Go, Ravens, go, make the score for Baltimore

January 05, 2001|By Raymond Daniel Burke

IT WAS A CHILLED and sunless late afternoon in the waning days of December, quintessential post-season football weather.

From my seat in Memorial Stadium's upper deck, a moment of exultation appeared imminent. It was overtime in the 1977 divisional playoff, and the Colts' Raymond Chester had slipped behind the Oakland Raiders' secondary and was wide open. In that instant, a sudden-death touchdown seemed certain. But quarterback Bert Jones, hobbled by a worsening toe injury, overthrew Chester, and the crowd fell back in its seats as the incompletion bounced aimlessly across the vacant grass.

John Madden's Raiders went on to win the game and, ultimately, the Super Bowl, while the Colts lost in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year. The fans headed into the gray twilight disappointed, but with appreciation for having seen a truly thrilling game. They also took comfort in the knowledge that a new season was just nine months away and in the confidence that their team would give them another chance to rise from their seats in anticipation of playoff glory. Indeed, it had been our 25-year ritual to savor one season and anticipate the next.

Little did we know then that only six seasons remained before the team, decimated by mismanagement, would sneak out of town at night, without even offering an extortionist's ultimatum or deadline. Thirteen years would pass between NFL seasons in Baltimore. It would be 23 years before the next playoff game. And 30 years would go by since the Colts' win in the AFC championship game gave Baltimore a home playoff victory to celebrate.

The Ravens played their first playoff Sunday, the first in Baltimore since Chester's near moment of victory. They convincingly defeated a very good Denver Broncos team with an intense and charismatic defense, aided by something that was many years in the making. Players long accustomed to crowd noise described the roar as deafening. The Broncos' offense acknowledged that they had abandoned a snap count altogether because it was impossible to hear.

What was heard that day was the collective release of a 30-year-old reservoir of emotion. The home team had stepped on the national stage of excellence, and we were determined to be part of it, even a factor in it. But more than anything, we wanted to have what once was ours - rejoicing together in victory as the reward for our mutual dedication and commitment. The players devote their bodies and talents, the fans give their loyalty and hearts, and a city shares a common bond that money cannot buy.

This is why we humbled ourselves before conniving owners who tempted us with the possibility of bringing their team to town. It is why we played so hard in an expansion game that we knew was rigged. It is why we committed to a huge publicly financed stadium project in a city with staggering needs elsewhere. And it is why we could accept another town's team, buy expensive personal seat licenses and turn out in droves to support mediocre play. It was all for moments like this.

The Ravens, to their great credit, have held up their end of the bargain by developing the competence and ability to execute that are essential to any claim of championship-caliber status. Whatever may happen in the remainder of the playoffs, they have given us back something we lost long ago. They gave us the chance to share the communal ecstasy that only a post-season victory can provide, and we roared our gratitude.

You know how that feels if you were there in the cold rain when linebacker Mike Curtis literally ripped the ball from the hands of Vikings' quarterback Joe Kapp and splashed through the mud all the way to the end zone to help send the Colts to the 1968 NFL championship game.

And you know how it feels when those moments are gone, especially if you were there when Raymond Chester was wide open on a late December afternoon.

Raymond Daniel Burke is a partner in the Baltimore law firm of Freishtat & Sandler.

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