbaugh (Yes, that Jim Harbaugh)(12)/Eric Zeier(4)

1999 – Tony Banks(10)/Stoney Case(4)/Scott Mitchell(2)

2000 – Tony Banks(8)/Trent Dilfer(8)

2001 – Elvis Grbac(14)/Randall Cunningham(2)

2002 – Jeff Blake(10)/Chris Redman(6)

2003 – Kyle Boller(9)/Anthony Wright(7)

2004 – Kyle Boller (16)

2005 – Kyle Boller(9)/Anthony Wright(7)

2006 – Steve McNair(RIP)(16)

2007 – Kyle Boller(8)/Steve McNair(6)/Troy Smith(2)

2008 to 2012 – Joe Flacco (16)

Summary: in the 12 years before drafting Joe Flacco, the Ravens started 15 different QBs. A single QB started the entire season only 3 times. Flacco has started and FINISHED 5 entire seasons by himself, including every postseason game. I don’t think 18-20 million per year is too much to ask, do you?

4. Humble and soft-spoken, Flacco does everything asked of him without a complaint. He’s the first one in, and the last one out (as expected). He takes less credit and more blame than he’s due, while usually saying all the right things when dealing with press conferences or public appearances. Can you manage the game without F-ing things up for the defense? Sure. Can you win the game on the strength of your arm? Absolutely.

5. Joe Flacco is the FUTURE of Baltimore professional football. There’s a 99% chance  Ray Lewis is retiring. That’s been the heart and soul of this team since the day he got drafted. Except for one almost forgotten season, the defensive captain has always been there, making sure everyone’s prepared and ready to play on game day. Now we prepare for life without Ray Lewis and probably numerous others.

Ozzie Newsome, the genius General Manager of the Ravens, has already publicly stated he won’t restructure many contracts, pinning all his hopes on another Super Bowl next season while basically sacrificing 2014.

That means we’re probably gonna lose our other defensive captain Ed Reed as a salary cap casualty. Keep in mind that’s another hall of fame-type player who will no longer be with the Ravens. Pro-Bowl fullback Vonta Leach could be next. WR Anquan Boldin, TE Dennis Pitta, DE Paul Kruger, all starting players who will be free agency decisions this offseason. Oh, C Matt Birk is retiring too, supposedly, but he’s said that before.

Hopefully we don’t lose ALL these players. I just don’t have much hope in a repeat if we can’t at least salvage a few of these cap casualties. Regardless of whether we do or don’t, it’s going to take top-5 QB money to keep Flacco around Charm City, and we’d be incredibly stupid not to pay him.

Let’s just say I hope there will be some great players available at the end of each round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Las Vegas Betting Line Favors 49ers in Super Bowl

The opening line, posted a few hours after the Ravens punched their tickets to Super Bowl XLVII, has the 49ers as 5 point favorites. Somehow that doesn’t sound quite right to me.

Oddsmaker Benjamin Eckstein of America’s Line says he set the line at 4 1/2 to encourage betting action on both sides. Even if that response makes sense, it still feels like more of a popularity contest than anything based on logic.

It seems like that contest is quickly shifting in Baltimore’s favor. Within a matter of hours, the line has already changed to 4 even. I could honestly care less whether my boys are considered the underdog in New Orleans. Just ask Tom Brady what he thinks about those odds. Zing!

First it was Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, favored to beat the Ravens by 9 1/2 points.  Then it was Princess Brady and the New England Patriots,  favored to win by 8 1/2. Baltimore won 38-35 and 28-13, respectively.

Now it’s San Francisco’s turn. According to Bill Cowher, the ex-Pittsburgh Steelers coach, the Ravens will have trouble with the 49er-offense because ‘we have never faced a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick.’ *dramatic pause*

ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?!

We haven’t faced a quarterback like a 2nd year player with 9 total starts?! Oh I’m sorry, our team was too busy beating 3-time Super Bowl champion,  2-time Super Bowl MVP, 8-time Pro Bowl Quarterback Tom Brady last night.  Did I mention his two regular season MVP awards or that he currently holds the record for most playoff wins in NFL history? What a load of crap.
What about the quarterback we beat in the AFC divisional round, 4-time regular season MVP, Super Bowl MVP,  Super Bowl-winning, 12-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning?! I know Bill Cowher used to be the Steelers head coach but come the fuck on,  you can’t be serious. Colin WHO???

I get the feeling that it doesn’t matter who the Ravens beat to get to the Super Bowl. Insert quarterback’s name here, Bill Cowher will find a way to tell the public the Ravens can’t handle ‘him.’ All I have to say is, “we’ll see about that.”

