This Baltimore run to the Super Bowl brings to mind a previous Baltimore Super Bowl run, although not the one the Ravens made in 2000-01. That year the defense alone made the Ravens a legitimate Super Bowl contender from the time they failed to score an offensive touchdown in five straight games and still won two of them.
And speaking of that 2000-01 team, for those Ravens fans who still have no interest in seeing quarterback Joe Flacco return next season, keep in mind the last Ravens quarterback change immediately following a Super Bowl provided us Elvis Grbac. And though that dreadful turn of events was the result of the utter stupidity and raging ego of one Brian Billick, who is, thankfully, far removed from the picture, please be very careful what you wish for.
No, this Super Bowl run by the Ravens brings to mind the Super Bowl run of the 1970-71 Baltimore Colts, who not only reached Super Bowl V, but won it by beating the Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, in what is regarded to be the most horribly played Super Bowl in history, including any of the Super Bowl routs.
That Super Bowl was known as the Blooper Bowl, but to this day nobody in Baltimore cares — it was the final world championship for their beloved Colts, even though nobody who followed those Colts, to their dying day, will ever understand how they did it. They were old, fat, slow and over the hill. But in the end, a team with three Hall of Famers well past their prime used toughness and guile to go home world champs.
Quite frankly, even when they were 9-2, I believed making the playoffs — forget the Super Bowl — would be a stretch for these Ravens because I didn’t think they were very good and they were still facing five of the toughest games on their schedule — four of which they did lose.
Yet with the start of the playoffs, the return of Ray Lewis and the unworldly emergence of Flacco, here they are, playing for what would be a most unlikely world title.
Aside from being a Ravens fan, I’ve enjoyed watching the NFL playoffs this year because A.) Lee Evans is nowhere to be found and B.) Pittsburgh Steelers fans are.
Please don’t take that as gloating because it’s not. How could it be? When it comes to the history of the Ravens franchise and the Steelers franchise in the NFL playoffs, there is absolutely nothing for Ravens fans to gloat about — as Steelers fans proudly tell us every day of the year. And therein lies the reason it’s been fun watching Steelers fans watch these playoffs.
When it comes to football in this area there is no gray area, only lines in the sand. Real football fans here are either for or against. Which means when you’re for, you’re also against. It’s just part of the contract.
Around here, Steelers fans hate the Ravens, Ravens fans hate the Steelers, and Redskins fans hate them both despite there not being a whole lot of hate toward the Redskins from anybody. Although that will likely change when, or if, RGIII makes a complete recovery to lead the Redskins to the playoffs and, in turn, create more Redskins fans. Or at least Redskins fans who hadn’t had much to be rabid about until this season, right up to the time RGIII met up with Haloti Ngata.
Following the Ravens’ double-overtime victory at Denver three weeks ago, during which most, if not all, Steelers fans justifiably rooted for Denver (just as Ravens fans did last year when the Steelers played the Broncos in the playoffs), Steelers fans had a problem. Do they root for their most hated rival to lose the following week, which would mean rooting for the New England Patriots and Tom Brady? Or do they root for their most hated rival to win so it will prevent the Patriots from tying the Steelers and the Cowboys for the most Super Bowl appearances with eight? Oh, and, yes, because everybody outside of New England hates Tom Brady.
Many of my friends are Steelers fans, and many of them told me they would be rooting for the Ravens because Steelers fans are as protective of the Steelers’ Super Bowl legacy as a mother bear is of her young. Which, given the Ravens’ victory over the Patriots, brings us to tomorrow’s Super Bowl between the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers — the same 49ers franchise that has won five Super Bowls in five appearances, meaning a win tomorrow by the 49ers would give them six Super Bowl victories, which would tie — you guessed it — the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most in Super Bowl history.
There are Steelers fans here and everywhere who wouldn’t root for the Ravens, regardless of the circumstance, even if it meant a guaranteed knock on the front door from Publishers Clearing House. And while that can be viewed as having extremely poor judgment, it is also understandable because that’s just how it plays on both sides.
While buying provisions and lottery tickets the other night, the gentleman taking the money behind the counter, a Steelers fan, told me, “I’ve thought long and hard on this, and even though it’s going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I’m rooting for the Ravens on Sunday.”
Because he was trying to be so nice about it — and because he had the authority to either allow me to make my purchase or turn Beer Nazi on me — I decided I should give this fine fellow an out.
“You don’t have to root for the Ravens to win,” I said. “Just root for the 49ers to lose.”
He must have liked that line of reasoning. He let me have the beer.
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org