Super Bowl is sweet payback for city after 30 long years

Ravens 16, Raiders 3

Ravens Extra

January 15, 2001|By JOHN EISENBERG

OAKLAND, Calif. - This is the payback moment. The crowning reward for enduring 30 years of heartache and disappointment.

Savor it.

This is proof that sometimes things do even out eventually, that sometimes life really is fair; that sometimes, if you utter the same prayer long enough, it gets answered.

Remember the feeling, every aspect of it: the chill up your spine, the sense of community, the thrill of belonging, the joy of watching even your wildest expectations exceeded.

Then, finally, the reality hitting you: Baltimore is bound for the Super Bowl.

A moment to freeze, frame and treasure forever.

Please know that you're lucky today in a way you never envisioned, a way no one saw coming, not even the Ravens themselves until a few weeks ago. You're experiencing the trumpet song of good times after so many years of false and sour notes. You're getting to watch the football scales balance out in your city, as some thought they never would.

The Ravens shut down the Oakland Raiders to win the AFC championship yesterday at Network Associates Coliseum, and as much as it was a story about a dominating defense and an indefatigable coach, it was also a story about the city getting to celebrate a continent away.

The city finally getting reimbursed for its vast emotional debts.

Ravens 16, Raiders 3.

Emotional payback for Robert Irsay's madness, for the Mayflower vans pulling away in the snow, for (Cardinals owner) Bill Bidwill's manipulations, for commissioner Paul Tagliabue's expansion debacle.

Emotional payback for a dozen years of silent Sundays, for having the Redskins shoved down your throat, for having to embrace a Canadian Football League team just to get to shout out loud.

Emotional payback for feeling the guilt over stealing another city's team, for winning 16 times in the first 48 tries, for being asked to believe that Roosevelt Potts and Stoney Case were the answer.

Emotional payback for Johnny Unitas belonging to the Indianapolis Colts in the Hall of Fame.

Emotional payback, so sweet.

The Ravens came yesterday to a stadium packed with hostile, war-painted fans driven to a fever pitch, fans fully expecting glory and then reduced to silence almost as soon as the game began. Fans given nothing to cheer about.

The Raiders, accustomed to winning home games by three touchdowns, had eight possessions in the first half. They generated one first down. They lost their quarterback to an injury. They got totally and completely stuffed.

Just when you thought the Ravens' defense couldn't play any better than it did last week in Tennessee, it delivered its best performance of all. And the biker-boy fans in "The Black Hole" just kept getting quieter and quieter. Nothing to cheer about. Nothing to do but watch.

This is what the TV didn't show you: By the fourth quarter, the Raiders had to resort to waving their arms to elicit some noise from their "wild" fans.

In a game that, at least in the build-up, had the cast of a heavyweight title fight, the Ravens had delivered a knockout.

"Silence on the road, the sweetest sound in the world," the Ravens' Jermaine Lewis said.

As the stadium quietly emptied after the final gun, the Ravens tumbled into their locker room, laughing and crying and embracing. It was their triumph, their moment, the players and the coaches and everyone in the organization.

But also the city, perhaps above all else. Funny, huh? In the end, the story was 3,000 miles away.

The story of a city with a marching band that kept playing even after its team left in the middle of the night.

The story of a city that burned for football like few others, and now, after waiting 30 years to get back to the Super Bowl, gets to burn again.

"No city deserves it more," Ravens kicker Matt Stover said. "I came to Baltimore with the Browns, so I haven't been there that long in the grand scheme of things, but I can't imagine the city not having a team. I can't imagine what it was like for that city not to have a team. That was hard, the hardest thing imaginable for fans.

"To have to endure that and then get to experience this is really, really sweet for the fans. I'm just glad and proud that we could come though for them."

Jermaine Lewis just shook his head.

"The next two weeks are going to be madness," he said. "A great, great time in the city. It hasn't sunk in yet, but it will."

It was sinking in fast for Ravens coach Brian Billick.

"I don't think I really understood about Baltimore and football until we came home from the Tennessee game last week and there were 5,000 people waiting for us at the airport," Billick said. "It's a city that loved the Baltimore Colts and will rightfully hang on to that. But a whole, new generation of fans are going to cheer for the Ravens now."

Cheer for the Ravens in the Super Bowl. You are not dreaming.

Thirty years in the making, the ultimate deliverance.

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