Irsay’s Shame Lives On As Sports Icon

In just the past week, it’s become clear that Bob Irsay’s humiliating decision to slink out of Baltimore on March 28, 1984 has evolved from a historical footnote to an iconic moment. I’ve noticed it coming up more and more often in the national press, sometimes in ways completely unrelated even to the Colts. In short, Irsay’s despicable decision is now a metaphor for something greater than even the theft of a football team. Here’s a sample from just the last few days (if you know of any others, feel free to add them by comment):

Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks:

“Maybe the other leagues, when it comes to supporting them, will pull a Jim Irsay and disappear in the middle of the night,” Cuban said, referring to the Colts’ move from Baltimore to Indianapolis that was actually orchestrated by Jim Irsay’s father Bob in 1984.

William C. Rhoden in the New York Times:

Finally in March 1984, Indianapolis got its team when the owner Robert Irsay sneaked the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night. Indianapolis happily received stolen goods.


Bill Michaels of WTMJ Radio in Milwaukee:

So, that said, you did see many of the starters for the entire game, you just didn’t get the outcome YOU wanted and thus, you Boo. Maybe Bill Polian will load the trucks in the middle of the night and waltz his team to a new destination. Then you’ll have something to boo about, until then, support your team and try to regain some of the class that you lost this past weekend.


Bud Poliquin of the Syracuse Post-Standard:

The management of the Colts saw fit to “throw” the game to the New York Jets by choosing to not field the team that would have given the Colts the best chance to win. I probably should have expected this from a franchise that a few years earlier had seen fit to back up its trucks in the middle of the night and sleaze out of Baltimore.

I get the feeling that my grandchildren will be throwing around a phrase something like “back the trucks up in the middle of the night” without having any idea of its origins – until I sit them down and tell them all about The Grinch Who Stole Football, of course.

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I Dreamed A Dream of Football at UMBC

Walking in the Commons between the Bookstore and the Flag Court, I looked up at a large poster and my eyes became fixated on this sight:

My heart raced and my imagination exploded with visions of Saturdays spent at UMBC Stadium, cheering on the Fighting Retrievers football team. Without stopping for even a moment to consider family commitments or mortgages, I envisioned spending countless hours and untold treasure on what would surely become the focal points of my future autumns. In my mind’s eye, I could easily see the enraptured alumni, gathering in the parking lots to tailgate and celebrate the arrival of football at UMBC. It had happened at Stevenson, and now it was happening here!

And then, as quickly as the dream could be dreamed, it was just as certainly shattered as I read the rest of the banner:

It was all a promotion for open positions at the Office of Residential Life. There would be no football team, no Saturdays spent on campus in mad delirium, no suddenly galvanized alumni flooding the campus each Fall at Homecoming.

Yes, one day I dreamed a dream of football, but it was only that – a dream. But even if I only lived it for a moment, the dream was sweet indeed. And as I walk our campus now, I still can hear the roar of the crowd echoing in my ears, as if calling to me from beyond the hills across the Loop, tantalizing me with what might have been. And what might still someday be.

Ravens Traditions: The Flag Flies Again!

My Ravens Playoff Flag

Because I’m a bit OCD, I tend to accumulate a lot of what I call “traditions.” These are things that must be done at certain times, in certain ways, every time. My holiday routine is a prime example. Another example are my Ravens routines.

We have one of those decorative seasonal banner posts in front of our house, on which we rotate appropriate displays. During the summer months, from it hangs a rustic American flag-type banner. At the start of each Ravens season, I hang the Ravens banner, which will remain until the team takes its first loss, after which time it will be replaced by our generic autumn banner. This banner returns in January should the Ravens make the playoffs, and stays until they are eliminated.

Similarly, the 3′ x 5′ Ravens flag is hoisted on the day the Ravens qualify for the postseason, and remains until they get knocked out, when it is immediately removed. When I come and go from my house, seeing that the big Ravens flag still flies can be a misty moment.

