TAMPA, Fla. - I marked it by my watch at exactly the top of the hour - 9 o'clock Eastern Standard Time -- when Jermaine Lewis stepped up to catch a New York Giants kickoff, cradled the football to his chest, wiggled past a cluster of tacklers, bounced to his right, kicked into a strut, danced toward his team's sideline then away from it, exploded into a sprint, crossed the goal line and pointed toward heaven.
A spray of fireworks cracked the night sky over Raymond James Stadium, but you didn't need that to know the Ravens had just ascended to the rank of world champions, taking B-Town up there with them.
No. 84 went 84 yards.
The little guy did the big thing. A man who, with his wife, experienced pain and loss only last month scored a game-locking touchdown in Super Bowl XXXV. It could only have worked out better had Jermaine Lewis been named Most Valuable Player of the game.
But that doesn't matter. A nice guy finished first. He's one of our own. From Maryland. Played for the Terps. I tend to look at a lot of this big-time sports stuff through my kids' eyes, and they're pretty high this morning because of Jermaine Lewis' 9 p.m. kickoff return. Kids like him because he's small and fast - and courageous, and humble.
It was a beautiful thing to see him cross the goal line last night.
It's all pretty nice, isn't it?
Feels good, doesn't it?
Been a while, hasn't it?
The boos for Tagliabue were wonderful, weren't they?
The Ravens' defense is stunning, isn't it?
Baltimore is back as a city of champions. It doesn't mean we've wiped out illiteracy, poverty, drug addiction, but it means we've something to celebrate, something that pulls us toward the great, good center where civic spirit lives.
Three decades ago, when the Colts beat the Cowboys in Super Bowl V, the city's other major-league franchise, the Orioles, were in the midst of a run of World Series appearances. You had it good here, my friends. It was a time of extended happiness for Baltimore sports fans.
But the last time the Orioles brought home a world championship was October 1983 and, cool as that was, the Colts were just a few months away from that midnight run to Indianapolis. "It was the best of times and it was the worst of times," says Bob Leffler, ad man for the Ravens and four other NFL teams. "The Orioles were in the World Series, but we were losing our football team."
Colts left in March 1984. Took a dozen years to get an NFL team.
But only another five to get back in the show. "This is the beginning of a movement that's going to last for a few years," Leffler says. "The Ravens have gotten into the capillaries of the community. When you have grandmothers going to little corner grocery stores to buy their grandsons a Ravens T-shirt, you know [the Ravens] have gotten into the capillaries."
Under the skin. Feels good.
From Cameroon: Yamfest
You gotta love the Internet - OK, maybe you can just like it - but I'm sitting in Ray-J yesterday, lap-dancing with Compaq Presario - that's a computer, not an exotic dancer from one of those X-rated Tampa clubs - and I get this e-mail from Robert Ford and Alison Barkley, once of Bolton Hill, now of Cameroon, Central Africa: "There are a couple of Baltimorons, Ravens fans, watching the game thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde and to Armed Forces Television via satellite. We don't have nachos or Fritos or pizza delivery. We may be the only fans munching on yams with salsa."
Havin' a yam, watchin' the game.
Battle of the fans
Gotta give the numbers edge to Giants fans. They won the snowbird battle to be here and root for their guys and boo Baltimore's. ... But it was a beautiful thing to see a Jeep Cherokee with Maryland tags and Ravens flags emerge through a crowd of obnoxious New York fans on the jammed streets around Ray-J. ... And there was a distinct Baltimore "O" when the Backstreet Boys reached, "Oh, say does ... " in the national anthem.
My fondest memory of the Super Bowl pre-game show: Guy inside a giant beach ball. ... But Styx performed "Come Sail Away," and I couldn't get it out my head for the entire first half. I'm told Cartman has the same problem with the same song on "South Park." ... Most common words heard through the Ray-J PA: "Punting team on for New York." ... When Ray Lewis was introduced at the start of the game, he reached down, swiped his fingers across the grass, wiped it against his chest, then went into one of his overwrought wiggle dances, as if he'd already scored a touchdown. It left me so warm and fuzzy I had to shave.
Inner Harbor Gasparilla?
The city of Tampa did a smart thing - moving its annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest to Super Bowl weekend. This achieved national exposure for something Americans, except those of us who prefer Gasparilla to root beer, never heard of. But it's an exquisitely strange event - scarfaced men dressed in either authentic or cheesy pirate garb, exotic plumage, and piles of colorful beads. There's a flotilla, a pirate invasion and a long parade, and the streets fill with people and the people fill with beer. Baltimore's deputy mayor Laurie Schwartz watched the whole thing from a boat, a guest of Tampa's economic development officials. Schwartz said she could imagine the same thing in the Inner Harbor. Bring it! Any excuse to wear beads, I say.
Let's do it again
Super Bowl Next is in New Orleans. Let's go. ... This has been so much fun I'm going to volunteer to cover the XFL.