Finally, a super team this fan can root for

January 28, 2001|By NORRIS WEST

THE RAVENS aren't my favorite NFL team.

They're a close No. 2.

All season long, I've been pulling for two flocks of football birds: the Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles.

It's always been that way -- Baltimore and Philadelphia.

It's easy to explain why I root for the Eagles. Philly's my hometown, and although the City of Brotherly Love has the worst fans since the Roman Empire, I've stuck with the team through good times (few) and bad times (plenty).

It was refreshing to watch the Eagles' rising young star quarterback, Donovan McNabb, almost single-handedly revive a once-moribund squad.

While the Eagles were slumping through most of the 1960s and 1970s, I found another team -- the Colts. I don't know exactly why. Maybe it was because my mom was born and raised in Maryland (Caroline County). Maybe it was because I liked the way Johnny Unitas burned defenses with his golden arm or the way John Mackey ran over large pursuers as if they were mere annoyances. Maybe it was because of those uniforms.

Ah, the uniforms. They were simple but striking. Solid blue and white with the horseshoe-adorned helmets. I loved the uniforms. Then I learned to hate them after Robert Irsay's infamous move. Now that the Ravens are in the Super Bowl and the Indianapolis Colts are home, who cares?

Purple reigns.

Millersville businessman Stephen J. Bisciotti must feel pretty good about buying the team from Art Modell in a deal that will give him ownership in 2004.

For me, the 2000-2001 season has been a banner NFL year. The Eagles made the playoffs and won their first-round game. For a fleeting moment, I thought I might get the ultimate football dilemma -- watching my favorite teams meet in the Super Bowl. Of course I'd root for Philly, but either way, one of my teams would be assured the title.

This will be the 35th --excuse me, XXXVth -- Super Bowl. In the previous XXXIV games, I've been able to root for a team only III times. I've rooted against a lot of teams, especially Washington and Dallas. But even when those teams went down, it wasn't fulfilling. My team still stunk.

The first time I got excited about a Super Bowl was 1969, the year every Baltimorean wants to forget but can't.

I was 11 years old, and some of those awful memories remain vivid. Every Baltimorean old enough to say "Earl Morrall" remembers with horror of Super Bowl III. The names Joe Namath, Matt Snell, Emerson Boozer and Weeb Ewbank (who coached the Colts to the 1958 NFL championship before joining the upstart Jets) still sting. The Colts were heavy favorites, but the Jets danced away with an unthinkable 16-7 victory.

Making the year more depressing were the "Amazing Mets," who pulled off that other upset on the baseball diamond. They beat the Orioles with the spectacular centerfield play of Tommy Agee, who died last week.

Not even the Colts' sloppy 16-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V made up for what happened two years earlier. I was relieved, not satisfied, when Jim O'Brien punched through a short, but pressure-filled field goal to win it. The Colts were supposed to win in 1971. Just as the Colts and Orioles were supposed to win in 1969.

The last time I've pulled for a Super Bowl team was XX years ago. The Eagles were in Super Bowl XV, and I was working as a reporter/sports photographer for a Philadelphia newspaper. Sports journalists aren't supposed to root openly for teams, so I was quietly jubilant when the team, led by coach Dick Vermeil, pounded the favored Cowboys behind Wilbert Montgomery's running in the conference championship game to advance to the NFL title game.

Coach Vermeil, at the time, was unbearably intense and nervous. This was before he mellowed and led the St. Louis Rams to Super Bowl glory last year.

He approached Super Bowl XV as a special game instead of just a football game. His team froze, and the Oakland Raiders whipped my Eagles.

Ravens coach Brian Billick wasn't about to make that mistake. He declined to impose curfews on his players. He threw some fun into the fundamentals.

Coach Billick is keeping the team loose even with the swirl of media attention around Ray Lewis. The defensive player of the year did some terribly wrong things in Atlanta's Buckhead section last year, but did not contribute to the terrible double-murder until after the fact.

The coach wisely sought to shield his best player from the negative attention. He lashed out at sportswriters who asked silly questions that were answered during another clumsy murder trial -- another bungling prosecution, another strange jury verdict.

We'll soon see if Coach Billick succeeded in deflecting pressure and keeping his team loose.

I feel good about the Ravens' chances today, mostly because they have nothing to lose like the Colts and Orioles did in 1969. They began the season with the playoffs as their goal and earned a berth in the Super Bowl.

So I'm going to enjoy today's game. If the outcome is what I expect, Super Bowl XXXV will instantly become my No. 1.

Norris P. West writes editorials for The Sun from Anne Arundel County.

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