Monday, January 19, 2009

Ravens' unexpected season sets stage for promising future

The dust and the flurries of Heinz Field have settled. The 65,000 plus black and gold attired fans have long gone. The battered and bruised combatants are now resting. One team will soon begin their preparation for a trip to Tampa, Florida to take on the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. The other, the Baltimore Ravens will head out to Owings Mills to empty their lockers and begin their offseason, a bit more prematurely than they or any of us had hoped.

Morgan Freeman in The Shawshank Redemption once warned that hope is a dangerous thing. It has a way of heightening our expectations to unrealistic levels.

Back in August while watching the 2008 vintage of the Baltimore Ravens, nearly all of us – fans and media alike expected this season to be a rebuilding year for the team. The offensive line appeared to be in tatters. A once great quarterback retired; a beleaguered quarterback out for the season with a torn labrum and a hopeful quarterback sidelined for weeks with a mysterious viral infection.

Unbeknownst to all of us, that sequence of events that removed Steve McNair, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith from consideration for opening day starter ushered in a new era on the fast track. Say hello to Joe Flacco.

Clearly the season took us all for a ride we never expected. The team fought through an early season three game losing streak and then won 12 of 14 games including two playoff games before falling to the Steelers last night in the AFC Championship Game. The truth is the Ravens gave us so much more than even the most optimistic of us could ever have wished. Whenever reality far exceeds expectation, jubilation results.

And then suddenly the jubilation ended.

The Ravens delivered yet we wanted more. They wanted more. It is the human, competitive spirit that inspires the pursuit of excellence and the insatiable desire to not settle for second best. Now we ponder what might have been while finding hope in what was.

The season began to feel like one of destiny. The team had come together in part through a galvanizing theme, “What’s Our Name?” that fostered a team first mentality. They battled through so many injuries; they were worn thin by depleted depth. They continually leaned on their mantra, “Next man up” and they were inspired by the courageousness of O.J. Brigance and his battle with ALS.

The march into and through the playoffs had a very familiar feel and the ultimate prize – the climb to the league’s pinnacle would culminate at Raymond James Stadium, the locale for Super Bowl XXXV and what better way to get there than through the town of the team’s most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Unfortunately it was not meant to be. The hints of destiny were merely remnants of hope. The team that will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl is the Steelers and the truth be told, they are the better team – for now. Three losses to Mike Tomlin’s gang in one season is all the proof you need.

Yet hope remains...

In 2008 the Ravens found a great head coach, what looks to be a franchise quarterback and a newly discovered resolve devoid of the bravado and unnecessary swagger of teams from the past. They learned how to win on the road and in bad weather and they showed as much heart or more than any that has ever donned the purple and black. They aren’t far behind the black and gold of the Steelers and the Steelers know it.

From the top of the Ravens food chain right on through to the ball boys, Baltimore is as strong as any organization. They’ve matured as a group and they’ve learned from past transgressions. The front office is talented, prepared and resourceful and they will find ways to strengthen areas of weakness. The coaching staff is extremely solid and they will be even better next year now that they’ve bonded for a season and that their familiarity and understanding of the team’s roster is more thorough.

Of course the sad reality of the end of any NFL season is that no roster will remain intact. Typically attrition affects 20% of a team’s roster. Rex Ryan will probably be gone today or tomorrow and he may take a coach or two with him. Players that we’ve cheered for and embraced almost like family will go and the names could be staggering – Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs, Jason Brown, Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle or Todd Heap.

That’s the nature of the beast.

The 2008 season has been a terrific ride and a day after its conclusion we can all be thankful. It brought joy to a community that needed it. It provided a pleasant distraction from the harsh economic environment that envelopes us all. It probably brought you together with friends, family and loved ones more frequently than you otherwise might have.

And it has given us hope for the future.

Today we begin healing. Tomorrow we’ll begin to look ahead.

Thank you Ravens – it’s been a blast!

Here’s to the future!

*****

And here's to remembering the 2008 season...



video

6 comments :

Harryos29 said...

Harry O 29 Jan 19th
It was a great ride while it lasted, and I enjoyed every game this season, even the one last night!..What does the team have, 20 Free agents, both restricted and un-restricted? One player that is a MUST-SIGN IMHO, is # 36 Jim Leonard. Jim proved to, not only be an outstanding SAFETY, but a great return man also! We were lucky to have ED Reed all year, considering the injury that Ed is dealing with, and the Fact that Dwan Landry is coming off a serious injury.... Re-signing LEONARD must a priority! Also, I do not think that Jim will break the Bank!
... There are many other positions that need to be dealt with, and I just took the ONLINE POLL today; My choice is to get a top notch Number one Wide Receiver like the Steelers' Santanio Holmes who makes the big catch in traffic, then takes it to the HOUSE! .. I feel confident that OZZIE and his staff will have a great draft and fill our needs for 2009!

Anonymous said...

A great season, to be sure. And lots of tough decisions regarding which players to sign in the off season. Additionally, Rex leaving will open the door to many strategic questions on the defense: 3-4 vs 4-3, cover 2 vs man to man in the secondary, etc.

One question that I DON'T think will need to be addressed is "who is our QB?". For the first time in over a decade, we'll at least come into training camp with a clear idea of who our QB is, and hopefully we can hit the ground running and get some real plays going -- not adaptations to help along a rookie QB -- right from the start.

This has been an amazing season, and hopefully it'll be just the start of things to come for this highly competitive team of ours. Personally, I think coach Harbaugh and his staff will be able to clear out some of the dead wood and focus this team with some new players, some new energy, and even better results in 2009.

As I see it, the biggest question mark for 2009 is Cam Cameron. Having read through some post on one of the Chargers sites, I found a few too many "Cam-ball" posts. And like references to Marty-ball and/or Billick-ball, it sent some all too familiar chills down my spine. Time will tell, but if Cameron can direct this offense forward in a creative, powerful way, we'll be in great shape. If not, I'm afraid we're going to come up short.

R.J. said...

"They aren’t far behind the black and gold of the Steelers and the Steelers know it."

What exactly is this supposed to mean? The Steelers were walking off the field on Sunday saying to themselves, "Man, those Ravens...we certainly lucked out to physically and statistically outplay them three times in one season. We better count our blessings that we're going to the Super Bowl!" Please, the Steelers aren't a dynasty. They are good some years, better in others, and yes the games were close this year but they ended the way they did for a reason. That Steelers team is a better squad this Ravens team. I understand the Ravens have a lot to look forward to but let's give some credit where credit is due. The Steelers offense and defense is better than the Ravens, and the better team is going to Tampa.

Tony Lombardi said...

RJ,

You are either a selective reader or suffer from attention deficit.

I wrote in this blog that the Steelers were the better team. If you don't think that the two teams are close, than you need to re-examine those games or check in with the eye doc...seems your vision is lacking in more ways than one.

Thanks for checking in.

R.J. said...

Tony,

Selective reader. Mostly started reading up when the Ravens got deeper into the playoffs and wanted to see what their fan base was thinking or saying.

Maybe I didn't communicate my point well enough, but what I was trying to say was yes, the Steelers are the better team but, when you refereed to the Ravens being close to them and the Steelers "knowing it," I felt like the Ravens have always been close to the Steelers. Some years the Steelers are better and win the division, and sometimes the Ravens are better and either win the division or make it to the playoffs when the Steelers don't. The Steelers had their number this year, the Ravens could have their number next year, and maybe I was temporarily blinded to your Steeler praise. Either way, you Ravens fans have a lot to look forward to next year.

Tony Lombardi said...

Thanks for setting the record straight RJ...agreed.