Consider this. No rookie quarterback has EVER won a playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.  Not Andrew Luck, not Ben Roethlisberger, not T.J. Yates, NOBODY. Technically, Colin Kaepernick isn’t a rookie quarterback but since he hasn’t even played a full season,  for all intents and purposes he’s still a rookie to me.

Who really cares about the wildcat/pistol offense?  Does anyone really think a few gimmick plays or a quarterback who can run the ball effectively is going to fool a defense led by Ray Lewis at linebacker and Ed Reed in the secondary?  We’re not talking about scrubs or even Pro Bowl players here.  We’re talking Hall of Fame-caliber defensive stalwarts,  each with over a decade of experience.

That’s plenty of time to get acquainted with every little offensive nuance and gesture. The only way to win against experience like that is to beat them physically;  to out muscle the other team. Not that there’s a chance of that happening. Nobody can match Lewis/Reed or even Bernard Pollard’s intensity. Just ask Stevan Ridley.

Dubbed the “Patriot Killer,” by his loving teammates, Safety Bernard Pollard has slayed 4 New England players since 2008. His hit last night on Ridley caused a crucial 4th quarter fumble, helping the Ravens limit the Patriots to a season-low 13 points. Luckily,  the referees forgot to flag Pollard.

How I feel about the many legal-yet-flagged hits by Baltimore players is a topic for another day. Suffice it to say that nobody will ever mistake Baltimore for a finesse team. Anyone who knows anything about the AFC North teams can attest to that. We love to play defense and run the ball through our opponent’s guts here in the Charm City.  So is anyone around here worried about a “dual-threat QB?”

Not Really. 

We feast on them. The Ravens will come hungry on February 3rd. Paul Kruger, Terrell Suggs, Haloti
Ngata, Ray Lewis, Courtney Upshaw, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, Corey Graham and all the other members of the vaunted Ravens defense will be chomping at the bit come Super Bowl Sunday. 

As Terrell Owens once said, “Getcha’ Popcorn Ready.” After 12 years of waiting, Ravens fans are ready. Trust me.

SUPER BOWL PREDICTIONS:

Ravens(-6) defeat 49ers: 30-24 (54 total points)

Baltimore Makes Statement in Denver!

As LeBron James would say, “Witness.”

Its that simple. No other single word could define the excitement I felt after watching my hometown hero Baltimore Ravens knock off the highly favored Denver Broncos 38-35. Nothing in the world feels nearly as good as victory narrowly snatched from the jaws of defeat. 

The mood in the crowded restaurant bar I watched from went from one extreme to the other. In one second a bar filled with grown men went from jubilant cheering to openly crying and back again. This is how it went throughout the night.

I was so nervous through the entire game that I got home afterwards and immediately feel asleep from sheer exhaustion. My heart pumped inside my chest like a car engine. I screamed and screamed and screamed at the referees,  well we all did,  cursing the head referee’s family for making calls in Denver’s favor all game long. 

None of the bias and one-sided rulings mattered in the end. The Ravens won!!! Somehow someway they took on Peyton Manning’s offense,  Von Miller’s defense, the special teams unit, and even the referees. I told everyone we could outplay the Broncos in Denver and noone believed me.  WITNESS.

What does this mean in the grand scheme of things?  Can we expect great things from this suddenly confident Ravens squad in the near future?  Absolutely. 

Without a doubt.  The quarterback play in the NFL doesn’t come any better than Manning and his 4 MVP awards.  Bookends Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil came into the game with double-digit sacks, with Miller seeing a regular season record for them.  Their kick returner, whose name I can’t even remember(Trindon Holliday),  returned a punt AND a kickoff for a pair of touchdowns against us. Tell me the last time you saw a team do that and LOSE.

It all goes back to Ray Lewis, his impending retirement, and his belief in God. 

The defense, much maligned and ridiculed throughout the regular season, is doing much better ever since Ray came back to active duty. Terrell Suggs is almost back to 100%, while Paul Kruger’s breakout season continues.  The pressure from them and Haloti Ngata can be seen in the resulting turnovers from Peyton Manning.

To put everything in a nutshell,  We needed everything we could get to win this game.  The atmosphere was so tense it was almost like we were playing in the Super Bowl.  As rewarding and enjoyable as this win was,  the only thing I’m really worried about is our opponent next week. 