Inside the house there are traditions, too. As a part of my Christmas decorations, I use intertwined purple and gold garland around the living rooms windows to reflect my allegiance not just to the Ravens, but also to my secondary team, the Minnesota Vikings. (I became a Vikings fan at age 7, back when Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters ruled the NFC. They were a good backup to the Colts during some lean years, and then, when the Colts left, the Vikings filled in quite nicely until the Ravens arrived.) This garland will be in place until neither the Ravens nor the Vikings are alive in the playoffs.

Some items exist without regulation, such as the inexpensive vinyl tablecloth, which is in use for much of the football season, but is removed occasionally for cleaning:

And then there are other items that get added haphazardly, and, because they are small, end up in place year-round. Falling into this category is a beaded necklace with a paper message that was given to us sometime last year, and now permanently resides on a curio cabinet in the living room.

Of course, there are apparel traditions to uphold as well. While the Ravens still play, I observe Purple Fridays at work, sometimes adding my gold UMBC necktie. My wife, who works in the medical field, wears Ravens scrubs to work on the Monday following a game. On game days in warm weather, I wear my Ray Lewis jersey, switching over to one particular long-sleeve jersey/sweater once the weather shifts. My wife usually wears her Joe Flacco jersey, but she’s not neurotic about it like I am.

So, now that the Ravens are in the playoffs, the flag flies once more. Let’s just hope it has a chance to get a bit weathered before I’m forced to haul it down again.

Top Ten Things I Like About New Year’s Day

1. (Technically, this happens just before midnight, but still…) That the last song played in Times Square before the ball drops is “Imagine” by John Lennon.

2. Removing the Christmas decorations – I know I really enjoyed putting them up, but that was five weeks ago. I’m ready to have my living room back now.

3. The NHL Winter Classic – Hockey played outdoors in an open-air stadium (with snow if we’re lucky), and usually between two good teams.

4. College bowl games that don’t make me want to throw up. Instead of the Meineke Car Care Bowl, we get the Rose Bowl. Finally.

5. Knowing that the NFL playoffs are only days away – No more “49ers vs. Chiefs on this week’s Monday Night Football!”

6. Changing the calendars in the house. As cool as I thought that calendar was last January, I want it gone now.

7. Back to single digit months – Starting today, I can write 1/1/10, rather than 12/31/09.

8. It’s ridiculous, but now that we’ve turned the corner, so to speak, it seems like spring is much closer than it was yesterday. It also helps that the next big holiday is Valentine’s Day, which is in mid-February, by which time it could be 65° (or 20°).

9. The illogical, yet undeniable optimism that coincides with an arbitrary change in the numbering system that we use to mark the passage of time. For no real reason, everything seems new, and anything seems possible.

10. The satisfaction of having pulled off one more successful holiday season. (“Put Christmas 2009 in the can, that’s a wrap!”)

The Ravens Don’t Lack Discipline

This morning there’s a lot of talk about how undisciplined the Ravens are, and how John Harbaugh’s coaching should be scrutinized for having allowed this state of affairs to go uncorrected. To all of this, I say:

Be careful what you wish for – you just may get it.

The Ravens’ love affair with aggression goes all the way back to 2000 – our beloved Super Bowl season. The team was encouraged to be nasty, to be angry, to be mouthy. The Ravens were the team that would kick down your door and shout “Where is the son of a bitch?” The organization wanted its players to be intimidators; the result was spectacular and we loved it. But, there was a price to be paid, because the NFL was paying attention, too. Soon, it became clear that the crews officiating the Ravens games were looking at the team a little more closely than its opponents. No matter, as long as the Ravens were winning games, the penalties could be tolerated.

This mindset has been passed on genetically ever since, and the result has been a team that we have grown to love for its intensity and its passion; we have also learned to expect them to take penalties that seem unnecessary and at times, ridiculous. And yes, every now and then, they have a collective meltdown (21 penalties against Detroit in October, 2005, 13 penalties for 100 yards against New England in December 2007). Still, winning solves everything.

(The Oakland Raiders were the most penalized team of the 1970s, and no one criticized them for being undisciplined. Instead they were hated and feared. Being a consistently winning organization will do that for you.)

