The 2002 Super Bowl Blues:

Ravens Football: The Ride is Over

by Jesse Fask

Last year it was totally different. But, somehow, I thought it would be the same. Last year I ended up with 50 people at my house on the last Sunday in January. Even a betting pool of only Ravens fans did not predict a 27-point victory. I had three televisions on the first floor, including one in the bathroom, so that no one would miss even a second of the game. A Jermaine Lewis touchdown sent the house into hysterics. Orgiastic celebrations broke out on the couch when we realized we were champions. And then we were off to Fells Point, where I froze in a Ravens jersey number 52 because I was too excited to get a jacket for a frigid midwinter celebration on the town.

The season built from late November on. And everything was new. A city starved for football could not get enough of these bad boys. Thug attitudes. The best player was accused but found not guilty in a murder trial, clearly just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but his reputation was tarnished forever. His stubborn refusal to apologize for what he did not do made him even less marketable. It was a team that won with defense and told you how good they were. And they backed it up. The rest of the country hated them, calling them arrogant, saying they represented all that was wrong with the NFL. They were never respected and they just kept winning. All we heard about was the poor city of Cleveland and how terrible Art Modell was and how no team with Trent Dilfer could win the Super Bowl. And the city developed a special connection with that team, and so did I. Why?

Well, the obvious reason was that everyone loves a winner. But I think there were deeper reasons. On one level, the old Baltimoreans identified with the team's hard-working, smash-mouth blue-collar style of team and how they kept winning despite being underdogs in two playoff games. These are the fans of so-called Oriole Way, who saw the Orioles build a team with pitching and defense through the farm system, similar to how the Ravens built their team through drafting great defensive players. On another level, the team represented a whole different side of Baltimore — an angry trash-talking side that is not respected. A side that goes counter to mainstream America, that exists on the mean streets, where people are taught to survive in a new manner. Where bravado and machismo are important and if you are the best, you let everybody know. A side that is not marketable, that is not Michael Jordan, Cal Ripken or Tiger Woods. And just for one season, the 2000–2001 Baltimore Ravens showed that Baltimore could do it their way and win, and even if the national media hated it, the locals loved it. And when a parade happened the Tuesday after the Super Bowl last year, all of Baltimore was as happy as I've ever seen it. These players, considered arrogant thugs by so many, brought this town that joy.

This year I thought it might happen again. It did not build for as long, but I sat out there on that cold Monday night game against Minnesota and saw them pound the ball, and I thought maybe if Coack Billick did that in the playoffs it would work. And then, against Miami, it was like it was starting all over again. It was not new like it was last year, but it was said by fans on my couch that this team was back. The defense looked as unstoppable as ever and they were running the ball and not letting the dreadful Elvis Grbac lose the game. It looked the same. Heading into Pittsburgh seemed the same as heading into Tennessee the year before.—a road game against the NFL's number-one defense who had dominated us during the season, but still we'd managed one lucky road win against them because of a poor place kicker. My friends were ready for a repeat. And it so neatly coincided with a guys' weekend in Las Vegas that we'd planned months earlier.

You can imagine what happened.

So, now all is right in the NFL. America has a new team. The Saint Louis Rams. They are fun to watch. They have a rags-to-riches born-again Christian quarterback and they win with the offense and are not known for arrogance or star players in murder trials. And the Super Bowl MVP, whoever he may be, can go to Disneyworld and have his picture on the cover of Wheaties.

And Baltimore is back to being known for its high statistics in heroin use and murder instead of forced turnovers and least-points-allowed-in-a-season. It could not last forever, and now my beloved defense is being dismantled. The Ravens are wasting precious salary cap dollars on Elvis Grbac, who, although talented, is not cut out for the Ravens style. He is too big and slow, and doesn't have enough bravado. It seems like next season could be a disaster waiting to happen. I hope I'm wrong. But whatever happens, I will never forget that season a year ago when Baltimore was undisputed king of the world and the rest of the country lay quiet as we celebrated.


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This story was published on February 6, 2002.