Because we pulled out all the stops,  I’m hoping we didn’t use up all the gas in the tank battling in Mile High Stadium.  I mean it was between 9 and 13 degrees F last night on the field,  with the wind chill making it feel like -2 degrees. Playing a tough opponent in inclement weather with 10 total touchdowns,  73 total points scored, and multiple ties or lead changes can cause severe emotional distress.

If I was exhausted than imagine how they felt after the game.  Now they have a week before they play another strong playoff-caliber team. Another road game. It’s going to take a complete effort again to earn a spot in the Super Bowl. 

WITNESS. I am.

(Note: There are other contributing factors to the Ravens victory that weren’t mentioned, such as Joe Flacco being decisive and not throwing any picks, Denver kicker Matt Prater missing a long field goal, the Ravens offensive line actually blocking, and Michael Oher not sucking too badly.  ;))

Not Such a Happy New Year for Baltimore.

Baltimore Ravens

 

If you’re a Baltimore Ravens fan like I am, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Our team is a reasonably acceptable 10-6, especially when compared to any number of other quarterback-hungry teams in the NFL. Unless you consider that we are 1-4 in the last 5 games, including two divisional losses to the Steelers and Bengals respectively. Not a great way to end the regular season by any measure.

Usually around this time of the year, I’d be giving thanks to the football gods, whether or not they exist, for helping my team continue as one of the NFL’s elite when it comes to making the playoffs year in and year out. Only teams like the Philadelphia Eagles under Andy Reid(before this season), the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick, New Orleans and Indianapolis Colts(with Peyton Manning) could claim as many consecutive playoff appearances. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still giving thanks for not being a fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars or Carolina Panthers. Thanks for not having Kyle Boller as my starting QB, and thanks for having Justin Tucker instead of Billy Cundiff as our kicker. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but something just feels different this season. Kind of like having a dozen snakes crawling around in my stomach, telling me something is wrong with the greatest team to ever play professional football.

I know that sounds biased but since I don’t really care about any other team than my Ravens, I don’t really care. Taking a look at some of the other teams that are joining us in the playoffs, especially troubling are the Denver Broncos and the Patriots. We got beaten down like a red-headed stepchild a few weeks ago by Peyton Manning and Co., and it doesn’t look like our defense has figured anything out since then. Princess Brady is throwing like an MVP candidate again this season, and if we couldn’t seal the deal last year when our defense wasn’t ranked in the bottom half of the league, I don’t see how we will this year.

Sure could use a miracle right about now, God.

Until the past couple weeks, Houston and its brutish manchild at defensive end, J.J. Watt, looked like they could beat the snot out of  the rest of the NFL. They sure did when they played us earlier this season. They plain embarrassed us, winning by only around 30 points. Big deal, right? WRONG. For all the faith and bravado I usually have in my team, all the blustering in the world isn’t going to change the fact that we are having trouble on both sides of the ball. Even if we take a Mulligan on this week’s game at Cincinnati, I mean we did sit our starters, we still went 1-3, losing all 3 by a combined 12 points. I don’t feel like there’s a single easy win available on our playoff schedule. Especially not on the AFC side. At times like this, you really gotta dig down deep and ask yourself the following question: “If the Ravens play their absolute best on Sunday, will it be enough to win if __(Insert Team Here)__ plays their absolute best as well?” By now your probably getting that wiggly feeling in your stomach as well… if you didn’t already have it before and were just ignoring it.

I guess the only thing we can do this year is remember the good times we had over the past couple years. Especially last year. Both the Baltimore Orioles and the Ravens were amazing success stories in 2012. The Orioles performed way beyond my wildest dreams, even going so far as to crush those irritating Texas Rangers in the wildcard round. The Ravens came a Billy Cundiff untied shoelace away from possibly going to the Super Bowl. I know, I know, anything can happen on any given Sunday.

So do you really believe this team has a real chance to win a championship this season?

Here are a few final questions and thoughts:

Can Flacco not give up too many Saccos? (Note: That’s such a terrible line, yet it’s so catchy and everyone says it around here.)

Can Torrey Smith be consistently good for 4 straight games?

Can Michael Oher do anything other than beat up drug dealers in a movie based loosely on his life? (Zing!) Can Terrell Suggs regain his form that got him a defensive MVP award ?

Are Ray Lewis & Ed Reed too old to play solid Ravens football?

Can Justin Tucker, as amazing as he’s been in the regular season, keep his cool in the playoffs?

Can new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell run an effective offense with two weeks under his belt?

Read, React, Response and Comment. Oh, and ENJOY!