Harbaugh accepted this position knowing the culture – a culture that has been cultivated for a decade; to expect him to eradicate that in a year or two is unreasonable and more to the point, not a good idea. Most of these same “undisciplined” players took this team to the AFC Championship game last year, and no one called them to task for over-aggression. (Remember? The big complaint last year was that the offense was one dimensional.) What’s different this year? New faces in prominent places are committing the penalties now; not because they’re undisciplined, but because they’re not as good as the individuals they’ve replaced.

The ugly fact is that offensive linemen hold when they get beat; so do defensive backs. Would you rather that the offensive lineman let young Joe Flacco get hit rather than risk a holding penalty? (For the answer to this question, ask David Carr.) Would you rather the burned defensive back just give up the big play, rather than risk an illegal contact penalty? If you want to eliminate penalties in the offensive line and defensive secondary, don’t preach discipline – get better players.

One big problem with the whole “coaching discipline” idea is that you don’t want players on the field thinking – you want them reacting. When Terrell Suggs got flagged for a block in the back on Domonique Foxworth’s interception yesterday, he was doing what he should have been doing – trying to block downfield for his teammate. The problem isn’t that Sugg is undisciplined, it’s that he isn’t a very good blocker. How much time do you want Suggs spending in practice learning how to avoid blocking-in-the-back penalties?

Yes, the Ravens are a heavily penalized team, but they’re in good company. In fact, 5 of the top 6 most-penalized teams in 2009 would make the playoffs if the season ended today. On the other hand, the Browns have committed over 30 fewer penalties than the Ravens. Do you still want the Ravens to make “discipline” a focal point of its team philosophy?

Be careful what you wish for – you just may get it.

After What I Saw Last Night, Monday Night in Green Bay is Now Critical

Yes, it was ugly, and it was far closer than it should have been, considering who didn’t play. Yes, at times the Ravens looked like a team that has no business having playoff aspirations. And yet, there the Ravens sit at 6-5, in the thick of the Wild Card chase.

But after what I saw last night, just don’t expect them to do it again on December 27th at Heinz Field.

Still, with five games to play, there is at least a reasonable chance that the Ravens will qualify for the postseason, and isn’t that why we play the games? And remember, every year a team sneaks into the playoffs and makes a surprising run. Why not the Ravens?

So, even though we’ve had to endure (fill in the blank with: Mark Clayton’s drop, Ray Lewis’ penalty, Steve Hauschka’s miss,  Joe Flacco’s interception), the dream lives on.

Here’s how the dream breaks out now:

The NY Jets, Miami, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Houston, Tennessee and Denver are all still mathematically alive. The Titans, Jets, Dolphins and Texans already have six losses and thus must finish 5-0 to have a chance of making the playoffs. I don’t see any of those teams having a 5-0 finish in them, and so can be safely dismissed.

That leaves Jacksonville at 6-5 and facing games against Houston, Miami, Indianapolis and New England. I think there’s at least one loss in there somewhere, probably two. Look for them to finish no better than 10-6, but more likely 9-7.

Denver, at 7-4, still must travel to Kansas City, Indianapolis and Philadelphia. They also will probably finish no better than 10-6 and the Ravens, having beaten them, will have the first tiebreaker.

The 6-5 Steelers, locker room dissension notwithstanding, are still in the best position of all, with few real difficult games ahead. The only challenges for Pittsburgh are at home to Green Bay and Baltimore and at Miami. Expect the Steelers to finish at least 10-6, maybe 11-5. (All of this presumes Ben Roethlisberger returns to the lineup Sunday and finishes the year.)

The Ravens, another 6-5 team, should be able to win against Chicago, Detroit and Oakland. If they can steal one at 7-4 Green Bay on Monday night, 10-6 becomes very possible. If they lose, the game at Pittsburgh becomes a must-win, which, after watching Dennis Dixon move the ball effectively last night, seems like a bridge too far. If the Ravens lose both games, they’ll need lots of help to make the playoffs, and are likely left on the outside looking in.

