Monday, August 08, 2011

Ravens' fans suffer growing pains during team's youth movement

Baltimore is an interesting town and its citizens collectively suffer from an inferiority complex. That’s not meant as a knock. That’s just the way it is.

I should know…I’m one of you.

Back in a day, Baltimore was viewed as a gas stop between DC and Philadelphia. Today thanks in large part to popular TV drama series like “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Street” it is seen by many as a cesspool of drugs, STD’s and violence.

Those of us who were born and raised here in The Land of Pleasant Living know otherwise. We see it as a metropolitan area of ethnic neighborhoods, rich with character; a mecca for exquisite culinary arts; a charm city by the Chesapeake featuring generation after generation that never leaves home.

Yet when we hear about our crime blotter it dents our civic pride.

Baltimore was often overlooked. Were we a small, unattractive city or were we just a big town lacking a true identity?

Then one day along came Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts to give the city a red star on the map and register an identity in the consciousness of our country.

The Colts flourished and soon thereafter so did the Orioles. We became a town of sports champions and as America noticed we embraced it to soothe our insecurities.

Predictably we attached ourselves to our sports heroes. Besides Unitas there were other Colts and then Orioles like Frank and Brooks Robinson. They were more than stars of their respective sports – they were and are Baltimore icons.

Now, fast forward to the modern day, and the state of sports here in Baltimore…

The Orioles are a train wreck and there’s no relief in sight. Nearly polar opposites of Peter Angelos’ money sucking machine, the Ravens are a finely tuned organization that continues to get better. And as we have in the past we gravitate towards those players with whom we can identify.

And THEY become our contemporary luminaries.

As a result of the Orioles struggles combined with a difficult economy and so many political uncertainties the Ravens have become a sanctuary – an escape from the insanity. They are an oasis in which to bathe in good news within the barren desert of bad news that envelopes us.

But along with that lofty perch the Ravens occupy here in Baltimore there comes pressure.

If the Ravens make decisions and act upon them in a way that confuses the fans, there is a backlash. And we’ve seen that over the past two weeks – two weeks during which we've witnessed the exodus of popular players like Willis McGahee, Kelly Gregg, Todd Heap and Derrick Mason. Those moves were for many the equivalent of dumping waste in our oasis.

McGahee was a touchdown machine with a boyish charm.

Gregg – a lunch pail blue collar overachiever and an underdog just like the town that embraced him.

Heap – a player who has been with the franchise for two-thirds of its existence.

And Mason, a player who stepped up as a leader on offense when the team desperately needed one.

Letting them go isn’t easy for this town. And that’s understandable.

But you should take comfort in the fact that those guys in the Ravens ivory tower have forgotten more about football and about running an NFL team than any of us will ever know. They have the short and long-term best interests of the team in the forefront of their minds.

And now they have determined that it’s time for some of the young guys to step up.

The league’s best teams do this all the time. We’ve seen the Colts let go of Marvin Harrison and the Steelers parting ways with Alan Faneca and Plaxico Burress. And let’s not forget about how Bill Belichick quickly says goodbye to the Teddy Bruschis and Mike Vrabels of the world.

Besides if the Ravens could have afforded to keep all of those players, would they have made much of a difference? Would all (save Gregg) have made the Ravens offense any better?

It’s often said that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

Maybe it’s time to do things a little differently.

It’s ok to miss them – to be nostalgic and reminisce. Those players are ingrained in our civic souls. But to sustain excellence you have to be willing to change and adapt even if it hurts a little.

And that’s not easy, particularly for us Baltimoreans who are as loyal as rescued mutts.

That’s just the way it is.


Jerry G said...

Great read and spot on. I'm a Baltimoron too and if you weren't one this would be insulting. But since you are, you're family.

Nicely written too!

Jerry B said...

Good article, TL! The NFL has become somewhat like college football where re-stocking takes the place of...recruiting! Every 3 or 4 years, teams will go through this catharsis because of free agency and the salary cap. Unlike the "good old days" when players stayed their entire career with one team and many settled into the community, players today are literally here today and gone.... tomorrow! Such is life in the NFL......

Scott said...

Great entry, Tony.

However, I must be one of the few optimists out there who isn't too torn up about the loss of those four players(although admittedly, the release of Heap and Buddy Lee stung my heart a bit). In order to take this team to the next level, the offense needed one of two things: 1) A new offensive coordinator, or 2) an injection of youth and speed. Since the team, ahem, soiled the mattress, so to speak, in retaining Cam for another year, it was absolutely necessary to shake things up a bit with the roster. We certainly didn't deserve to be a Super Bowl caliber offense with the system Cam had in place last year, so perhaps with youth (that includes second and third year guys like David Reed) and a metaphorical gun to Cam and Flacco's head, we will be this year.

As long as Cam utilizes the talent he has properly (e.g., let Torrey Smith be your primary deep route runner instead of Q), I think there are big things in store with these new guys.