~Michael, WONG_83@HOTMAIL.com

YEAAAAH! O’s Go The Distance, AGAIN!

I’ve been waiting a long, long time to feel this good.

Let’s make this short and sweet, the Baltimore Orioles won tonight in dramatic fashion on the New York Yankee‘s home turf. After 15 straight losing seasons, the Orioles stay alive with the win tonight. They now have a chance to clinch a spot in the American League Championship Series(ALCS) against the Detroit Tigers.

Of course to get there they’ll have to beat the Yankees one more time in a winner-take-all game 5 showdown in the Bronx. The odds are stacked against them, having played and won more overtime games than any other ball club this season, but it seems like the sky is the limit for the boys in orange & black.

I’ve asked God, Allah, Buddha, the Devil.., basically anyone with the power to give this team the win, for help. Just for good measure. To any other demigods, spirits, ghosts, demons, or leprechauns listening, we could use a little help turning that pop-fly into a home-run or having the Yankees starting pitcher leave one hanging over the middle of the plate. As long as we’re still communicating, thanks a lot for bringing Manny Machado to the Orioles. He’s really shored up Baltimore’s defense at third base, a position with more in common with a Merry-go-Round for most of the regular season.

Also, I’d like to thank whoever brought Manager Buck Showalter to Charm City. Without his steady hand guiding our team and making roster moves all year-long, we would have never won 90+ games and beat out the Los Angeles Angels and the Tampa Bay Rays for the final wildcard spot in the American League. Sure it would’ve been nice to win the AL East Pennant, but I’m not complaining since we beat the fearsome Texas Rangers for a chance to play against our arch-rivals in the AL Divisional Series.

In fact, I don’t think there’s anyone I would rather play in the ALDS than the Yankees. With a little help from J.J. Hardy, I think we can beat the Yankees in Game 5. This would only be fair since the Yankees still owe us for knocking Nick Markakis out with a hand injury near the end of the regular season.  I typically consider myself a fairly decent person, but let’s just say I wouldn’t be very sad if Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, or Curtis Granderson got struck by lightning, getting horribly maimed and therefore not being able to play the rest of the postseason.

Either way, whether we win or lose this series, I’d have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with how well our team played this year. Even though Jim Johnson hasn’t played nearly as well as we had during the regular season, he sure made up for it with a save in Game 4. I think our team as a whole improved greatly from the sub-.500 season last year. A lot of people might be devastated if we don’t make it to the ALCS; I’m not one of those people.

Just the fact that we won 3 postseason games this year is more than I could have ever dreamed of before the season started. More than anyone could have dreamed of. At least I’m not one of those guys who never watched a Orioles game, never followed the team or even skimmed an article about them in the Baltimore Sun. It really annoys me when I see people posting on Facebook about how much their “home-team” means to them, especially when I never heard them talk about the Orioles before they got to the postseason.

Now suddenly they have become the biggest Orioles fan. Where were these ‘fanatics’ when the Orioles were dumping money on aging veterans, just to see the team falter after the All-Star Break. Where were they when Cal Ripken Jr. retired from baseball, leaving us with a small-market team with a bad farm system that couldn’t win 75 games if their professional lives depended on it. I’ll tell you exactly where they were. Rooting for those dirty Yankees, or the Washington Nationals.

Whether they win or lose, I’m proud to have been a fan of Baltimore baseball for most of my life. Watching them play and win all those close games and overtime games has only made my love for this team even stronger. They say you can’t really experience pleasure without knowing what pain feels like. They also say you can’t really appreciate something until it’s been taken away.

I was only a child when I went to my first ball-game at Camden Yards. The Orioles were still good then, with an uncertain future looming over the horizon. Baltimore went from being a playoff contender to last in our division in what seemed like the blink of an eye. Being so young, I never really realized how bad it felt being 20 games out of 1st place until it actually happened. Now imagine your team being 20 games out of 1st place by mid-season, every year for over a decade.

You can’t even imagine how much pleasure and appreciation I feel now that Baltimore baseball, thanks to Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette, is back for good.

*KNOCK, KNOCK*

That’s the sound of me knocking on wood.

~MSW, WONG_83@HOTMAIL.COM (PS: Thanks for helping Joe Saunders not give up his career average during the game against Texas.)

The Author is a longtime Baltimore Orioles/Ravens fan, having been born at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Southeast Baltimore. One of his favorite childhood memories is going to Camden Yards for the first time, and actually seeing people in the stands. He hopes that one day, he’ll see the old ball-park filled to capacity regularly, rather than just during postseason games.

 

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.