But again, if they beat the Packers Monday Night, the Ravens can lose to Pittsburgh on the 27th and probably still make the playoffs. While taking one from Green Bay at Lambeau on national television seems, at first glance, to be an impossible task, it’s not. Aaron Rodgers is inconsistent, and the Packers have really only beaten one quality team this season (Dallas at home); the rest of their schedule has been filled up with the likes of Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and St. Louis. In any event, this challenge seems to me to be far simpler than being in a must-win situation in Pittsburgh. Bring on the Packers, baby.

(This is going to be a long, long week.)

High School Hitman, Sexy Sarah Palin and Poor Steve Hauschka

Each of us can probably remember having to deal with a particularly difficult teacher in high school. Perhaps we didn’t like the subject (for me this would be math or science), or maybe we found the workload excessive. Sometimes there were just personality conflicts with individuals whom we found to be harsh or overbearing.

If provoked, we might, in a fit of pique, get worked up enough to say the wrong thing to our nemesis, which, if we weren’t careful, might land us in detention, or cause the teacher to have us killed. What’s that? You can’t recall any instances of teachers in your high school putting out a contract on students that angered them? Well then, you were just in the wrong high school.

At Mundy’s Mill High School in Clayton County, Georgia this fall, it seems as if 10th-grade teacher Randolph Forde had a problem student on his hands. On September 29th, he called the 16-year old out of class, demanding to know if he was gay. The next day, Forde argued with the student, and threatened “to hit him in his ‘effin mouth.” (Come on now, doesn’t that bring back memories of ol’ Mrs. Lardbottom from your school?) The student reported Forde to his school’s administration, but nothing was done. On October 9, Forde approached another student and offered to pay him for killing his classmate. Given the choice between earning some after-school money or destroying a teacher’s life, the assassin opted for the latter, and ratted out Forde. (Note to conspirators: It’s a bad idea to let the outcome of your plot to kill someone rest with the a teenage boy. Trust me on this.)

Incensed, the boy’s mother removed her son from the school and then filed a police report on October 12, resulting in Forde’s subsequent arrest and release on $10,000 bond. This, in turn, forced the school to remove Mr. Forde from the classroom (I guess being arraigned for conspiracy to commit murder is the triggering mechanism for intervention in Georgia public schools). Forde’s attorney now says it was all a joke. Funny guy, that Mr. Forde. Funny guy.

Sarah Palin, who, I’m led to believe, wants to be the leader of the free world, is using her endless, unmerited press coverage to attack Newsweek for their choice of cover photo. Palin said, “The choice of photo for the cover of this week’s Newsweek is unfortunate. When it comes to Sarah Palin, this ‘news’ magazine has relished focusing on the irrelevant rather than the relevant,” Palin wrote. “The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist, and oh-so-expected by now.”

"The Next President of the United States..."

Apparently, Palin posed in a skimpy running outfit for Runner’s World magazine, from where it was lifted by Newsweek. While it’s true that Newsweek was looking to make a statement by their choice of this photo, I’ve grown way past tired of hearing Sarah Palin disingenuously complain about being dealt with less than seriously by the media.  A year ago Palin could be granted an ignorance pass, but no more. If she wants to be taken seriously, she should appear on Meet the Press and Face the Nation, not Oprah. And when discussing economic policy differences with the President, she should stay away from silly-sounding comments such as:  Obama has a  “…backassward ways of trying to fix the economy.” Before you can sit at the grownup table, Sarah, you’ve got to be able to act like a grownup.

I know that just about every Ravens fan was relieved yesterday to learn that Steve “Wide Left” Hauschka had been released, but I feel terrible for him. As angry as I was when I saw his kicks sail outside the uprights, watching him walk back to the bench alone and then sit there staring at the ground, knowing that his dream was falling apart in front of his eyes… well, for me that was just heartbreaking. I suppose Hauschka knew that he was finished in Cleveland Monday night; I just can’t imagine having to continue playing, showering and dressing (without having the heart to celebrate a win) in the locker room, and then the long trip home – all the while knowing that you’re about to be fired. And then, to add insult to injury, the team’s fans dance on your grave. Good luck to you, Steve Hauschka.

Steve, we hardly knew ye