Wanting Ravens to relieve, not cause, angst

October 25, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,SUN STAFF

OH, WE KNOW how much this is killing you, Ravens fans.

Let's face it, on Sundays, you want to forget about anthrax and layoffs and special ops forces and bin Laden, and the nightly parade of yakking heads chronicling the whole damn nightmare of the past six weeks.

You want to forget about whether it's safe to fly without some wild-eyed lunatic barging through the cockpit door and whether you've stockpiled enough Cipro and oxygen masks and biohazard suits to make it to Thanksgiving.

On Sundays, all you want to do is this: tilt back in the La-Z-Boy and crack a beer and watch your football team for a few hours and get your mind off the scary stuff, which these days is called "everyday life."

Is that too much to ask? Nope. Sounds reasonable to me.

Except, well, there is one problem. Your football team stinks.

No, that's not it, exactly.

The Ravens don't stink. They're just ... maddeningly ordinary right now, aren't they? Three wins, three losses, you can't get more ordinary than that.

Certainly, they don't resemble the Super Bowl champs of last year, especially the second half of the season, when the defense - swaggering and trash-talking - roamed the field like a pack of timber wolves and devoured opposing offenses, while the Ravens offense always seemed to do ju-u-u-st enough to win.

It's not like that anymore, is it? Not with back-to-back losses to Green Bay and Cleveland. (Cleveland!)

So you're bummed, Ravens fans.

Some of you are jumping off the bandwagon so fast you're leaving scorch marks in the vinyl upholstery.(Yep, vinyl. Nuthin' too good for our bandwagon, hon. You want to know the decorative scheme for this baby? Think: Early Shower Curtain.)

The rest of you are trying to stay the course. Oh, you're saying all the right things: this team will be back; this team is way better than it's playing; there's still plenty of time to turn it around blah, blah, blah.

But it sounds a little like whistling past the graveyard, if you ask me.

It sounds like a crisis of confidence in the Land of Purple and Black.

So yesterday I drove out to Ravens training complex in Owings Mills to discuss this whole business of fan angst with Brian Billick.

Normally, I gotta tell you, football coaches are not big on discussing angst.

Oh, you can discuss a lot of things with football coaches: the beauty of the shotgun formation, the intricacies of the safety blitz, whether ol' Bubba's hammy or knee or groin will allow him to play this Sunday.

But angst?

No, football coaches don't do angst. You want to discuss angst, ring up a grad student studying Schopenhauer.

Except ... well, Brian Billick had no problem discussing angst yesterday. He emerged from the team's morning practice looking serene and confident; he would have probably discussed existentialism if I had lobbed the right question.

Anyway, here is the beauty of it all, Ravens fans: Brian Billick feels your pain.

When I asked if he senses that football is even more important to Baltimore fans in this time of unrelenting bad news, he nodded vigorously.

"I think it is," he said quickly. "I think that's very real. I think with all that's going on around, you're looking for that bastion of joy. And if your team is not doing well, that hurts, too. It's like `God, the whole world's not right.' "

Bingo, I said. That's what so many Ravens fans are saying.

Six days a week, they worry about terrorism, the economy going in the tank, antibacterial cocktails they should or shouldn't chug, long lines at airports and whether Dan Rather is going to break down on the air as a result of all this stress.

Now, on Sundays, they worry about the Ravens.

And the Ravens are supposed to be chicken soup for the football fan's soul.

"We're certainly trying to do our part to give them that release," Billick added.

A win over Jacksonville Sunday at PSINet Stadium would help, he knows.

A one-sided win, where they beat the Jaguars like a rented mule, would be even better.

A win where the offense racks up 30 points and the defense returns to the smothering, swaggering, trash-talking form of last year - instead of the subdued, choirboy form of this year - would be best of all.

In any event, Billick says he feels the urgency to help this city forget the tough times, if only for a few hours each weekend.

And he'll feel it even more at game time Sunday, when 60,000 fans stand and scream all around him and thousands more watch from their living rooms.

"I'll be surprised if the fans aren't very supportive," Billick said. "You know, typically, this could bring about some negative response, as well.

"But I think they see this [two-game losing streak] as, y'know: `We're going to get through this. I don't know about the other stuff going on off the field. But we're going to help our guys get through [this].' "

So hold the angst, he says.

And bring the noise.

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